What does the “Beam” in the name of the well-known bourbon whiskey brand have to do with its German translation “Strahl”? The answer is “nothing”, even if the brand name has a connection to Germany.
Nicolaus and Margareta Böhm emigrated to America in 1752. Their fourth of five children, Johannes Jakob Böhm, left his parents’ home in Pennsylvania at the age of 18 and initially settled as a farmer in Maryland. In 1790 he moved on to Kentucky, where he built a water mill in 1792. During this time he Americanized his name and called himself Jacob Beam from then on. As payment for the grain grinding, he received part of their harvest from the farmers, from which he initially distilled whiskey on the side. In 1795 he sold his first barrel of whiskey under the brand name “Old Jake Beam”. The distillery became his main occupation and he ran it until his son David Beam took over the business in 1820.
Until the beginning of Prohibition, the Beam distillery was the largest whiskey producer in the country. Bourbon whiskey (with an “e”) is made from more than 50 percent corn, while in Scotland only malted barley is used in single malt whiskey (without an “e”). There are many stills in Kentucky, but also numerous “dry counties” in which alcohol consumption is largely prohibited. The laws also do not allow tasting during the factory’s popular factory tours. There is a separate bar on the premises for this, but you are only allowed to enter if you are at least 21 years old.
German roots, Japanese owner, US brand name
Production was suspended during the 14 years of the ban. The owner family was dedicated to farming and operated both a coal mine and a quarry. In 1934, one year after the end of Prohibition, the company was finally re-established at its current headquarters in Clermont, Kentucky, under the name “The James B. Beam Distilling Company”. The “Jim Beam” brand, named after James (Jim) Beauregard Beam, who headed the company from 1894, was registered in 1942. He died in 1947, but his signature is still part of the label with the subline “None genuine without my signature”.
Starting with the takeover by the American Tobacco Company in 1968 – like so many other beverage brands – Jim Beam also changed hands on various occasions. Since 2014 it has been firmly in Japanese hands under “Beam Suntory”. German roots, Japanese management and an American brand name are the ingredients for a world market leader.
The article first appeared in Print magazine of the absatzwirtschaft, which you can subscribe to here.
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