When world famous Kentucky bourbon distillery, Jim Beam, decided it was time to overhaul and rebrand its 400-acre distillery, brand and visitor experience, it looked across the ocean for inspiration.
Manchester design agency LOVE Creative rose to the challenge of updating the attraction, which is much-loved but had become dated in the 12 years since its last refurb. With a limited food offering and a heavy reliance on Jim Beam White Label, Jim Beam was in need of some tender LOVE and attention.
LOVE built a whole new home for the storied brand with a brand new visitor experience, immersive bourbon tour, retail store, tasting rooms, 100-seat premium bourbon bar and restaurant, and brand new visual identity. And then there was the small matter of a state-of-the-art distillery ready to produce the brand’s next generation of small-batch bourbons.
The Jim Beam distillery
It all began with the American Outpost, a three-storey home for all things Beam and a flagship space where guests can meet the family, deep dive into interactive exhibits, shop the reimagined retail store, start their tours and enjoy both cocktail making and bourbon tasting classes in the all-new bar and tasting rooms.
The American Outpost is a new contemporary bourbon lifestyle store that brings together the full family of James B. Beam Distilling Co drinks from Jim Beam to Booker’s, alongside a curated selection of apparel and gifting, over two floors.
On the lower floor, each brand has its own dedicated perimeter shop for drinks and accompanying range of accessories. Sitting in the centre of the space is a customisation and gifting bar where products can be personalised through screen-printing and laser engraving.
The downstairs retail space
Upstairs, retail focuses specifically on cocktail making and education in support of the two tasting rooms, ‘The Kentucky Hug’ and ‘The Kentucky Chew’, and the focal cocktail bar.
The design of the space combines warm and welcoming mid-century American home with raw industrial distillery vernacular in a highly flexible, easily reconfigured, modern retail concept.
Elsewhere at the Outpost, visitors will encounter a 25ft-high waterfall running with filtered Kentucky water that blasts visitors with sound and spray as they learn about the locally sourced water that influences every drop of Beam bourbon.
A 1939 Cadillac with a jug of Beam yeast strapped into the passenger seat, just as it was when Jim himself would carry it for safe keeping back in the 40s, is another key visual attraction, as are examples of the charred American oak boards that give the bourbon its unique flavour.
Sacks piled high with corn, rye and barley visualise the key grains used in the process. At the other end of the room, you’ll find the Cornfall: a 25ft high installation mirroring the waterfall on the other side but with corn kernels cascading from the ceiling instead. All this with amazing views into the live fermentation operation through double height glazing.
A vintage Cadillac serves as JB’s yeast store
Moving on to The Casehouse, what was once an ageing wooden warehouse is now an open-plan multimedia exhibition space telling the story of Beam’s products, from still to barrel to bottle. The new interior was rebuilt using reclaimed rackhouse timber from across the campus.
Visitors can discover how Beam distillation works through a large-scale 3D model of the process, hand-crafted in stainless steel. Each guest is given the chance to see the raw distillate and fill a barrel, to be put away for safe keeping until the time is right to come and collect years later.
Physical and digital exhibits demonstrate the importance of the barrel on the liquid’s flavour profile. Visitors then have a chance to ‘dump’ their own barrel of matured Knob Creek bourbon before bottling and personalising it in the bottling room.
Next up, Kitchen Table boasts one of the world’s most exclusive bourbon collections, paired with a high-end food offer that is already making waves in Kentucky culinary culture. The main space features the bourbon and cocktail bar with double-height vaulted ceiling, an open kitchen complete with pizza oven, and two verandas – one covered with formal seating and one open with views to Bernheim Forest and beyond. Outside, a newly landscaped approach and outdoor dining space is complemented by a large smoker.
The Kitchen Table Restaurant
The new Fred B Noe Distillery, meanwhile, carries on the legacy of Fred’s father Booker, who started the small batch revolution in the late 1980s. It represents the epicentre of all-new James B. Beam liquid innovation.
From the outside, it’s a 35,000 sq ft distillery capable of rapid prototyping and liquid development on a small-to-medium scale. Inside it’s the same warm, homely Kentucky welcome, with the family ever-present at its core.
On the ground floor is the reception area, innovation distillery, archive liquid displays and a hero 65ft column, proudly presented at the back of the space. A dedicated University of Kentucky classroom provides space for the distillers of the future to experience bourbon making first-hand.
The Fred B Noe distillery is a small-to-medium scale working distillery
Finally, guests who make it downstairs to the large active still are greeted by an exclusive and intimate bourbon tasting bar. Across the space, visitors have the chance to take a bespoke blending workshop in Freddie’s blending room, complete with its own mini-rackhouse and liquid display.
The Workshop hides behind a wall of reeded glass. This space can be used for many functions, including the Thief Your Own program, where guests use liquid taken from a Beam rackhouse to bottle and label six of their own custom blends.
The exclusive downstairs tasting bar.
Malini Patel, managing director, James B. Beam Distilling Co, said of LOVE’s work: “What you have built is the next chapter of a category defining, enduring legacy. you have not only elevated and honoured this legacy, you have brought it to life in a way that people can authentically experience – the beam family legacy, our philosophy on genuine whiskey making, and our belief in what is to come as we lead into the next phase of what American whiskey can be.”
LOVE partenered on the Jim Beam project with Bergmeyer on the architectural design across the site, Hartranft Lighting Design OJB Landscape Architecture and Geograph Industries on painted graphics, site signage and wayfinding.
All photography by Luke Hayes and LOVE, used with permission.