Sipping a glass of bourbon is all about the pleasure you get from the experience, so when Frederick “Fred” Booker Noe III, son of the late Frederick “Booker” Noe Jr. and great-grandson of Jim Beam, who is a seventh-generation distiller and current keeper of the family flame that has burned for more than 200 years, tells you to “drink it any damn way you want!”, he means that.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to drink it. I want to make sure you enjoy it. It should be a pleasurable experience – that’s what it’s all about. If you taste the bourbon and make a face, then it’s too strong – cut it down ‘til it’s pleasing to your palate. If you want to do it with soft drinks that’s okay, water…that’s great, cocktails, that’s perfect. If you want to drink it out of the bottle, that’s okay too. I’ve coined the term – ‘drink it any damn way you want!’”
Noe, a colorful character to say the least, brought his larger-than-life personality to night one of Atlantis’ two-night Bourbon Bash at the Ocean Club Golf Course on Friday, November 15, for a bourbon-and-BBQ pairing dinner showcasing products from the Small Batch Bourbon Collection – Knob Creek Bourbon, Knob Creek Rye Whiskey, Booker’s Bourbon and Basil Hayden’s Bourbon as Atlantis partnered with Beam Suntory in hosting two bourbon legends for its first bourbon weekend experience.
His one suggestion outside of drinking it the way it’s pleasing to you is to always start with the lower strength products and work your way up, as he took diners through tasting steps beginning with the lighter bourbons, graduating into the fuller flavors, beginning with the 80 proof Basil Hayden’s Bourbon – a full-bodied, heavier caramel, well-balanced, rich and flavorful bourbon with a deep nose aroma with a mix of caramel, oak, cinnamon and vanilla. It finished long, smooth and soothing.
The 100 proof Knob Creek Bourbon tasted rich, sweet, woody and full-bodied with an aroma of toasted nuts, grain and oak; with a finish that was long, rich and glowing.
Among the four libations was the Knob Creed Rye Whiskey. At 100 proof, it tasted of bold rye spiciness with undertones of vanilla and oak. Its aromas encompassed expansive notes of herbs and rye with nuances of oak. It had a warm, smooth finish with spice throughout.
Booker’s Bourbon at 121-127 proof rounded out the tasting. It was intense, fruity, with hints of tannin, tobacco and maple syrup. The aromas were of big oak, vanilla and smoky charcoal.
The bourbons were paired with a not-so-average run-of-the-mill BBQ served family-style. It definitely was not a stodgy BBQ by any stretch of the imagination. Refined with quality ingredients, the order of the day included items like beautiful dry-aged bone-in beef short ribs, slow braised for 36 hours, dried out a little bit before hitting the grill to add smokiness on it, napped with the sauce and served with the carrots the short ribs were stewed with.
Cold items passed during the reception included roasted eggplant babaganoush with tomato crisp; and foie gras torchon with fig preserves, and cinnamon toast.
A warm Maine lobster station showcased orecchiette pasta, lobster cream and crisp Virginian ham impressively served up from a Parmesan wheel; as well as a honey-glazed char siu station; shrimp and grits with Ansel Mills Blue Corn, grilled scallions, smoked cheddar and tobacco onions; “The Season’s Root Vegetables” featured a showcase of carrots, beets, squash, pears, ginger-carrot puree and IPA vinegar spritz; and a baby kale Ceasar, among the firsts.
Chargrilled salmon fillet succotash with pickled mustard seeds and Carolina mustard sauce; smoked Heritage chicken with woodland mushrooms, roasted pumpkin and natural jus were among the main attractions featured, including the Memphis-style smoked pork riblets; braised beef short rib ossobuco with stewed carrots, Kansas City sauce with sides of cream corn, crispy Brussels sprouts and stop-your-heart potatoes.
A cheesecake indulgence and a seasonally inspired selection of ice creams and gelatos provided a sweet ending.
Making night one that much more special was the presence of Noe – Jim Beam’s master distiller who shared the craft of whiskey making and the rich history of his family’s legacy, which goes back to 1975 when Jacob Beam started making whiskey in Central Kentucky and was followed into the business by his son, David M. Beam, who created the first brand name – Old Tub Bourbon – and moved the family distillery from its original site, closer to the railroad line.
Through seven generations, Noe III shared that his dad Fred “Booker” Noe has always said that the strongest link in the Beam family chain goes to James Beauregard “Jim” Beam. In the fourth generation during his tenure, Beam found himself shutting down the business due to prohibition as the United States government outlawed the sale of alcohol, and rebuilding it when prohibition was lifted. And as Noe puts it – the rest is history.
“I think in the back of his mind he [Jim Beam] really knew that prohibition would eventually get repealed. And when prohibition was repealed, he applied for a license and reopened the old Murphy Barber Distillery in Clermont. He got it done in 120 days. It’s 70 years old.”
Jim Beam had three children – two girls and one son – T. Jeremiah Beam – who took over the business from Jim Beam.
“Uncle Jerry was the one who wanted him to start exporting bourbon. His vision was to take Jim Beam around the world.”
The Beam name ended there as Noe’s uncle did not have any children, so when he looked to bring the next generation in, the family had to look to his sisters’ families and only one of them had children – that was Noe’s grandmother who had married Frederick “Booker” Noe.
“The question always comes up: how can you be Jim Beam’s great-grandson and your last name isn’t Beam? Well, my grandmother was Jim Beam’s daughter and that’s the connection.”
Noe III, 62, is seventh generation.
The current master distiller said his dad went into the business at the age of 21 and found a place at the distillery and he worked there his entire life, creating Beam’s black label. He introduced “Booker’s Bourbon” in 1987 and coined the phrase “small batch” to describe his uncut, unfiltered bourbon.
“Really, his biggest thing he did was bring small batch bourbon collections to life,” said Noe.
Some of those small batch whiskies were sampled during the Atlantis Bourbon Bash.
The creation of Booker’s Bourbon in 1987, helped revitalize the bourbon business which had been battered by the rising popularity of “white spirits” like gin and particularly vodka in the 1960s and 1970s.
Noe, Booker’s only child who is steeped in whiskey culture, entered the company in a less than glamorous job even though he was Jim Beam’s great-grandson. His father put him to work the night shift as bottling line supervisor to learn the business from the ground up – 35 years later, he’s still there. He became the master distiller for Jim Beam brands in 2007.
He serves as ambassador of the Small Batch Bourbon Collection which encompasses the Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s Baker’s and Booker’s showcased at the Bourbon Bash, which were personally designed and distilled by his father, Booker. Noe plays a role in the development and promotion of the ultra-premium bourbons, which are aged longer, feature higher proofs and are representative of pre-prohibition whiskey.
He’s also proud that his son Freddie, the eighth generation of Beam, is working with him now and says he’s going to take over soon.
“My son Freddie is doing a great job. He’s working in the distillery, creating a lot of products, so that is kind of our history from 1795 to today – it’s been a hell of a ride.”
He said he was more than glad to hop on a plane and travel to The Bahamas for the Bourbon Bash when it was 20-degrees in Kentucky.
Night two of the Bourbon Bash featured Denny Potter, Maker’s Mark’s master distiller who led a paired whiskey tasting featuring Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46 and Maker’s Mark Cask Strength.
Atlantis’ Bourbon Bash is expected to become an annual event as the resort continues its food and beverage evolution.
Chef Sean O’Connell, Atlantis executive chef and general manager/vice president of culinary, said the evening was built around Noe’s appearance.
“He’s an iconic distiller, they’ve got really great bourbons [and] the profiles are amazing.”
They looked for a way to support that in an approachable experience.
“We brought stations of food prepared a la minute and very freshly showcasing different [Atlantis] restaurants [and chefs], and just let them be creative, express themselves and engage the guest.”
Complementing the bourbons and food bash were hand-rolled cigars and great music.
He also said they’ve seen a growing demand for bourbon, which has become trendy.
“Bourbons are really starting to be recognized and come into their own and they are very approachable, and you can make many different cocktails with them, or you can drink them straight. And you can sit on the patio, have a cigar and sip your bourbon or you can have a really good old-fashioned and eat some short rib.”
He was pleased the two-night event was sold out and going forward said they intend to grow it a little more while still preserving the intimacy of the experience.
The Bourbon Bash was an event two years in the making, according to Bryan O’Sheilds, Atlantis senior vice president of food and beverage, who continues to be inspired by his southern upbringing and destinations where he spent a large majority of his time, and as a result he has a personal whiskey and bourbon connection. In Kentucky, he gained an even deeper knowledge of bourbon and the distillery business and worked day-to-day with the Beam Suntory team.