If you can’t get out to the bourbon distilleries, how about the bourbon distilleries come to you? That’s kinda the idea behind the brand new Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse at Fourth Street Live. For those tourists and locals who can’t make it out to Clermont, Ky., for the full Jim Beam distillery experience, they’ve pulled out a whiskey-thief-sized sample just for you.
A few days ago, I got an up-close and personal tour of the Urban Stillhouse, and it truly is, as senior director of Beam Experiences Kim Bennett described, a Build-A-Bear for adults. An interactive component, featured with a retail store and tasting bar, makes for a bourbon-lover’s nirvana.
First of all, tastings, which take place about every 20 minutes, are free. You get three samples of flagship Beam products, and then one sample of your choice of any of the dozens of bourbons and whiskeys they make (Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s, Booker’s, Baker’s and the many flavored Jim Beams products). One sample that’s part of every tasting is the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Select, distilled and bottled exclusively for guests of the Urban Stillhouse.
On the day I was there, friendly taste teacher Alycia Lynch poured me samples of Basil Hayden’s, Jim Beam Bonded and the Stillhouse Select. I chose Knob Creek Single Barrel for my bonus bourbon.
Lynch recounted the history of the company (from founder Jacob Beam making his first bourbon in 1795 to current master distiller Fred Noe), described each product in detail and gave pointers on how to fully enjoy a tasting experience, from color and smell to taste and finish.
The Stillhouse Select was quite tasty for being a 100-proof bourbon, and it could stand up to many premium bourbons on the market. It’s also not chill filtered like most bourbons, making it even more full-bodied and rich.
Next on the tour, if you decide you need a bottle of the Stillhouse Select ($29.99 for 375mL and $45.99 for 750mL), you get a chance to choose an empty bottle, label it, fill it with Kentucky’s sweet nectar, and cork it. It’s then placed in a basket that flies over your head, delivering it to the check-out area.
Urban Stillhouse manager Marsha Beam (yes, she’s family) took me around to each step and explained the process while I stuffed my very own Build-A-Bourbon.
Some of the other cool features of the 4,300-square-foot space include interactive touch screens where you can learn more about the history of Jim Beam, put your photo into various bourbon-centric scenes and email them to yourself, and even have your photo placed alongside the prominent people in Beam’s history on your very own Jim Beam bottle, with your name inscribed on the front. Etching also is available for about $10 more if you want to personalize any bottle.
While I was there, I met Jim Noe (he’s family, too), the distiller in charge of both the distillation system at the Urban Stillhouse as well as the premium bourbons distilled in Clermont. He told me way too much about the intricate distillation processes and the Vendome-made copper pot stills built right here in Louisville. I just nodded my head from time to time and admired his enthusiasm for his work. Plus, the smell of infant bourbon was intoxicating.
Last but not least, I’d be remiss not to tell you about the gigantic American oak tree that holds court in the center of the Stillhouse. It’s built out of barrel staves, and its canopy is made from laser-cut steel leaves and illuminated Beam bottles. Pretty cool stuff.
The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse is on the Bourbon Trail, so be sure to bring your passport and get that stamp. Hours are Monday-Thursday, noon-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-6 p.m.