PDA

View Full Version : Jim Beam History



Gillman
11-03-2006, 12:46
I thought this was the right place for a discussion about the heritage of the Beam brand.

I note from the Jim Beam website that the first Beam, Jacob, is mentioned as a distiller and founder of the brand (presumably the recipe for what is called today Jim Beam bourbon). He lived in the late 1700's. The timeline states that he made "Old Jake's Sour Mash". That is a specific statement and I would assume just on face value it is true. Is this in fact not so, i.e., is there no evidence that he distilled or named his whiskey in this way? I honestly don't know and am just asking. I would like to read Still Life but haven't found a copy yet conveniently.

Gary

cowdery
11-03-2006, 13:13
"Old Jake's Sour Mash" has to be bullshit, because sour mash was introduced by James Crow in the mid-1800s. In other words, there was no such thing as "sour mash" in 1795.

As you know from my book, (http://bourbonstraight.com) Johannes Jacob Boehm was a Pennsylvanian of German descent who came to Kentucky by way of Maryland and Americanized his name to Jake Beam. He was a miller and distiller. That much I believe. The claim that in 1795 he sold his first barrel of whiskey is Beam family "lore," unsupported by any documentation, but nevertheless I consider it credible.

It goes downhill from there.

Most of all, it's very hard to credit the "recipe" claim since whiskey in 1795 was not aged, distillers were lucky if they could distill out at 100 proof, and mash bills were generally "opportunistic," meaning they used whatever combination of grains was available. Jake Beam's distillery was 20 or 30 miles from either of the current Beam distilleries (and several other different locations intervened) so it isn't the same water. It seems inconceivable that a yeast strain could have been passed down from that date and, in fact, according to Booker the yeast Jim Beam uses today was "made" by Jim Beam shortly after repeal. The tale of how he "stunk up the house" with it was one of Booker's favorite stories.

So, basically, it seems impossible that any element of the way Jim Beam is made today would be the same as the way Jake Beam made his whiskey, except in the sense of what it has in common with every American whiskey.

What is true is that there is or, rather, was, an unbroken line of Beams who made whiskey and passed on the methods from father to son, both through the family-owned distilleries pre-Prohibition, and the non-family owned company that is Jim Beam today. I say "was" because the last family member who actually made whiskey was David Beam, son of Carl Beam and grandson of Park Beam, Jim Beam's brother, who retired in 1996. While Fred Noe, Booker's son, has a title with the word "distiller" in it, he is primarily a spokesperson.

It probably would be true to say Jim Beam is made by Beam family methods that link back to at least Jake Beam in the 1790s, but to call that a "recipe" stretches the point too far, in my opinion.

There is a truly unbroken line from Jake Beam to a current working distiller. Two of them, in fact. They are Parker and Craig Beam at Heaven Hill, who are the son and grandson, respectively, of Earl Beam, Carl Beam's brother.

Gillman
11-03-2006, 14:04
Thanks for these points.

Certainly based on my own reading of distillation methods in the early 1800's, there was no methodical or any real aging of whiskey then and if anything aging was regarded as a potential negative, e.g., if the whiskey was intended to be used to stretch brandy or rum or to boost the alcohol content of beer (see the comments of Samuel M'Harry in his Practical Distiller book of 1809). Nor as I recall did M'Harry employ the term sour mash although I will check again whether he refers in some way to the process.

Gary

cowdery
11-09-2006, 13:54
As I mentioned in the BOTM thread, on October 20th I sent an email to the PR department at Beam Global asking them to justify their current ad claims for the Jim Beam brand. I have yet to receive a reply, so today I resent it.

This is fun and I should point out that anyone can play.

Gillman
11-09-2006, 14:19
I should add I did check M'Harry. I could find no reference to the term sour mash. Also, in studying his mashing and fermentation techniques, I could not find where he advised to use spent wash. He refers only to "water". There is lots of discussion about slops but only in connection with their value as animal feed.

Gary

cowdery
11-09-2006, 21:12
Is M'Harry talking about Scottish practice or American? I ask because there is no such thing as "spent wash" in U.S. practice. In Scotland, their slop is a byproduct of mashing, not of distillation.

It's never been satisfactorily explained to me how a true "spent mash" (with a full complement of grain solids) could be produced in a conventional pot still. On the other hand, since the purpose of sour mash is to balance the pH, solids aren't really necessary. A "spent wash" should do the job just as well, I suppose.

Gillman
11-10-2006, 04:09
He talks only about American practice and only in Lancaster County, PA (so Kentucky practice may have been different).

There is no reference to the term sour mash in the book. There no reference to adding the residue of distillation (which I called spent wash, speaking in a general way) to a mash or fermentation. He refers only to water for this purpose. His water is added for the original mashing and for cooling off as he calls it and he refers only to water or clean water.

His mash was unfiltered since he takes pains to advise how to avoid the "grain sticking" in the boil.

The by-product in his book is termed "slop" or "pot ale" and the sole use he indicates for it, which he views as very valuable, is as animal feed. Its value as animal feed probably precluded consideration of its use in a subsequent process.

Gary

bourbonv
11-10-2006, 06:20
At the Kentucky Historical Society there is a document dated 1818 with a recipe for sweet mash on one side and sour mash on the other. I believe I posted the recipes here a few years ago.

Mike Veach

Gillman
11-10-2006, 06:26
Thanks Mike, I think I remember that now.

This may suggest the sour mash process originated in Kentucky or at least was more popular there than elsewhere and it would seem to pre-date the work of Dr. Crow.

I am also mindful that it has been written that Maryland rye (although M'Harry made all kinds of mashes) was always sweet mash only, I believe this was written in James Bready's article on Maryland whiskey from 1990, or it may have been Gerald Carson who wrote this.

Possibly backset was used in mashing or for cooling where water was at a premium or livestock had adequate feed from other sources. I am sure it was used as an early form of recycling. Only later did people see (I infer) its benefits to assist a proper fermentation and more consistent product.

Gary

bourbonv
11-10-2006, 07:00
Gary,
E H Taylor, Jr. states that when making OFC whiskey in the 1870's that he did not use water at all, but instead cooked the grains with the heated wash from his previous batch. Remember, he was using pot stills so his mash was strained before distilling so there would be no solids at all in his sour mash recipe. I suspect that this is true for all of the original recipes for sour mash as well. Spent beer was beer after the distillation process with no solid material to clean out of the pot. There is a receipt for a "Mash Strainer" in the Taylor-Hay papers for the OFC distillery. I wish that it had included a description of the device.

Mike Veach

Gillman
11-10-2006, 07:07
Mike that is interesting and no doubt there were different practices, but it is clear from M'Harry's descriptions (1809) that his mash was not strained. He refers to the need to grease the still (and he worked with pot stills at the time) and heat the mash to ensure it would not stick to the metal.

He noted this was not a problem for a second distillation, which is self-evident of course.

Backset must have been a combination of the stillages of both distillations (where there were two, he makes it clear that doubling was not always done).

Gary

bourbonv
11-10-2006, 07:31
Gary,
Does M'Harry describe his cooking process as small tub? I know that Taylor was a firm believer in small tub cooking where the cooking of the grains was done in 50 gallon tubs for a day before transfering the mash to a fermenter. I think that process also made the sour mash process a little different than it is today.

Mike Veach

Gillman
11-10-2006, 07:38
Yes, and M'Harry worked small scale.

I'll type an extract from his account tonight.

It would be interesting to compare it to the sweet and sour mash recipes from 1818. As you pointed out earlier, even the sweet mash one seems to have a sour mash component, or can have one, since slop is indicated as a substitute for fresh yeast in that recipe.

We discussed this earlier, where the boil residue must have been used as a kind of starter. Probably it facilitated the action of wild yeast, because how could yeast live in a boiled product? Unless the boil was not efficient, or only partial, we are talking about an artisan process of long ago...

Gary

cowdery
11-13-2006, 14:01
I hadn't considered that possibility, that the distiller was simply capturing wild yeast in the mash tub. Distillers have explained sour mash to me as creating an environment in which only the yeast we want can survive. That being the case, spontaneous fermentation may have been the norm.

I wish we could get a clear picture of this. Every piece of new information seems to raise more questions than it answers.

Rughi
11-13-2006, 14:57
I hadn't considered that possibility, that the distiller was simply capturing wild yeast in the mash tub. Distillers have explained sour mash to me as creating an environment in which only the yeast we want can survive. That being the case, spontaneous fermentation may have been the norm.

After years of homebrewing beer in my kitchen, if I leave apple juice or even kool-aid out on the counter overnight, it'll already have a yeasty fizz going the next day.

Once a yeast culture is ingrained into an environment it stays for some time. I bet the rafters of the old distilleries were heavily innoculated with their house yeast. I've daydreamed occasionally about trying to culture wild yeast from Old Taylor, but that's been a looooong time now.

Roger

PS Two old stories I've heard about Jim Beam just connected in my mind. One is that the old master distillers used to take home a jar of their yeast slurry every week, in case of fire (or perhaps new job opportunities). The other is that upon the repeal of Prohibition that Jim Beam stirred up batches of slurry and exposed them to the air on his back porch until he captured one that he wanted. If that was the same porch he stored his yeast before prohibition he may have just recaptured his own ol'trusty favorite.

cowdery
11-16-2006, 12:55
I received an "official" response from Beam today, as follows:

----------------------------------

Dear Mr. Cowdery:

We received your recent e-mail message and appreciate your interest in Jim Beam. For competitive reasons, we don't discuss the details of recipes or production techniques for any of our brands. We consider such information to be proprietary.

Thanks again for contacting us.

----------------------------------

I should add that I also had a pleasant conversation with their corporate communications person, so we are talking.

jburlowski
11-16-2006, 16:11
I received an "official" response from Beam today, as follows:

----------------------------------

Dear Mr. Cowdery:

We received your recent e-mail message and appreciate your interest in Jim Beam. For competitive reasons, we don't discuss the details of recipes or production techniques for any of our brands. We consider such information to be proprietary.

Thanks again for contacting us.

----------------------------------



A real "non-answer, answer... you think they would make at least some feeble attempt to justify their claims. I guess it's simply "We've done all this (outrageous) stuff and you have to believe us 'cus it's all a secret and we can't tell you."

Maybe they should simply run for public office...

FlashPuppy
11-16-2006, 16:50
I received an "official" response from Beam today, as follows:

----------------------------------

Dear Mr. Cowdery:

We received your recent e-mail message and appreciate your interest in Jim Beam. For competitive reasons, we don't discuss the details of recipes or production techniques for any of our brands. We consider such information to be proprietary.

Thanks again for contacting us.

----------------------------------

I should add that I also had a pleasant conversation with their corporate communications person, so we are talking.

I almost want to not buy anymore Beam products anymore due to this respomse. I am now saddened.:cry:

cowdery
11-17-2006, 14:59
As I mentioned above, on the day I received the official, written reply to my query, I also received a telephone call from a Beam executive. We had what diplomats call "a frank and friendly discussion." Really, he was very nice, but said the above is their official position. I told him, very nicely, that I found that position disingenuous. I told him I don't care about the recipe's contents (the proprietary part), I care about its historical authenticity.

There is no 211-year-old piece of paper with a "recipe" on it, of that much I am certain. On what, then, is the claim based? The company refuses to say.

So, the fundamental question remains. What exactly did Jacob Beam do in 1795 that is still done the same way in making the Jim Beam bourbon of today, that no other American whiskey maker does? As I told the executive, there is nothing unusual about advertisers being asked to justify ad claims. As it stands, I asked, they refused.

We didn't even get into the subject of Beam distorting the true historical facts to keep all of their "history" in Jim Beam's direct lineage. For example, I have seen the letter in which Margaret Beam Noe asks her first cousin, Carl "Shucks" Beam (and not her brother, Jere), to teach her son, Booker, how to make whiskey.

The saddest part of this is that the true history of Jim Beam bourbon is terrific. The company should try using it.

There is a little bit more elaboration on all of this on my blog. (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com/blog.html)

That's where we are. If there are further developments, I'll let you know.

HighTower
11-18-2006, 04:21
Probably an expected answer, Chuck. But it's good to know you tried:grin:

Scott