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Issue 80 - Family values

Whisky Magazine Issue 80
June 2009

 

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Family values

The bourbon industry is undergoing a major transformation, and its biggest player isn't going to fall behind. Dominic Roskrow reports on the changes at Jim Beam and its parent company.

Even by the whisky industry's sedate standards, things move slowly in Kentucky.

It's a laidback sort of place, with long, lazy summers and gentle, calming scenery. Once you're off the interstate the roadways meander through lush countryside past smartly-kept white homesteads and neat picket fences. Kentucky is a smorgasbord of horse farms, pretty creeks and old style towns. Life is designed to go slow here.

That's not to say the folk are lazy, though; far from it. It's just that for most part they discovered the right way of doing things many, many years ago and they don't see the point in fixing what isn't broken. They know what they need to do and how long they need to do it, and they pace themselves accordingly.

Never more so than with bourbon. The great whiskey producers perfected America's native spirit a couple of centuries back, and they have done little more than tweak it ever since. All those clichés about how you can't rush nature and how great things come to those who wait? Well in Kentucky they're not clichés because they happen to be true.

There's something deeply reassuring about returning to Kentucky every year or couple of years and finding that pretty much everything is as it was when you last visited, and in returning to find that the great whiskey names – Beam, Noe, Samuels, Van Winkle – are all still there,making fine bourbon. What change there has been – a new visitor centre here, a new distillery there – has tended to arrive with the same g...

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