Welcome to the Straightbourbon.com Forums.
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 20

Hybrid View

  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Toronto, Canada
    Posts
    9,096

    Jim Beam History

    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

  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    12,610
    "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, 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.
    Last edited by cowdery; 11-03-2006 at 13:28.

  3. #3
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Toronto, Canada
    Posts
    9,096
    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

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    12,610
    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.

  5. #5
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Toronto, Canada
    Posts
    9,096
    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

  6. #6
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    12,610
    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.

  7. #7
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Toronto, Canada
    Posts
    9,096
    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
    Last edited by Gillman; 11-10-2006 at 04:12.

  8. #8
    Connoisseur
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Location
    Louisville, Ky.
    Posts
    723
    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

  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Toronto, Canada
    Posts
    9,096
    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
    Last edited by Gillman; 11-10-2006 at 06:52.

  10. #10
    Connoisseur
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Location
    Louisville, Ky.
    Posts
    723
    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

 

 

Similar Threads

  1. 7 or 8 YO Jim Beam
    By fogfrog in forum General Bourbon Discussion
    Replies: 22
    Last Post: 12-07-2005, 21:08
  2. Jim Beam Black
    By bourbonmed in forum General Bourbon Discussion
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: 08-27-2001, 07:24
  3. Jim Beam TV Ad
    By cowdery in forum General Bourbon Discussion
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 11-15-2000, 14:01

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
Back to top