“You can’t rush bourbon,” says Limestone Branch Distillery’s Stephen Beam, a seventh-generation distiller from a prestigious line of bourbon-makers in Kentucky. “It has taught me to slow down. Sipping it with friends and letting chaos pass by is one of life’s simple pleasures.” We talked with Stephen to learn more about his family legacy of fine bourbon-making and how Yellowstone Select Bourbon is the award-winning result (Yellowstone Select won gold at 2022’s prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition and another gold at the 2021 American Whiskey Masters Competition where the judges hailed it for its “fruity nose” and “creamy mouth-feel.”) With Yellowstone Select Bourbon – a blend of four- and seven-year-old bourbons – you’ll enjoy sweet, spicy notes of rye and soft, leathered cherries. There’s also a hint of smoked caramel and a long finish of smoky oak and brown sugar.
Bourbon is big business. How does Limestone Branch Distillery take a truly artisanal approach?
“I wanted to make bourbon to make my ancestors proud. I do this by respecting their methods and traditions. For me, making bourbon is a very emotional and tactile experience. I never tire of the smell of cooking mash. It is big business, and it swirls around me like a storm. I just move along, making my bourbon in the calm eye of the storm.”
How has science allowed you to create a Yellowstone bourbon that’s true to the original?
“My family held on to significant pieces of our heritage: old notebooks, mash bills and recipes and a very important Dona jug. A Dona jug is what distillers used to store yeast. Early on, maintaining the purity of the yeast strain was one of the main tasks of a distiller, and there was always some yeast kept in the jug in case it was needed. I took that old jug to ‘Dr. Yeast’ – Pat Heist, a Kentucky legend – who was able to get the DNA from yeast in that jug and cross-reference it to his vast library to find a perfect match. Of course, we can never reproduce the original Yellowstone profile, but with the original yeast, grain selection, and barrel specifications we can honour our past while looking toward the future.”
What is Yellowstone’s connection with Yellowstone National Park?
“In 1872, a salesman, Charles Townsend, recommended naming a bourbon after that great park. It quickly became the company’s bestselling bourbon. I wanted to give back to the park system that had given so much to my family. So we work with the NPCA – the National Parks Conservation Association – and to be better stewards for our parks.” How is Yellowstone Bourbon Whiskey unique in the world of Kentucky bourbon? “Yellowstone is a Kentucky classic and we’re celebrating our 150th year this year. The product has traditional, classic Kentucky straight bourbon notes, and we maintain the taste profile to reflect our storied history. It’s a blend of four- and seven-year-old bourbons which allows for a smooth drinking experience along with the complexities of an older whiskey.”
Can you share what the taste experience difference is between drinking bourbon neat or with a chunk of ice?
“When you are drinking bourbon neat you want to take a couple of small sips to acclimate your palette to high proof spirits. For neat expressions are big bold sensory experience. You get an explosion of those rich notes of caramel, and vanilla bourbon is so noted for, followed by that warm sensation deep in your chest, that’s the Kentucky ‘hug’. On the rocks, you are getting those same flavours, and maybe a few more characteristics because the water helps ‘open’ the bourbon up, at the same time the proof lowers as the ice melts, and as this happens the flavours get milder and milder.”
The most important question: Do you drink your bourbon neat or on the rocks?
“I have been know to chuck a cube or two. I prefer my bourbon neat, with a drop or two of water if it is convenient. I like the robust full flavour that I get with a neat pour. I like to say I add my water before I bottle it.“
150 years of Yellowstone: A timeline
Jacob Beam, great-great-uncle to Limestone Branch Distillery co-founder Stephen Beam, sells his first barrels of corn whisky made in the bourbon style.
Joseph Washington Dant, Stephen’s maternal great-great-grandfather, prospers with his own distillery in Marion County, Kentucky.
Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, is born. This same year, Yellowstone bourbon debuts, making 2022 the 150th anniversary for the brand.
Minor Case Beam, Stephen’s great-grandfather, becomes a master distiller; he buys Gethsemane Distillery and renames it Head and Beam.
Minor Case Beam brings Guy, Stephen’s grandfather, into the bourbon business. He becomes a renowned master distiller and moves to Canada to practise his craft during Prohibition.
Limestone Branch Distillers takes root in Lebanon, Kentucky, as a small distillery reminiscent of the bygone bourbon era. The intention is to craft only the finest bourbon and restore the Yellowstone brand to its former glory. Doors open in 2012.
The Yellowstone Select Landmark Edition Bottle series is a limited-edition release and features six different scenes from the Yellowstone, the national park that inspired the brand.