Five Jim Beam Alternatives for the Patriotic Bourbon Drinker

In case Maker's Mark just isn't the same now that it's owned by a Japanese company

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John Sommers II / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Maker's Mark employees hand dip every bottle of Maker's Mark with their signature red wax at the Maker's Mark Distillery plant in Loretto, Kentucky. January 4, 2011.

On Monday, Suntory Holdings Ltd., a privately-owned Japanese company that produced the country’s first whiskey (and was introduced to many Americans through Bill Murray’s ads in the movie “Lost in Translation”), reached a $13.6 billion dollar deal to acquire Beam Inc., which makes Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, two of the world’s most prominent bourbons. The acquisition—which will make Suntory the third-largest spirits-maker in the world—may come as a shock to American drinkers, but does little to diminish bourbon’s status as the national spirit of the U.S.

Though bourbon has long been associated with the bluegrass fields and limestone caves of Kentucky, the companies that make it aren’t always based there. Though Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and the company’s other American whiskies are distilled in Kentucky, Beam Inc. is headquartered in Deerfield, Ill., outside of Chicago. If the Suntory deal takes the patriotic flavor out of Beam whiskies for you, here are five bourbon-producing distilleries entirely owned and operated in the U.S.:

Buffalo Trace

A national landmark, the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY turns out some of the country’s most sought-after bourbon brands, including the coveted Pappy Van Winkle line. The New Orleans-based Sazerac Company bought the distillery more than 20 years ago and has dramatically boosted the company’s output and profile in recent years.

Woodford Reserve

The Brown-Forman Corporation produces a host of well-known brands, most prominently Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve. While the former is distilled in Lynchburg, Tenn., the latter is pure Kentucky—made at a Civil War-era distillery in Versailles and serves as “the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby,” per an arrangement with Churchill Downs.

Heaven Hill

Elijah Craig, the ubiquitous Evan Williams brand and an eponymous offering are produced by Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc. at their facilities in Bardstown, KY.

Willett

Another Bardstown staple is the simply named Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (formerly the Willett Distilling Company), which produces an array of small batch and single barrel brands, including Willett, Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek.

Angel’s Envy

Founded in 2010, the Louisville Distilling Co. is relatively new to the bourbon scene but clearly remains devoted to the spirit’s Kentucky roots. The company’s flagship brand, Angel’s Envy, takes it’s name from the bourbon that evaporates while aging in its charred-oak barrels, affectionately known as the “angel’s share.” The company plans to open a state-of-the-art distillery in downtown Louisville later this year.

21 comments
StevePaul
StevePaul

Fellow Americans, the new owners are investing in more US production and bourbon capacity.

Something the old owners held back on

Count me among the supporters of this deal.

Rototime
Rototime

This is just capitalism. Just the same as we preach and practice.

TimothyBlack
TimothyBlack

Nice research, Time. Just so you know, several of Buffalo Trace's brands are actually owned by Ancient Age, a Japanese company as well. All the mash bill #2 stuff (Elmer T lee, AAA, Rock Hill, Hancocks, Blantons) is just distributed by Buffalo Trace here.


kybourbonguy knows his stuff too.

kybourbonguy
kybourbonguy

You're investigating is about as good as most, "I'm a Patriot by-God" folks.  

Angel's Envy doesn't have an operating distillery yet.  So that means they buy their juice from another distillery or distilleries.  I'm curious, how do you know they haven't bought any juice from Beam since those kind of deals always involve a non-disclosure clause?

Willet Distillery just opened their distillery less than 2 years ago, buy offer several extra-aged Bourbons, ranging from 4 years to up to 25 years, meaning they have been buy juice from other distilleries for a long time.  How do you know none of their juice isn't from Beam? 

It's also common knowledge amongst Bourbon enthusiasts that the majority of Woodford Reserve does not come from their distillery right outside Versailles. 


Next time you try to classify who is "Patriotic" and who is not, investigate a little farther than those company's own websites. 

TheWhiskeyJug
TheWhiskeyJug

They're not just buying Jim Beam, but Beam inc. which includes Jim Beam, Courvoisier, Makers Mark, Pinnacle Vodka, Sauza Tequila, Canadian Club, Teacher's, Laphroaig,  Kilbeggan, Kessler and the whole host of  brands that Beam Inc. owns all over the world. This is a much bigger play than just Jim Beam bourbon. 


On a side note. I expected more out of Time than this ridiculousness. You're supposed to bring perspective to these kinds of events. When I saw the title of this post I thought it was from BuzzFeed. How about mentioning that sometimes when brands get bought it actually helps them. 

Four Roses makes some of the best damn bourbon around and they're owned by Kirin. From the 30's - 50's they were the top selling bourbon brand in America. Then Seagram's bought them and completely ruined the Four Roses name by pushing out blended rot gut and shipping all the premium straight bourbon to Asia. Kirin bought them in 2002, got rid of the rot gut, let Jim Rutledge do what he does best (making damn good bourbon) and the company, and US bourbon drinkers, have benefited immensely from it. 

drewdallas808
drewdallas808

This is not a patriotic or quality issue. Simply economic one. Santory bought Beam to sell in Asia. This will mean higher prices for us domestic consumers.

ChrisDeLuca
ChrisDeLuca

So let me get this straight....it is somehow MORE "patriotic" to stop buying these bourbons and potentially put American laborers out of work?  Great logic, Time...

keiteay
keiteay

USA! Merica! Patriotism! Pearl Harbor! Never Forget!

albanypark
albanypark

Is Time Magazine laying off too many copy editors? I'm trying to figure out where "Frankfort, K.Y." is, the home of one of the US distillers. There is nothing in the Associated Press Stylebook, nor in the USPS Handbook, that recognizes any state abbreviation as "K.Y." Maybe the author had a good time in bed last night and was thinking of a certain brand of jelly product.

GrahamPink
GrahamPink

Now officially to be known as Jap Beam? There, I said it.

JohnNeed
JohnNeed

The fact that Jim Beam was bought by a Japanese firm in no way diminishes the brand.  The fact that Time is suggesting people switch brands because it was bought by a Japanese firm smacks of blatant racism.

LoriRogers
LoriRogers

@drewdallas808I don't think so....the price of Budweiser did not go up after they were purchased by a foreign company.  Unless Japan opens a mfg. facility in Asia, it will still be made in KY and still be an import for Asia.

LoriRogers
LoriRogers

@keiteaySeriously?  Then you should probably take back every thing electronic you own.  90% chance it has Japanese technology in it.  Grow up!


dagrozombie
dagrozombie

It has nothing to do with being a racist. Its about American pride. I enjoyed the fact that when I purchased a 1/5 of Beam or Knob Creek, that it was American made and American owned and although it was owned by a corpration not a mom and pop shop, at least my $ were staying in America. Its bad enough that I have a hard time finding clothes made anywhere other than asia. I don't want my bourbon Made there as well. I want my bourbon made by Americans in Kentucky for an American owned co.

rawnstet
rawnstet

@JohnNeed bourbon drinkers are very touchy when it comes to the geography and authenticity of their brands. while i agree with you that they probably will keep the production and ingredients the same, it still lowers the authentic brand value that jim beam had all these years in the american bourbon sphere. japanese people who like their liquor likely feel the same about sake that is produced here, that it is not authentic. same as tequila made anywhere but jalisco - it is not considered real tequila.

although many people who are up in arms about this probably don't know a damn thing about bourbon and are just being racist. so you could be partially right.

LoriRogers
LoriRogers

@drewdallas808   Oh wait...TPP will take care of the duties & taxes...They can import cheap once that agreement is finalized with all countries..

TheWhiskeyJug
TheWhiskeyJug

@dagrozombie They're not moving the company to Japan. Bourbon is a federally protected term that only applies to American made whiskey of 51% or more corn, new charred American Oak barrels and aged for at least 2 years. They can't (and aren't going to) make bourbon in Jpaan and ship it back over. The products will be made in America, the jobs will stay in America, etc. Suntory owns a lot of other brewing and distilling operations around the world, but they buy good products and add them to their global distribution and marketing networks so they can ship them further out. You're not losing anything.

lew.bryson
lew.bryson

@rawnstet@JohnNeedSuntory will most definitely keep the production and ingredients the same. They're leaving the Beam management in place. I don't really see what the problem is: Maker's Mark used to be owned by a Canadian company and no one lost their minds about that. Four Roses is GREAT bourbon: owned by another Japanese company, Kirin (who actually restored Four Roses to their former excellence). Bulleit: owned by an English company. All those whiskeys? Made by Americans. I just don't get this. What's the big deal?

BTW, Suntory also owns Bowmore distillery in Scotland, which hasn't really changed. And the malt whiskies Suntory makes in Japan -- Yamazaki, for one -- are excellent. This is a company that knows whiskey. They aren't going to change things.

Bullsgt
Bullsgt

@rawnstet @JohnNeed Personally it's all about taste. Does it really matter who owns the company?

What matters is the raw ingredients and methodology.  As long as Suntory maintains the same standards it's all good.



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