SB Voices: Community spirit
Camaraderie is prevalent throughout the spirits world – and long may industry members continue to build each other up, says Melita Kiely.
“Bourbon is a unique industry, we are all legitimately friends and enjoy each other’s company,” says Fred Noe, Jim Beam’s great-grandson and seventh generation master distiller for the world’s leading Bourbon. He’s currently on a European tour, covering London, Vienna, Hamburg, Rome and Paris, but has spared some time to meet with me in London before his next stop.
“You never hear negative protests with Bourbon, we never speak down on each other’s work,” he continues. “In the end we are all making Bourbon and we all love what we do. If one of our buddies has a problem, we will step up and help them.”
And there have been times when Kentucky’s distillers have had to step up. Noe recalls the Heaven Hill fire of 1996, which ravaged the distillery’s warehouse, fuelled by 75mph winds throwing flames 350 feet into the air. More than 90,000 barrels of Bourbon were lost, though thankfully no fatalities were reported. “When that happened, we all rallied together, “ recalls Noe. “We helped make Bourbon for Heaven Hill, store barrels, whatever they needed. We’re a small-knit community, we help each other out.”
He also recounts a special bottling made by all the distillers in Kentucky for the late Heaven Hill master distiller Parker Beam, a grandnephew of Jim Beam, who fought a long battle with amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). “All the distilleries, we all came together, brought Bourbon and made a Unity bottle [Master Distillers’ Unity], which was sold at auction and we gave all the proceeds to the ALS foundation. It was a really proud and sad moment for all of us. For Parker, he knew there was no cure for his debilitating disease. Doing something for [Parker] before he passed away with every distillery in Kentucky was very cool, but it was also a really sad moment for all of us.”
Speaking with Noe really highlighted a sense of community in Kentucky, the “band of brothers” focused not only on building their own brands, but bolstering those around them. It’s not an ‘us versus them’ mentality – everybody is working to collectively better the Bourbon category and contribute to its global growth.
And the longer you work within the spirits world, the more you see how that camaraderie attitude is rooted in the industry – and it certainly doesn’t begin and end with brands. Bar owners have also long understood that there is strength in numbers and innovation is pouring out of collaborations.
This week’s pop-up at Dandelyan provides just one example. The acclaimed bar launched its World Botany Series by partnering with Svartklubb, the recently launched cocktail bar pop-up from Swedish restaurant Faviken, to create a bespoke Dandelyan x Svartklubb by Faviken cocktail menu for the London bar.
The concept brought together different techniques and ingredients from two leading on-trade forces, both with a shared ethos of using carefully sourced produce. The final cocktails were undeniably clever, creative and, perhaps most importantly, tasted superb.
Jim Beam’s Noe is also well aware of the power of the on-trade – so much so that the brand launched a series of “American college-themed” classes for bartenders in the UK this month to help them gauge a greater understanding of the brand. And he’s constantly on the lookout for further ways to “buddy-up” and get creative in the industry.
“I’m very open minded, I’d love to work with other whisky producers from around the world, or wineries or breweries,” he adds. “The only way we can grow as a Bourbon brand, as a category, is by sharing ideas and inspiring each other.” Long may the industry’s community spirit continue.