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Masters of Distilling: Parker Beam

The world of spirits and cocktails is usually a safe place. There is joy, camaraderie, occasional naughtiness and frequent passion. A drink in hand and wherever you are, that’s the spot to be. And then sometimes, infrequently, it is not.

I must say that I was stunned into submission to learn that Parker Beam, the beloved and long-serving master distiller for Heaven Hill, has been diagnosed with ALS. It is a jarringly sober moment; solemn would not be an overstatement. I think of Parker like I think of my own father. They are only a year apart in age, hard-working guys who have always loved what they do. In Parker’s case, he has been distilling and blending whiskey for over 50 years. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be a member of the famous Beam family, but his merits and those of his whiskies have long been established and acknowledged.

Among his brands, it seems pointless to name favorites. At my Brooklyn bar, the Shanty, where Parker’s photo adorns the top shelf, there are often friendly comparisons of different Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bourbons, but we are just as apt to be delighted by a few fingers of Old Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond—a stalwart if ever there was one.

More than the whiskey and the illustrious lineage, constant grace and humility are Parker’s cornerstone trademarks. His willingness to share time and wisdom with others—bartenders, whiskey enthusiasts, young distillers like me—make knowing the man even more meaningful than knowing the results of his labor.

Distilling is not about the frivolity of awards and medals but about the satisfaction of producing something from scratch. It is a bonus that so many people love Parker’s whiskey and love the man himself.

Confronting ALS means facing the disease and rallying awareness. In the midst of these realities, Parker’s work will lead to assistance for those battling ALS. For every bottle of the seventh edition of Parker’s Heritage Collection Bourbon sold (it’ll be released this fall), Heaven Hill will donate $20 to The Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund in support of ALS research.

In the meantime, you can find additional ways to help at the fund’s site. I hope you’ll join me in spreading the news of this worthy cause.

Allen Katz is the director of mixology & spirits education for Southern Wine & Spirits of New York and co-founder of the New York Distilling Company and its related bar, the Shanty. He is also a advisory board member.
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