You can’t miss the Bourbon Trail while visiting Kentucky, and the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont is a great place to start. The Beam family has been producing whiskey since 1795. The distillery is a short drive from Louisville.
Distillery tours run daily every half hour starting at 9:30am to 3:30pm (Sundays noon to 4:30pm) and cost US$14 for adults 21+ (as of February 2018). Underage guests from 10 to 20 years of age are also welcome and pay US$7. The tours run approximately 90 minutes and end with a tasting for those of age. You can buy tickets at the gift shop, which sells all kinds of Jim Beam products and memorabilia.
In front of the gift shop is a statue of James B. Beam (1864-1947), the company’s namesake. He built the business after Prohibition in 1933 and it’s now one of the best-selling brands of bourbon in the world.
The tour starts from the very beginning of the bourbon making process. The guide explains the secret to Kentucky having the best bourbon in the world – Kentucky limestone. You then get to see the ingredients required by law to produce bourbon, including a 51% corn mixture, and learn about the fermentation process.
The barreling porch is a highlight of the tour. You’re able to see important barreling milestones, including the very first barrel produced after Prohibition in 1935.
Next, you get to visit a warehouse where bottles sent back by customers are tested. The company takes complaints very seriously and tests every bottle for quality assurance. Next to the warehouse is the bottling plant, where the bottles are filled and labeled. We were able to take home a label for bourbon produced for export to Australia.
A room displaying commemorative bottles produced all over the world is next. On the floor, the name of each country that sells Jim Beam as well as the year it entered that country’s market can be seen. There’s also a large photo mosaic of Jim Beam that you can make out if standing in the correct spot.
The next part of the tour took us to the huge warehouse where the oak barrels are stored for maturation. We got to see barrels 13,000,000 and 14,000,000.
Finally, it was off to the tasting room. Each visitor over 21 was given a card that gave three credits for tastings. You place the card in the machine, put the shot glass under the spout, press the button, and the shot is poured. Several different Jim Beam products are available for tasting, and a brochure explaining each one is given to visitors before starting. The best part is you get to keep the souvenir shot glass.
On the grounds, there are a few other highlights to check out after your tour. The master distiller’s house was built in 1911 and was used until 1985. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
A path across from the house leads to a statue of Booker Noe (1929-2004) and his dog, Dot. Noe was the grandson of Jim Beam and oversaw production for over 50 years. He introduced his private stock small batch whiskey to the Beam lineup in 1988.
If you’re feeling hungry after your tour, pop into Fred’s Smokehouse. You’ll be able to get some excellent pulled pork sandwiches, homemade burgoo (a stew), sides, and desserts. We split a sandwich and burgoo for about US$20 after drinks.