Glassroom: The Q&A blog series with whisky distillers

Limestone Branch Distillery: Stephen Beam

17 Nov, 2020

I had already been in the restaurant business with my brother Paul for 10 years, then we decided to open our own distillery. We started the whole process in 2009, in 2010 we incorporated & by 2011 we opened the doors.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

I like to say that I grew up around the industry as opposed to in the industry. My father got out of the business back in the 40s. He was actually a baseball player, in the Bourbon League, back when each distillery had a team. and he & his brother’s main job was playing on the distillery team, but you had to work for the distillery, so they got the job just to get on that team.

My aunts & uncles & cousins were all in the business. And even my mom peaked my interest when at an early age she would take my brother Paul & me to the Dant Distillery since she was proud of her family heritage. When I graduated from school the whiskey industry was heading down so I pursued a degree in landscape architecture for the first 20 years of my career. But I always kept coming back to distilling, though regulations were still not friendly for starting up a distillery of my own.

Then the internet came around and I did more research, and discovered Dry Fly Distillery in Washington State and Fritz Maytag with Anchor Distilling in San Francisco. These were more on the scale that was available to me. I also went to an ADI Conference in Louisville where Bill Owens really helped me out a lot, and I was just bitten by the bug. I had already been in the restaurant business with my brother Paul for 10 years, then we decided to open our own distillery. We started the whole process in 2009, in 2010 we incorporated & by 2011 we opened the doors.

Can you tell us about your distillery,
and what makes it unique?

We started out as a small artisan distillery, and we are still a very tactile one, doing everything by taste & smell. We were using heirloom corn before most other distilleries, and were putting out just a few barrels a month and are now up to about 40 barrels a month.

Once we teamed with LUXCO in 2015, this allowed us to focus more on just producing Bourbon instead of things such as Moonshine to pay the bills. We are also ready to expand and increase our production in 2021.

Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?

We use pot stills, instead of column stills which many other Bourbon producers prefer, and are using an old fashion worm-tub instead of condensers. It is my belief that pot stills provide a richer quality spirit before they even hit the barrels.

I, personally, believe that Fall & Winter productions produce a better whiskey here in Kentucky. Low humidity, cooler temperatures- the yeast loves it! Happy yeast makes great whiskey! We also use a proprietary yeast which we were able to revive from residue from our grandfather’s dona jug (an old copper jug to store distilling yeast) some 50 years after the last time he used it!

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful
in the United States and around the planet,
why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

I think, particularly whiskey, that people started embracing the food culture and started appreciating the handcrafted whiskeys out there. There’s such a devotion to the craft and the history and the heritage.

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

For me, it was the explosion for the demand of Bourbon. We didn’t get into the business because of that…it just happened around us.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

The expansion of demographics – women, young people, minorities, etc. It’s great! It used to be an old man’s drink, something your father or grandfather would drink but now everyone is getting into it.

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

Several of the large distilleries in Kentucky in the 1970s went into the fish industry. Business was in the doldrums and the big producers were looking for another revenue stream (so to speak).

It just seems like everyone from that era has a story about that time, and how all the fish died. It was just the biggest cluster you could imagine! Though I was at a dinner for the KDA when the subject came up, but then a wife of one of the participants turned to tell us, “We don’t talk about the fish!”

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

The development of all the small distilleries having aged whiskeys. There is such a large breadth of profiles & tastes. It’s just amazing! I think it is very exciting!

What do you see as being the future of whiskey
in the short term?

Barrel picks from different liquor stores & bars, which give you a curated
variety to choose from.

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

It’s obviously a great glass for whiskey, because it channels the aroma up to the nose and the clarity of the glass lets you see the quality of the whiskey. We use the Wee Glencairn Glasses on our tours!

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Balcones Distillery: Jared Himstedt

Balcones Distillery: Jared Himstedt

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