A Chat With Kenneth “Butch” Flint, Second-Generation Beam Man
By Debbie Shocair
When you take the tour of Jim Beam’s distillery property in Clermont, KY, one thing that you soon notice is that nearly every employee has a smile for visitors, and not just any old “oh, you’re here touring and I’m supposed to appear friendly” kind of smile. It’s a genuine, welcoming spirit of Kentucky hospitality that shines through in those smiles combined with the clear implication that they enjoy what they do at Clermont. From the tour guide to the folks at the bottling line, everyone was unusually chipper, excited, and obviously proud to be part of sharing the Beam legacy with our small group of roving journalists.
When I was at Clermont, a Beam Suntory executive who was accompanying us pointed to an employee and commented, “See that fellow? His family has been working here at Beam for generations now, at least 80 years or so total now…” I looked at the employee, and as we passed him, I turned back to look again. There was no dry, worn demeanor or weariness in him. And I wondered.
I mentioned to my Beam Suntory hosts that I would like an interview with the man whose family has graced the distillery property for so many years. I was interested in finding out just what it was about the company’s work culture and environment that gave everyone there a bit of sparkle, and made his family members feel happy working there together. It wasn’t possible that day, but all concerned agreed.
He called me one morning as I was just finishing my coffee. The voice on the other end of the line was manly, gentle, and peppered with the Kentucky twang. Kenneth “Butch” Flint is a distillery operator and has been working at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont for 19 ½ years. Flint’s father worked the Jim Beam bottling line for 35 years and met Mr. Jim Beam himself in the 1950’s. His Uncle Charles worked in bottling fill height for 40+ years. Aunt Mary worked in the water plant for 40+ years, and Uncle Bill also enjoyed his career at Beam. The Beam business has certainly run deep and wide in Butch’s family.
“They were unionized, and paid a good wage,” Butch said, a smile in his voice. “It’s a good job, a good place around here.”
A number of years ago, (pre-Jim Beam career), Butch was out running errands and saw a man who was wearing a Beam company work shirt. Butch asked a simple question of the man: “Are they hiring?” The answer was affirmative, and it was the beginning of his own personal Beam story.
Nearly two full decades later, Butch Flint can attest to the changes he has seen and the fact that it’s still a good job, a good place.
“There’s a lot more automation now,” he reflected. “Back then it required a lot more manual work. What used to take 15 to 17 people in one area is now down to just 2 to 3 people per shift. But now we operate three shifts a day, 24 hours, 7 days a week.” That wasn’t surprising to hear, for Jim Beam bourbon is the number one top selling bourbon whiskey in the world, and this in the midst of boom times, so it certainly takes enormous effort to meet market demands.
When asked about the changes he has seen under seventh-generation master distiller Fred Noe, Butch seemed to pause thoughtfully on the other end before answering that it is all about positive growth and development. “Yeah, Fred added three fermenters…he’s looking to make more alcohol. Definitely expanding.”
Expansion seems to be coloring nearly everything Beam nowadays. Butch noted that since the partnership with Suntory, the distillery has been undergoing considerable expansion, and that Suntory has put substantial investment into it. “Things are looking good. There are a lot of people from Suntory who have come on site. We have all had really good relationships with them and it has put off any fears. It’s been really good.”
As is my usual practice, I had several key questions for Butch. By this time we had been chatting for quite awhile, and his patience with my meandering, enthusiastic style of interviewing was impressive. Butch Flint had been the perfect one to interview about families who work at the Jim Beam distillery. And, of course, I found his southern charm delightful.
DS: What do you think is the best thing about working at the Jim Beam Distillery?
BF: Well, it’s family-oriented. It’s just like they say – you come as a friend and leave as family. There’s a lot of places you work and you’re just a number. Here they do listen to us. The pay and the benefits are great. And there’s really no big personality conflicts.
DS: What sets Jim Beam apart that you all (so many members of Butch’s family) have worked there?
BF: Everyone feels valued.
DS: Would you like to see your children and subsequent generations of your family work there?
BF: You know, years ago they stopped hiring immediate family members, but about six months ago they started allowing it again. My daughter applied; I’m hoping she will hear a positive response and get on board here. Because… absolutely. It’s still a good place. I’m a simple guy. Working for Jim Beam has been great for me, and I hope to continue on and be able to retire from here. It’s been a great place to work, for me personally.
Butch’s favorite whiskey from the company? He likes Knob Creek Rye and Jim Beam Black.
It isn’t often that I see a company (especially a large corporation) whose family of human resources actually takes on the appearance of a family. I can think of only three. Jim Beam is one of them, and the culture that comes down from the top precedes it as one that promotes and edifies family. Seven generations and counting.
I admire that. I will support that.
Heck. I’ll drink to that.
And the next time you happen to be touring the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, KY, tell Butch I said ‘hi’.