Distillery Tour Wishlist: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky

Distillery Tour Wishlist: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky

I was thinking of other distilleries to visit from around the world, trying to imagine all the exotic and far off places that are doing great things in the realm of liquor and spirits. Then I remembered the adage that any place is exotic if you aren't from there. So why not give a Kentucky distillery a try. I am also taking a step away from the non-traditional and craft distilleries to see what one of the big boys are doing. So, let’s take a look at what Jim Beam is up to these days.

One of the reasons I chose Jim Beam is because they are owned by Suntory, who I wrote about earlier, and who are making some incredible whiskey in Japan. I wanted to see what they were doing with this iconic, American brand of whiskey. It turns out that they were smart enough to leave things be. Jim Beam is still made the way it has been made for generations, which has been a successful formula. As a whiskey, Jim Beam isn’t as great as a lot of craft spirits, but for mixed drinks and being able to get a good, but not outstanding, whiskey without breaking the fun stuff budget it’s hard to beat. Suntory looks like they understand the concept of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Being a global brand has its advantages. Tours of the Jim Beam American Stillhouse are easy to get. Call, and set up a reservation, and then show up. They work hard to make the experience fun and folksy, and will walk you through the entire process of getting water from a natural limestone well, mixing the mash, and finally to where it's bottled. Plus, you get to see some of the beautiful Kentucky countrysides. No matter what time of year it is, it is always beautiful – though it can get a bit dreary in winter. Keep in mind that Kentucky isn't the south, south. It will get quite chilly during those winter months. If I had to choose a particular time to go, I would hit the road either mid spring, when everything is a brilliant green, and it isn't too hot, or the fall when the leaves are at their best colors.

There are also other non-distillery tour attractions related to Jim Beam. One is the Urban Stillhouse in Louisville KY. It is a combination restaurant, tasting room, museum, and gift shop. You can even sample rare blends that aren’t readily available at your corner liquor store. It’s a good option if going out to Clermont isn’t convenient, though it isn’t that far away. The Urban Stillhouse doesn’t give visitors an inside look at how Jim Beam is made, but it does go into the history of the brand and Kentucky Bourbon in general.

Visiting the Jim Beam distillery, and the related attractions is less about learning about the finer points of the craft, and more about learning about how a major company markets itself. Marketing can be an expensive and arduous thing to do, especially on a budget. Let's face it. Jim Beam probably paid Mila Kunis more to do their commercials than what the operating budgets for some of the smaller distilleries are. That doesn’t mean small operators can’t learn a new trick or two.