Joe Daily interviews 8th generation Master Distiller Freddie Noe
By Joe Daily
Photos by Kathryn Harrington
Welcome, everyone! Thanks again for joining us here at the Daily Libations column! This month, I interviewed 8th generation Master Distiller Freddie Noe. I had the opportunity of joining Freddie at the James B. Beam Distillery to discuss the many changes it has undergone and the plans for the future. The Beam family is well known for their bourbon-making, and the family tradition is vital to Freddie. It is astounding how this brand continues to evolve yet stay true to form in their quality of products. Without further adieu, let’s get going with some great questions.
Freddie, so what was it like growing up in the industry?
You know it’s funny. I tell people a lot of times I didn’t really know much about what I was growing up around. A good thing that my family does an excellent job of is to let children be children. I just looked at it as my granddaddy hosted many parties for the people he worked with and held a lot of dinners. More particularly, he would talk about the whiskey. Looking back, there are so many cherished moments. It was great to grow up around the industry because many of the things my granddad would be talking about are the things that I am upholding, such as the legacy or the quality of the product.
The way we make our whiskey is very particular to our family, and we have stayed by our values that make whiskey-making special. I listened to him talk about the importance of high-quality grains, tasting the barrels and letting them age until they are ripe. He used the analogy of apples, a lot of ripe apples. So a lot of the things I would hear him talk about as a young child is what I talk about today as a distiller. It means a lot to me, and our family is very close, so my children are often around the distillery. We often have meals at the distillery, or some of the executives visit the house. They are very much a part of what we have going on. I think it’s very important that you get exposure as a child, and growing up around the industry, I can now recall some of the things he would say that add many rich colors to those memories.
How was it realizing that you wanted to be involved in the family business? Did you recognize this at an early age?
Not necessarily. When I was young, until my granddad passed, I talked about being a lawyer. And that came from him telling me I liked to argue. He’d say you’d be a good lawyer; you like to argue with the wall. That was my curiosity, and I asked a lot of questions. I was asking why things are done a certain way. So I think curiosity as a distiller is important. He passed away when I was sixteen years old. A tremendous number of people paid their respects to the family and me. I heard stories about his impact on people’s lives, and it touched me that he and our family influenced that many people. So the more I understood about what it means to be Jim Beam’s great-great-grandson my career choice shifted when I was around eighteen years old. I started to have a genuine interest thinking it could be ok to be a part of the business. Growing up around there and fishing as a young boy at the distillery with my grandad and dad, it became like a second home. Something I always knew was there. When the opportunity finally came, it was easy to put the pieces together and realize what it could mean for me. As I moved into my young adult life, it became clearer that it was the right decision.
What can you tell our readers about the Fred B. Noe Education Center? This is brand new, from what I gather.
We have created a new facility called the Fred B. Noe Distillery, and within that, there are pieces that touch back on education. I created the apprenticeship program and then took it to the University of Kentucky to help us get it off the ground. This is education for our employees, customers or consumers. There is a very nice lobby area where we can host customers and consumers alike to educate them deeper on whiskey-making. We partnered with the University of Kentucky and created the James B. Beam Institute. There is a big tie into the future of the education of whiskey makers and bourbon makers alike in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Because of this partnership, you can take classes on distilling and potentially earn a degree in distilling. The focus is on education and a place for research to come together and for people to start to see the opportunities. People might think it’s myself and a handful of folks that run the facility. There are jobs within the industry such as sales, procurement, finance and more. The industry has opportunities for folks coming fresh out of the university. It’s an opportunity for us to educate people on the possible careers available. The distillery’s name is the Fred B. Noe Distillery, and everything centered around that is in the eye of education for the betterment of the bourbon industry going forward. I’m incredibly proud to be a strong driving force for the future and education of the future of bourbon, which starts right here on our campus.
Fred B. Noe Distillery has an education classroom within it. As a full-scale operating distillery, we will do research and development and make a couple of our more prominent products there. It’s also the place where we are educating our workforce and will host students in the future in the classroom we have. The James B. Beam Institute is a partnership with the University of Kentucky, focusing on the future of bourbon. Education, research and responsible consumption are the three main pillars that we are focusing on. This is held at the University of Kentucky, and we also have the capability at our distillery to host them with this partnership.
The research & development barrels are amazing! Are these all your creations, and any chance of tasting these any time soon?
Some of the work I started helped us develop this facility. There will be opportunities for tasting in the future. The thing about bourbon making is you make it one day, and it will be a minimum of four years before it will become available. There will be opportunities on campus with some VIP experiences we are working on to taste this whiskey. Also, potentially other places on campus, there are quite a few opportunities at events where we might pull out some of these special barrels we have worked on to share with the world.
Wow, how about that distillation column! That’s probably one of the most excellent-looking stills I have ever seen. Do you all actually use it in production, or is it for research and development?
We are making all of our Booker’s and Baker’s productions move to the new facility. Some new, not necessarily released yet whiskey that we are already producing are also moving there. We are dedicating nine weeks to experimentation and research. The rest of the time, it will be an operational facility working on Booker’s and Baker’s production, which are two bourbons we have.
So, it looks like Basil Hayden has a new package. Same juice inside?
That’s exactly right. We have updated the package and used similar elements to the previous package. Everything that went into Basil Hayden still goes into the new bottle as well. Some of our work in this facility will focus on the Basil Hayden brand. Basil Hayden is a bourbon that is very much about approachability and hopefully brings new consumers into the bourbon industry.
The Golden Hour is a cocktail we serve on campus. It’s a very nice cocktail that a lot of people can enjoy. It has a nice flavor to it, not too sweet. You can still taste the Basil Hayden which I think is very important. You don’t want to mask the flavor, you want to compliment the flavor. We use Basil Hayden to welcome people into the industry that maybe haven’t been bourbon drinkers. The Golden Hour cocktail is definitely one that, if you’re new to bourbon, I would recommend.
In terms of bourbon, I see zero slow down across the US and the world. Do you think we can continue with the trend? There is a lot of innovation, and after speaking with you, I can tell you’re one of the guys on the forefront. Any trends you think we should be paying attention to?
Blended whiskey in America got a bad reputation for a long time. The blend of straight whiskeys or bourbons is something to look for. When you’re bringing two great whiskeys and putting them together, the flavor profile you can create is almost exponential compared to those two individually. That’s the point of blending. Things that hone in on the craft of whiskey making, whether it’s the differentiation of grains and barreling, I think there is a great opportunity right now because people are very curious about the flavors in bourbon and, in particular, American whiskey. There are opportunities to explore these areas to deliver bourbons and whiskeys that keep bringing people into this rich history-driven industry. We are excited to be at the forefront of education and the industry’s future. I get to preserve it for the next generation of distillers. Everything we have going on campus puts us in the leadership role to help the industry move forward well into the future.
Basil Hayden Golden Hour Cocktail
1 part Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
3/4 part Lillet Blanc
3/4 part Aperol Aperitif
1. Combine ingredients over ice in a mixing glass.
2. Stir thoroughly.
3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass over a large ice cube.
4. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
James B. Beam Distillery Co.
568 Happy Hollow Rd.
Clermont, KY 40110