Together with his brother Paul, Steve Beam started Limestone Branch Distillery but his bourbon roots run very deep. His great-great grandfather was Joseph Washington Dant, an early bourbon pioneer. On the other side of his family tree, he is the great-grandson to Minor Case Beam, the eldest son of Joseph M. Beam, of the legendary Beam lineage.
Today, Steve is based in Lebanon, Kentucky. He lives and breathes bourbon and is one of the most charming men in the business. He has this incredible rare ability to explain the more complex element of his job in the simplest way to engage, inspire and introduce people to bourbon.
I was lucky enough to meet Steve on a recent visit to London.
Tell us about the new Yellowstone Marsala Cask Finish Bourbon and what makes this liquid special?
I am especially proud of our 2022 Yellowstone Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. We start with carefully selected, extra-aged (7-plus years) Kentucky Straight Bourbon and have it finished it in Marsala wine casks. Any time you finish a bourbon, there are risks and rewards that do not reveal themselves until well into the process. I work very hard to make sure my finished whiskies are well balanced. The finishing element should not overpower the natural profile of bourbon, but rather extend it. This is why Marsala works so well with the bourbon. Both have similar, yet unique, flavour profiles, which push traditional boundaries of each other.
What do you do at home to train your nose, palate and senses to be the best they can be?
I have a background in horticulture, having been a landscape architect, so I grew up crushing and smelling leaves of various plants. As I moved into whiskey production, I like to taste everything, from raw grains to the spices I may use. I also like to cook, so I always have plenty of herbs and spices to choose from. When I travel, I love visiting various markets to see what they have. I am proud of the palate I have worked to develop, and I am happy that many people find the profiles of my bourbon agreeable.
Why should people invest in whiskey instead of other collectables?
I personally believe whiskey is best bought to drink, especially when shared with family and friends, so I am probably not the best person to ask. That said, I think whiskey has shown itself to be a solid investment. Of course, you need to start with a great source product. Whiskey bottled many years ago tends to have a different profile from current bottlings, which makes it more sought after. If stored properly, whiskey generally keeps well once bottled. Over time, there is usually less and less of a particular bottling as they are consumed. In short, it is a tangible asset that has proven itself over time.
My advice for would-be investors: buy something that you like or makes you happy – at a level of quality that will be sought after.
The creation of this liquid has been a special process. Can you tell us what it actually tastes like?
Our 2022 Yellowstone Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has a rich, sweet nose with hints of Marsala and oak. The body is thick, with traditional bourbon notes of caramel, brown sugar, crème brulé and dark fruits. What follows are notes of apricot and chocolate on a velvety finish. Bourbon and Marsala share some of the same notes, but with unique differences that expand the pitch and depth of each note. This is a superb sipping bourbon especially suited for after dinner with cigars.
What is your favourite food to have with your whiskeys?
This is easy – anything with chocolate! I also find tree nuts and cheeses to be a great snack to pair with our whiskey. Red meats tend to work particularly well with bourbon too, like the fine selection of British beef at Block Soho.
What is life like at Limestone Branch Distillery?
I founded Limestone Branch Distillery after running several businesses. I knew the nature of the distilling business was going to require me to spend an inordinate amount of time there, especially in the beginning. I sought to design a space that was bright and airy with great energy, so I would want to come to work. I also wanted a rural distillery – one where I could walk outside and collect my thoughts. Returning to the area where my ancestors began distilling was a natural choice.
I enjoy that there isn’t a standard day in distilling – each day charts its own path. I love the comingling of science, art, craft and people. One of the greatest aspects to Limestone Branch Distillery has emerged with the growth of Bourbon tourism. You literally never know who will be walking through your doors next. I love meeting people from all walks of life and from all over the world to share a bourbon fellowship with.
Tasting the new expression is an experience. What are your top three tips for tasting whiskey of this calibre at home?
Glass: You want to use a glass that allows the nose to develop and funnels it upward. A Glencairn does a wonderful job of this.
Nose: First, add a drop or two of water to break the surface tension of the alcohol. Swirl and inspect/look at the colour, and the “legs” (“Legs” refers to how the whiskey clings to the side of the glass, showing its viscosity). A light breath across the top of the glass before nosing can help brush off the ethanol. Hold your nose at a comfortable distance over the glass and inhale with your nose and mouth. Allow yourself to embrace the nosing and make note of what you are tasting.
Taste: A key step in tasting high-proof spirits is to first take a small sip to acclimate your palate. You may want to add a few drops more of water. Then, let the second sip swirl across your tongue. I like to be sure it hits the sides of my mouth as well. The most important thing is to enjoy your experience. Don’t get too hung up on trying to taste what others are noting. Everyone tastes differently, and that is fine.
Apart from whiskey, what do you like to drink at home?
I tend to stay with whiskey – most of the time neat. If it is a social occasion, I will often have a cocktail, such as a Boulevardier or a well-balanced Old Fashioned. If it is very hot, I find gin cocktails refreshing, or occasionally I will have a beer. A great glass of wine is always welcome as well. I think the most important component is friends and family – that makes everything taste better!
What is next for you and Yellowstone / Minor Case?
While I can’t provide any specifics, I can suggest you keep your eye out for a new member of the Yellowstone brand family in 2023. We’ll be providing more details in January 2023. Additionally, I am always looking ahead to the next Yellowstone Limited Edition – generally working two years in advance. Since this is a reoccurring product, it is a never-ending search.
I can also tell you Minor Case Rye is taking off in the UK and Europe. I think UK and European consumers of single malt whiskeys find a cream sherry finish on a light rye very familiar and comforting. The growing popularity of Minor Case is allowing me to consider possible line extensions. Nothing is confirmed so far, so you will need to stay tuned!
To discover more, visit: limestonebranch.com
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All imagery courtesy of Limestone Branch Distillery.