By Richard Thomas
Heaven Hill announced today that Parker Beam, their Master Distiller Emeritus, passed away last night after a long struggle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Beam joined the company in 1960, and rose to become its Master Distiller in 1975. Parker Beam was therefore the man who took the production helm at Heaven Hill during the whiskey slump of the 1970s, helped steer it through a difficult period, and pioneered the comeback of bourbon as a whole with the introduction of some of the industry’s first premium expressions, such as Elijah Craig 12 Year Old. He earned many laurels in his career, including being a charter member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and entering the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame, and winning the Whiskey Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award.
Heaven Hill’s super premium annual limited edition line, Parker’s Heritage, is named for him.
For Parker, Bourbon was the family business. He was a member of the Beam clan, related to the Noes at Jim Beam and the Beams at Limestone Branch Distillery. When he became Master Distiller in 1975, he succeeded his father, and Parker’s own son Craig Beam came to work with him starting in 1983.
Fellow veteran Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, formerly of Four Roses, said of Parker when he was alive: “Parker is an icon who is treasured by his industry cohorts. For decades he has been an ambassador for all Kentucky Bourbons, and because of the outstanding person he is, Parker is also loved and respected by Bourbon enthusiasts and connoisseurs around the world. He has played a major role in putting Kentucky Bourbon on a global map, and for me personally I feel honoured to have known Parker as a valued and dear friend for so many years.”