Whisky Advocate

Parker Beam, Longtime Master Distiller at Heaven Hill, Has Passed Away

January 9th, 2017

By Susannah Skiver Barton

parker-in-rickhouse-copyThe whiskey world shines a little less brightly today with the death of Parker Beam, who passed away last night. The longtime master distiller at Heaven Hill, an independent, family-owned distilled spirits company based in Bardstown, Kentucky, Parker had been fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) for the last six years—a public battle that brought the entire Kentucky bourbon community out to rally around him and push for a cure.

Parker grew up learning from his father, Earl Beam, who was master distiller at Heaven Hill before him. Parker started his official career in 1960, although he had worked odd jobs at the distillery even as a child. He became master distiller in 1975, and over the course of his career, he was an industry leader in innovation and quality through brands like Evan Williams and Elijah Craig. He had been master distiller emeritus at Heaven Hill since 2013, when he passed the reins to his son, Craig.


Parker was honored at WhiskyFest 2013. (Photo by Shannon Sturgis)

Parker’s prowess as a master distiller became legendary over the course of his career, and he was honored with Whisky Advocate’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. He also netted two Whisky Advocate American Whiskey of the Year awards for Parker’s Heritage Collection 27 year old bourbon in 2008 and Parker’s Heritage Collection “Golden Anniversary” bourbon in 2009. In 2013, after Parker announced news of his illness publicly, his colleagues from Kentucky’s leading distilleries—including Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey, Fred Noe of Jim Beam, Jim Rutledge of Four Roses, Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve, Harlen Wheatley of Buffalo Trace, and Greg Davis of Maker’s Mark—each donated a bottle of bourbon, which Parker blended, along with a bottle of Heaven Hill bourbon, to create a special whiskey called Master Distillers’ Unity. Whisky Advocate editor and publisher John Hansell and some of the contributing distillers, as well as Craig Beam, honored Parker that year at WhiskyFest New York, leading a special tasting of Unity. Only two bottles of the whiskey were made available for purchase at auction, resulting in a donation of $8,500 to the ALS Association. In addition, since 2013, Heaven Hill has donated a portion of sales of each year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection bourbon to the ALS Association’s Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund, with over half a million dollars raised so far.

“The whiskey industry lost a legend,” says Hansell. “Parker was one of the most passionate, hardest working people I’ve ever met. Every bottle of whiskey he helped produce was synonymous with quality. But more importantly, we lost a member of our whiskey family. That’s how I’ve always felt about Parker—as family—because that’s how he and his lovely wife Linda always treated me. And I know that everyone else whose lives he touched feels the same way.”

Parker is survived by his wife, Linda, his son, Craig, and numerous family members and loved ones, including his colleagues at Heaven Hill.

4 Responses to “Parker Beam, Longtime Master Distiller at Heaven Hill, Has Passed Away”

  1. Dan says:

    A tough, tough, tough disease but what a fighter to survive six years. My condolences to the family and to his Heaven Hill colleagues.

  2. Wayne C. Parker says:

    Rest in Peace our ” brown water” friend. You are gone but not forgotten! God Bless his family & Heaven Hill Brands…

  3. STUART BOWLES says:

    I never had the honor to meet Parker though I have been fortunate to meet Craig and friends of Parker’s who were touched whennpeople asked how their dear friend was doing. In that spirit, I feel for their loss and am saddened by his passing. My hearfelt condolences to his family and all those whose lives he touched.

  4. Kevin Strader says:

    My mother passed away a number of years ago from ALS. I know the loss that the Beam family feels. All of us who have been touched by ALS should extend heartfelt thanks to Heaven Hill and the Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund. Having grown up in the state of Kentucky I will give him the honor of calling him “A True Southern Gentleman”.

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