When you’re born into one of the most famous distilling families in the world, the pressure is on from day one. As the eighth generation of the highly regarded Beam family, son of current Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe, grandson of craft whiskey godfather Booker Noe, and heir to all that is Jim Beam, Freddie Noe should be a stress-addled wreck as he works on his first whiskey—but he isn’t. He is supremely confident, thanks to his history with the spirit, stretching back to his idyllic childhood spent horsing around with his dog among the barrels in the rickhouse and nosing whiskies long before it was legal for him to drink (according to Fred Noe, Booker used to say, “That boy’s got a hell of a nose on him”).
Freddie is now preparing to release his first whiskey this fall, Little Book "The Easy"—the first in the forthcoming Little Book series, named for Freddie’s own nickname (as a child he looked like a miniature version of his grandfather Booker). Rather than add another bottle to the distillery’s lauded Small Batch collection, Freddie decided to create something new. The Easy is a blended whiskey, a first for the distillery, made from corn, rye and malt whiskies, which represent the three grains that usually make up the mash bill of a bourbon, as well as Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Even as Freddie steers Jim Beam into new territory, he can look back and see how his own growth, both personal and professional, is reflected in his path through his family’s well-established whiskeys. Here, the youngest generation of Beam distillers reveals the five most important bottles of whiskey that shaped his life:
1. Jim Beam White Label
It shows our family heritage on the side of the bottle and that’s something I take a lot of pride in. Jim Beam White is kind of like the beginning of my career. It’s kind of one of those bourbons that’s easy to drink and get started on.
When I came into the industry, I wish I could say it was this great thing sitting down with dad and tasting through all these products, but he let me come into this on my own. I listened to him do his tastings for years before that. I already had all those concepts in my head. Then, when I turned 21 and came to the tastings, I got to decide what I thought about White Label and what I thought about Black Label. I never felt any pressure. It was my choice to work for the family business.
2. Jim Beam Black (Modern Day Version)
Jim Beam Black is kind of the one I migrated to after White Label. It’s a little older in age, a little more bold. It represents the way I have lived and have grown. I’m not a very shy person, but when I started at the distillery I was very reserved just because of who I was. I visited each part of the distillery to learn how to make Jim Beam all the way through. Coming into each department, I could be intimidating. I wondered if people thought I was a spy—kind of like Undercover Boss. As I got more involved and worked more closely with people, I opened up a lot. I evolved and moved into a Jim Beam Black sort of phase.
3. Knob Creek
Entering recent history, I would say Knob Creek is next. Like moving from the core Jim Beam portfolio into the bolder, more unique Small Batch series, I’ve become more vocal at work, more involved, more like myself than ever. I’ve developed a reputation as someone who is trusted at work, whether it’s in my palate at tastings, or in day-to-day things.
4. Jim Beam Black (the 1970s Version)
I always listened to dad talk about how he loved Jim Beam Black as it was made back in the 1970s—a different version than the one I came to love when I was starting my career. It has evolved over the years in terms of how it’s aged and its proof. The original Black was aged 101 months and was 90 proof.
Two years ago, my dad actually got a bottle of the original formula from somebody in northern Kentucky. Somebody gave him a bottle they’d found after buying an old house—we didn’t have any around at the distillery. People think we have an enormous drinking library, but we drink everything we make. That’s what we make it for. So he brought this bottle home and called me up. He said, “You need to come over. I want you to taste this. This is the stuff I’ve been talking about.” I knew instantly exactly what it was. The fruitiness and the floral notes in that Jim Beam Black from back then are just amazing. Really, it’s something that ties me to my dad—my dad when he was my age. I remember when granddaddy talked about how much he drank it too.
It also showed me there are opportunities to change some things at the distillery. The changing formula represents the same innovative mindset that I’ve always had, looking into how we can make things better, how we can improve or change the distillery. There’s room for that change. It sparked my imagination and helped me with Little Book. Traditionally, the family has been strictly bourbon, but seeing the evolution of this classic product helped me to be comfortable with making something new, a blended whiskey, and not worrying about what people would say.
5. Little Book
And the last one would have to be Little Book. It’s gotta be Little Book. That experience with Jim Beam Black morphed into a vision for my career—being able to bring a unique taste profile, each year something totally different to share with the world. It’s something a lot of people wouldn’t be able to taste unless you worked for Beam.
We have a lot of innovative spirit in my family history, with my grandfather bringing out Booker’s and then the Small Batch collection that followed a couple years later. And then dad working on Devil’s Cut and Double Oak. It’s always about doing something for the consumer and sharing this unique whiskey the family has been making for many years. It’s about carrying on the tradition in a different way.
— As told to Nicholas Mancall-Bitel