Get to know Beth Burrows, the American Whiskey Advisor for Beam Suntory
By Elizabeth Scinta
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
Growing up in Kentucky, bourbon whiskey is an integral part of our state’s culture that has become a worldwide booming industry. In last month’s issue, we featured an in-depth article on the heritage of Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey specifically and the legacy behind the brand in which American Whiskey Advisor for Beam Suntory, Beth Burrows, educated our readers about the history of whiskey and its characteristics as a spirit. For this month, to learn more about our native brown spirit, we thought we’d get to know Burrows a bit better and learn about her role at Beam Suntory and how she got into the whiskey biz. So pour yourself a glass of your favorite whiskey and start reading. Cheers!
Describe your job in three words:
Edutainment, like education and entertainment together, history and whiskey-science.
What do you love most about your job?
I love getting to share my enthusiasm about whiskey with people.
What makes your role at Beam Suntory unique from other whiskey ambassadors?
I’m in the backyard of bourbon! Even though there might be other American Whiskey Ambassadors, the fact that I’m really in the heart of bourbon country specifically and American Whiskey as a whole just makes this a very unique place to be.
Have you ever had a favorite day on the job? Is there any event or day where you look back and think you’ll never forget what happened that day?
Oh, I’ve had plenty of those. I think any time I get to spend with Baker Beam is a super special moment. The best was his 81st birthday. I threw him a birthday party, well, we threw a birthday party across the United States, but the one in particular that he actually came to was in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. It was so amazing because his family was there and some of his high school friends came. It was just a really special and unique experience.
What was your dream job as a child and does it relate to anything you do now?
I’ve had a few of those. I really wanted to be an art therapist for the majority of my life leading up to college before realizing what I really wanted to do. I think the art aspect I still get to do with the creativity of the job, which is obviously whiskey-centric. I guess the therapy part of it would be when I was in the bar business for a long time. As we know, bartenders are great free therapists. It’s definitely evolved, but I think that there are aspects of what I used to want to be in what I am now.
Was working in the whiskey/bourbon industry something that you ever thought you would do? Was it ever on your radar?
Hospitality has always been on my radar. It’s what I’ve known my whole life. Growing up, my parents owned a bar and restaurant in western New York, so I was definitely in hospitality since I was about 7-years-old. I knew that I loved it, and I knew I would have it as a part of my life, but I didn’t know in what capacity. Then, being in the state of Kentucky, it just made sense that the hospitality centered around whiskey.
What’s one fun fact about you?
There are so many! Just kidding. I am one of ten children in a “yours, mine and ours” family relationship. I always like to tell people, depending on how you look at it, I’m the only child, the youngest child, the middle child and the oldest child, so I have all of the complexes.
What made you want to be in the whiskey industry?
I fell in love with it when I started at a place called Down One Bourbon Bar in 2013. I had taken a step away from the hospitality industry for a little bit and was in a job I wasn’t interested in and wasn’t having any fun in, so I knew I wanted to get back into hospitality. When I did, I fell in love with the history and chemistry behind bourbon and whiskey. Everything about bourbon and American whiskey as a whole just drew me in, and from then on, I was hooked.
What do you see happening with the whiskey and bourbon industry in the future?
I think we’ve positioned ourselves, especially with bourbon tourism, to become the Napa Valley of the South. A lot of people think it’s going to plateau, or it’s going to peter out some, but I think we have built this amazing community amongst our distilleries in Kentucky specifically, and of course across the United States. Not all bourbon and American whiskey is made in Kentucky, but I think that what we have here is super special. I think it’s just going to continue to grow, and we’re going to continue to push the envelope of what we know as American whiskey.
What’s your go-to cocktail?
It’s spring which means the Paper Plane is my favorite thing! It’s my favorite all the time, but it’s harder to drink them in winter because the fresh ingredients aren’t always the freshest. But yeah, Paper Plane, hands down.
I love making them myself just because I have different specs that I use compared to some other folks. An Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon Paper Plane is my favorite because that 100-proof really pulls through. If you’d like to make one yourself, here’s a good recipe:
Paper Plane Recipe:
3/4 ounce bourbon
3/4 ounce Aperol
3/4 ounce Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
3/4 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Add the bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino and lemon juice into a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Strain into a coupe glass.
If you had the chance to make your own bourbon blend, what would you want it to taste like?
I think if I was going to craft my own bourbon as a whole, I would want to play with some of the newer grains, not necessarily the new grains that have just been created. I think brown rice is a really amazing strain that we’ve been able to mess with. At Beam Suntory, we’ve seen it come in through a few different ways, so I know that I would probably have brown rice in there somehow, someway as one of the grain components. I think that I would want it to be complex with a multitude of layers. I would want that hug to be long-lasting. When I say “hug,” I mean that after-effect. Some people call it a burn, but burns are bad, and hugs are good. So it would be a lingering Kentucky hug with a lot of complexity is what I would go for.