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Issue 28 - The man they couldn't invent

Whisky Magazine Issue 28
January 2003

 

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The man they couldn't invent

Michael Jackson is under the gun with Booker Noe

The shotgun on the dinner table made it a memorable evening. The dinner ended with a bang, too. That cannot be denied.

It was so memorable that I keep recalling it, turning it over in my mind. I think I have it figured now. It helps that I have known Booker Noe for nearly 20 years. How well acquainted are we? Hey, I've met him at least twice, so I guess Booker and I are virtually best buddies.

The first time I was received by Booker was in his pick-up truck. This is a sacred place for a Southerner. Booker is especially fond of trucks. Some people say all the Beam clan are, as though it were a genetic predisposition.

Back then, Jim Beam whiskey had a flack who only wanted to talk about the company's huge range of decorative ceramic decanters. As to my actually seeing the distillery, this was for some reason impossible. I needed someone on the inside. I talked to Bill Samuels, of Maker's Mark. The Samuels family know everyone, always did, from Jesse James to Abraham Lincoln. Naturally, Bill knew Booker, and introduced me.

Booker drove me around in his truck. The engine note and his tutorial on bourbon distilling seemed in harmony, like the music and lyrics of a song celebrating the form and function of engineering design, physics and chemistry.

From time to time, he would pull over to emphasise a point, and draw in my notebook the configuration of a still. It was as though he was designing stillhouses in his mind's eye, just as I might compose the cadences of a story.

Boo...

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