Heaven Hill: Home of Jim Beam’s Nemesis – Joe Beam

Let the battle of the Beams begin! Most people outside of the bourbon world don’t realize that the Beam family in not just responible for Jim Beam. The Beams are also the people behind Heaven Hill. That’s quite a family. Joe Beam, Jim’s cousin, partnered with the Shapria family to create Heaven Hill soon after prohibition. Since then, the Shapira’s have taken full control and a descendent of the Beam’s has been master distiller ever since (Joe Beam -> Harry Beam -> Earl Beam -> Parker Beam -> Craig Beam). They’re keeping it in the family.

Heaven Hill has had, for the most part, a decently uneventful history. They’ve consistently grown for more than seven decades based on their core brands, Evan Williams and Elijah Craig, and from branching out beyond bourbon and even beyond whiskey. The Heaven Hill stable of brands now includes vodka, tequila, and even pomegranate liqueur!

It wasn’t entirely uneventful, however. When most Kentuckians think of Heaven Hill, the second thing they think about (the first being delicious bourbon) was the horrendous fire of 1996. Heaven Hill’s entire production facility was caught up in a huge inferno which came close to leveling the entire distillery. When the smoke cleared (literally), Heaven Hill had lost 90,000 barrels of bourbon (street value ~$312 million) and most of their production facility.

Luckily, the bourbon industry is full of nice people, and competitors Brown-Forman and Jim Beam lent a hand. They had the spare capacity to contract-distill to Heaven Hill’s specifications until Heaven Hill could get up and running again (a process that took years).

This actually leads to the fascinating case of 1997 – 1999 bottles of Heaven Hill products. These are the years where any Heaven Hill product (such as the 1998 Evan Williams Single Barrel) is actually something from Jim Beam or Brown-Foreman. Doesn’t really make a huge difference since we’re not talking about anything outstanding to start with, but it is a fun fact with which to impress your friends.