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Bourbon blending honors longtime whiskey maker

Jul. 23, 2013 @ 10:00 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky’s renowned bourbons are being mixed for a special blend to benefit efforts to cure a dreaded disease and as a tribute to longtime Heaven Hill Distilleries master distiller Parker Beam, who has carried on a whiskey-making tradition of his family’s that stretches to pioneer days.

The concoction is called Master Distillers’ Unity. A crystal two-bottle set filled with the one-of-its-kind blend will be sold at auction in New York City on Oct. 13.

All proceeds will go to the Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund, established to raise money for research and patient care by the ALS Association

in honor of the sixth-generation master distiller. Parker Beam, 71, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, last year.

The neurodegenerative disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The disease most commonly strikes people between the ages of 40 and 70, and as many as 30,000 Americans have it, according to the ALS Association.

The special 100-proof blend will be offered at the Bonham’s Whisky, Cognac and Rare Spirits auction. It consists of bourbon from Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve. The master distiller for each brand selected the extra-aged bourbons, and Parker Beam developed the special blend.

The blend consists of equal amounts of each brand and has “all the characteristics I like in bourbon,” Parker Beam said.

“Everybody produces good bourbons, and when you put them all together it’s pretty exceptional,” he said by phone Monday.

Parker Beam’s career as a whiskey maker has spanned more than a half century at Bardstown-based Heaven Hill, whose spirits include Evan Williams — the world’s No. 2-selling bourbon. The Beam family traces its whiskey-making roots in Kentucky to 1795, when Jacob Beam set up his first still.

It’s been a family tradition at Heaven Hill, where Parker Beam followed in his father’s footsteps and where he works alongside his son Craig.

“It’s in his blood, making bourbon,” said Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe, another member of the Beam family and a distant cousin of Parker Beam.

When he was approached to contribute to the project, Noe said, “it was an easy decision.”

Jim Rutledge, master distiller at Four Roses, said the special blend shows how the master distillers rally around one another.

“It’s just a relationship that’s hard to understand in the business world,” he said. “We have such a close relationship. It’s out of respect for an industry we all love and admiration for what each other has contributed to their own companies and to the industry.”

Along with their duties overseeing production, the master distillers have become well-traveled ambassadors for their brands.

Parker Beam said the outpouring of support he’s received has been “unbelievable.”

“It’s been something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” he said.

Rutledge said he’s looking forward to sampling the special concoction.

“It’s going to be something different,” he said. “It will be very interesting and I’m sure it will be very good.

Parker Beam said he had no idea how much the special whiskey will fetch at auction, but said the money will be “put to good use.”

“I’d say the sky’s the limit on that, because it’s only offered the one time,” he said.

The special blend won’t be sold in liquor stores.

Dorine Gordon, president and CEO of the ALS Association’s Greater New York Chapter, called Parker Beam “an inspiring gentleman.”

“This unique opportunity to raise ALS awareness that has brought together the Kentucky distillery community is truly special,” Gordon said.

Other than the auction winner, the only people with an opportunity to taste the special bourbon will be those attending a tribute to Parker Beam at WhiskyFest New York on Oct. 12 — the day before the auction. At the tribute, an additional 10 bottles will be poured for ticket holders, master distillers and industry officials in a toast to Parker Beam.

Also, Heaven Hill plans a new limited-edition release this fall of Parker’s Heritage Collection of ultra-premium whiskeys. The company said it will donate $20 to the ALS Association Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund for every bottle in the limited edition, which is expected to raise at least $250,000 for the cause.

“Parker Beam’s impact on Heaven Hill Distilleries, as well as the bourbon industry in general, is beyond estimation,” said Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira.
 

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