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Heaven Hill’s Parker Beam dies

Heaven Hill master distiller emeritus Parker Beam has died at the age of 75 after a long battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Parker Beam has passed away at the age of 75

A grandnephew of Jim Beam, Parker first joined Kentucky-based Heaven Hill Distilleries in 1960, and was a sixth generation master distiller.

He developed the company’s first premium small batch and single barrel Bourbons, and was responsible for distilling and ageing Evan Williams amongst other Heaven Hill whiskeys.

He was named master distiller emeritus in 2013 shortly after being diagnosed with ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – for which he and his family widely advocated research, care and awareness through the Parker Beam Promise of Hope fund.

While his disease eventually forced him to stop working, Parker remained at Heaven Hill, coaching new distillers and providing technical insight.

Heaven Hill brands president, Max L. Shapira, paid tribute to Parker, who he credits with leading the industry through the near-collapse of the Bourbon market in the 1970s.

He said: “I, along with our entire Heaven Hill family, am saddened to share that our master distiller emeritus, Parker Beam, passed away last night after a long and valiant battle with ALS.

“All of us within the company, and the general public, watched with awe and admiration as Parker and Linda waged a much publicised war against this terrible disease, using their courage, his standing as one of the industry’s great master distillers and his wide sphere of influence to generate international awareness, and millions of dollars, for ALS research and treatment.

“Starting in 1960 when he joined his father Earl here, and continuing through his appointment as master distiller in 1975, succeeding his father, Parker’s leadership established the foundation for our company and our Bourbon heritage.

“It was Parker who saw us through Bourbon’s first golden age in the 1960’s, its subsequent decline in the 1970’s and who led us to today’s new golden age, helping pioneer our first premium small batch and single barrel Bourbons, and paving the way for Heaven Hill to be the category leader we are today.

“There are no awards Parker has not won — charter member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, Whiskey Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame, they go on and on — but what we will remember most about Parker was the leadership, the can-do attitude, and the kind and selfless mentoring he did to his son Craig and a whole new generation of Bourbon distillers.

“At this time, however, our thoughts and prayers first go out to his family.”

His passing has been felt across the American whiskey industry – Twitter tributes for the esteemed master distiller pouring in, with many raising a glass to the “golden palate of Bourbon” through #PourForParker.

In 2015, the Kentucky Distillers’ honoured Parker with its first Lifetime Achievement Award in its Bourbon Hall of Fame.

In a public statement, president Eric Gregory praised Parker’s “tireless spirit and outstanding devotion”.

“The Kentucky Distillers’ Association and its members are deeply saddened by the passing of Bourbon legend and longtime friend Parker Beam, and offers its heartfelt condolences to his family and Heaven Hill Distillery,” he said.

“Parker Beam wasn’t just a name on a bottle – he was the living embodiment of the whiskey inside: authentic, classic, well-seasoned and distilled from old-fashioned hard work and gentleman integrity.

“His place in our industry’s rich distilling history is beyond reproach, as few can match his 55 years of passionate service and leadership, charter selection to the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and award-winning Bourbon portfolio crafted under his watch as master distiller.

“It was that esteemed legacy, combined with his tireless spirit and outstanding devotion, that led the KDA Board of Directors to name the industry’s Lifetime Achievement Award after Parker Beam in 2015.

“Like his friends and fellow legends before him, Parker Beam will be sorely missed, but never forgotten. We have all been blessed by his craftsmanship and unwavering friendship, and ask Bourbon lovers everywhere to raise a glass in his honour.”

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