American Legends

The Beam family continue to be stewards of land and spirits in Kentucky.

It’s not hard to list American hallmarks with deep legacies, but two whose connection might seem surprising—with a 150-year relationship—are Yellowstone Bourbon and Yellowstone National Park. Both were introduced in 1872 and are treasures worth preserving.

Last year, Limestone Branch Distillery, which makes the Yellowstone brand of whiskeys, donated $250,000 (U.S.) to the National Parks Conservation Association; it has contributed almost $750,000 (U.S.) to the nonprofit since 2018. Based in Lebanon, Kentucky, the company also announced a $40,000 donation to the Trans Canada Trail and a new partnership continuing the firm’s dedication to conservation.


Yellowstone Bourbon


Water is one of the most important ingredients in the flagship Yellowstone Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, master distiller Stephen Beam says, describing the stalwart small-batch bourbon that earned gold at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. “Kentucky is blessed with an abundance of quality limestone-filtered water. Being good stewards of the water starts with also being good stewards of the land.” An illustration of the twin cascades of Yellowstone Falls has graced the labels since the bourbon was first bottled. Today it’s still a reminder of two American legends.

Beam and his brother Paul only opened Limestone Branch in 2011, but they were seemingly destined to add to the family’s legendary lore in the whiskey-distilling world. Going back seven generations, the spirited ancestral story is as complex as it is colourful, but a line on its website sums it up: “Our family tree is an American oak.”



Master Distiller Stephen Beam


Their roots run deep in Kentucky, birthplace of bourbon, with lineage tracing back to two great-great uncles: on their dad’s side, Jacob Beam, and on their mother’s side, Bernard Dant, who cannily named one of his bourbons after the national park. “Yellowstone quickly became his bestselling brand,” Beam says. “I wanted to respect this long history and return to a methodology that would have been prevalent at the turn of the century.”

Honouring a family recipe, the bourbon’s mash bill is composed of 75 per cent open-pollinated white heirloom corn, 13 per cent rye, and 12 per cent malted barley. (A 53-gallon barrel of bourbon requires 600 gallons of water and 950 pounds of grain.) Then there’s yeast. Far more than a function of fermentation, it imparts distinctive aromas and flavours to the spirit. Yeast is often passed down through generations of distillers.


Yellowstone Bourbon


“Unfortunately, our family yeast appeared to have been lost to time,” Beam says. “Fortunately, our family yeast jug had been sitting in a display case at the Oscar Getz whiskey museum in Bardstown, Kentucky, for the past 30 years.” Intuition and science intervened. He’d heard that scientists supposedly “sprouted grain and palms from seeds found in the pyramids, so I thought, ‘I wonder if we can revive any yeast from that jug.’” Beam knew it was a long shot.

Ferm Solutions in Danville, Kentucky, took up the challenge. Using state-of-the-art technology, it successfully extracted the DNA from the yeast jug. Once again, that yeast is elemental to Yellowstone Select. A deft distiller like Beam is also attuned to the land’s microclimates. “Years of distilling in the area, both legal and illegal, contribute to a rich microflora,” he says. “We open ferment, which means the wild and native yeasts comingle with ours to produce a unique spirit. Every distillery has its own fingerprint, so to speak.”

Like his forebears, Beam uses a pot still, which contributes to the spirit’s characteristics. On the nose: rye spice with soft, leathered cherries. On the palate: smoked caramel. Maturing the spirit in brand new, charred-oak barrels is required by law for bourbon, yet Beam doesn’t shy away from playing with finishes. For the 2023 Special Finishes Collection, he used six types of toasted barrel staves to create different profiles, while letting the bourbon shine through.



Yellowstone Bourbon


Beam’s 2024 limited-edition-release bourbon will be the first time he combines the finish from two different casks: cognac and brandy. “The richness from the cognac, fruity notes from the brandy, with traditional bourbon flavours of caramel, vanilla, and oak, come together for a memorable dram.”

Along with the experimentation, it’s clear Beam will remain faithful to Yellowstone’s flagship bourbon, preserving both his family legacy and the land that supports it. “We’re committed to protecting the environments that give us great joy,” he says, “whether it’s the parks and trails where we hike and camp or the fields where we grow corn and grain.”

Photography courtesy of Limestone Branch Distilling Co.