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Food & Dining // Food & Beverage Focus
Jo McGarry

Jo McGarry photo

Associate Distiller and Bourbon Ambassador, Jim Beam Distillery

Welcome to Honolulu. Are the Islands everything you had expected?

Yes, yes, just wonderful. It’s my first time here. If I die tomorrow, I’ve had a good ride and I can say, hey, I got to see Hawaii.

Your great-grandfather was Jim Beam, your father was Booker Noe and your ancestor Jacob Beam sold the first Beam whiskey more than 200 years ago. Any pressure to go into the industry? (Laughs) No, in fact, my dad tried to push me away. He didn’t encourage it until he knew it was in my heart. But I always knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I’m the seventh generation of our family to continue the tradition. And my son, Freddie Booker Noe, now also is working in our family business as the eighth generation of Beams.

I read that your family home was where Jim Beam also lived. That’s correct. At one point, the street we lived on was known as Distiller’s Row.

There’s a new “white whiskey” that’s just been introduced in Hawaii. It reminds me a bit of Irish poteen (po cheen). Ha, but smoother! This is Jacob’s ghost – Jacob Beam was the first family member to sell whiskey in 1795. Those guys didn’t live long enough to age their whiskey. They sold it right off the still. That’s why it was a little on the rough side. This one is aged in a new charred oak barrel for just one year. It softens up the spirit and makes it very nice on the palate – very smooth.

You mean it doesn’t taste like moonshine? (Laughs) No, it doesn’t. It’s surprisingly smooth and mellow.

Bourbon has changed so much in the past decade. It seems like there’s one for everyone now. Yes, the image of some guy walking into a bar and saying “give me a shot of whiskey” has almost gone. And the interesting thing is, lots of ladies are joining us.

There are some who may say you have one of the world’s greatest jobs. I agree with them. My job is to continue this tradition that started in my family hundreds of year ago. I wouldn’t trade anything for that.

How are you supposed to drink a great bourbon? I tell people to drink it any way they want to – with soda, over ice – we don’t like rules in Kentucky. There is no proper way, as long as you’re enjoying it. We’re not like those Scots who tell you not to put ice in your drink (laughs).

What do you drink when it’s time to relax? I enjoy the Jim Beam Black – the Devil’s Cut – and Knob Creek, but I drink them all. In the summer, I like my bourbon with a little ice, a splash of water. It makes it refreshing. In the winter, maybe with a little less ice. It gets cold in Kentucky, you know.

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