Interview: Why Did Steve Beam Make a Gin?

Anyone who hears the name Beam will likely think whiskey. That’s precisely what Steve Beam — seventh-generation descendent from the family that created Jim Beam — has been up to. He’s co-founder and distiller at Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, KY, which is behind the whiskey brands Yellowstone and Minor Case.

Then came recent news that Limestone Branch has out a new gin brand, Bowling & Burch. Not exactly what you might expect from Beam, who literally has bourbon in his bloodline.

Curious about why a member of this classic American whiskey family might distill a gin, we recently spoke with Beam about Bowling & Burch.

Steve Beam

Beverage Dynamics: We were a little surprised to hear of a gin coming out of Limestone Branch. What made you want to enter this space?

Steve Beam: Obviously I grew up around the bourbon industry, but my college degree is in horticulture. My first career was in landscape design and building. I always had a close association with plants. The grounds of our distillery in Lebanon reflect my love of plants.

This gin was a natural outgrowth of having all those botanicals around. I’ve been working on a gin for years. My main focus has always been bourbon, of course, but for me, this gin is about adding on things that I have a definite connection to. With my love of plants and horticulture, I’ve literally had a garden since I was five years old.

BD: So this gin was made with botanicals from the distillery grounds?

SB: Yes. The botanicals reflect where we are located in Kentucky. We use what grows onsite.

In addition to juniper, you’ll find coriander, cardamom and rosemary. There’s also honeysuckle, black cherry, mulberry and black berry. This gives our gin a little bit more of a floral and fruity note. The backbone is citrus. We use lemon verbena, three kinds of citrus peal, and lemon grass.

BD: This sounds like a modern American-style gin, less juniper-forward with more emphasis on fruit and floral. Is that what you prefer?

SB: My first experience with gin was when I was probably much too young. It was probably not a good gin. I remember it tasted like chewing on a juniper bush. So for the longest time I didn’t even think that I liked gin. Then I tasted some good ones that are not as juniper-forward.

I’ve always been experimenting with botanicals. I distill what I like. I reflect myself in the taste profiles. I just hope enough people enjoy what I inspire towards.

To me, I like a gin with layers of flavors, so that it’s not overpowered by the juniper. I like a gin that develops on the palate, so that it changes the tasting experience. I like when the nose is floral, and that follows through onto the palate.

BD: Premium gin hasn’t exactly exploded in sales, despite the broader craft movement. Who’s the demo for a product like this?

SB: Obviously the younger cocktail crowd comes to mind. This is also the kind of gin that people who come into our distillery and say they don’t like gin will then walk out with a bottle, after tasting. It’s so soft in the juniper, even though juniper represents 51% of the botanical makeup. It’s a very delicate gin. It’s definitely more the American style than the Holland style.

BD: What’s the name mean, Bowling & Burch?

SB: It’s a tribute to the grandmothers in our family. We’re of English descent.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 7 Trends Driving American Whiskey in 2020.

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