Parker Beam Passes Away After Long Battle with ALS

| January 9, 2017

Parker Beam

Parker Beam. Image courtesy of Heaven Hill.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with a statement from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association on the passing of Parker Beam. Additionally, we here at The Whiskey Wash extend our condolences to Parker’s family and also all of those at Heaven Hill.

There’s sad breaking news from Kentucky today. Parker Beam, Master Distiller Emeritus at Heaven Hill, has passed away after a long battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS. According to a statement issued by Heaven Hill today, Parker died last night.

Parker told the world he was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2013. Over the past four years, he and his family have worked tirelessly to raise awareness and funds for the treatment of the disease, including partnering with the ALS Association to found the Parker Beam Promise of Hope fund.

Parker began working at Heaven Hill in 1960, where he was trained by his father, Earl, the distillery’s previous Master Distiller. He earned the title himself in 1975, shepherding Heaven Hill through some difficult times, including the near-collapse of the bourbon market in the 1970s and Heaven Hill’s catastrophic warehouse fire of 1996.

As bourbon’s popularity grew, Parker became the face of the Heaven Hill brand, and he spent time traveling around the world to represent American bourbon and inspire a future generation of distillers. Watching the bourbon industry recover and blossom was one of Parker’s great joys.

While his disease eventually forced him to stop working, Parker stayed on at Heaven Hill as Master Distiller Emeritus to help coach new distillers and provide technical assistance. His loss is felt not only by Heaven Hill, but by the entire American distilling industry. Heaven Hill says:

There are no awards Parker has not won—charter member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, Whiskey Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame, they go on and on—but what we will remember most about Parker was the leadership, the can-do attitude, and the kind and selfless mentoring he did to his son Craig and a whole new generation of Bourbon distillers.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association meanwhile issued its own statement on the passing of this legend:

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association and its members are deeply saddened by the passing of Bourbon legend and longtime friend Parker Beam, and offers its heartfelt condolences to his family and Heaven Hill Distillery.

Parker Beam wasn’t just a name on a bottle – he was the living embodiment of the whiskey inside: authentic, classic, well-seasoned and distilled from old-fashioned hard work and gentleman integrity.

His place in our industry’s rich distilling history is beyond reproach, as few can match his 55 years of passionate service and leadership, charter selection to the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and award-winning Bourbon portfolio crafted under his watch as Master Distiller.

It was that esteemed legacy, combined with his tireless spirit and outstanding devotion, that led the KDA Board of Directors to name the industry’s Lifetime Achievement Award after Parker Beam in 2015.

Like his friends and fellow legends before him, Parker Beam will be sorely missed, but never forgotten. We have all been blessed by his craftsmanship and unwavering friendship, and ask Bourbon lovers everywhere to raise a glass in his honor.

We’ll update you with more information as it becomes available. For now, raise a glass to Parker Beam, one of bourbon’s greats.

– Additional reporting by Nino Marchetti


Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...