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One of Kentucky’s largest distilleries will donate $5 million to the University of Kentucky to establish an institute that will “educate the next generation of distillers,” officials announced Wednesday.
The Jim B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits will expand bourbon education at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels.
“When we envisioned ways to prepare our workforce to meet the changing needs of our rapidly growing bourbon industry, a partnership with Jim Beam was a natural fit, and I can’t thank them enough for the generous gift that will help bring our vision to life,” said UK President Eli Capilouto.
Jim Beam Bourbon, one of the nation’s top-selling bourbon companies, is owned by Japanese liquor company Suntory Holdings, with its main distillery located in Clermont. The $5 million donation is the largest philanthropic or educational gift in Beam Suntory’s history.
“This donation is an investment in the future of bourbon, and Kentucky’s future workforce, and we are confident that the future for both is very bright indeed,” said Albert Baladi, President and CEO of Beam Suntory. “We are excited about the key role that this program will play in the continued global expansion of America’s Native Spirit.”
The James B. Beam Institute will be housed in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, which will oversee curriculum across the spectrum of the bourbon industry, from distillation to bottling to the industry’s history.
“The institute is a collaboration to increase the longevity and the economic development for the spirits industry in Kentucky,” said Seth DeBolt, a horticulture professor who will direct the institute. “It is really driven from an interdependence that we see between the university and the industry, and of course, remembering UK’s land-grant mission is to serve the economy of Kentucky. It’s a win-win all the way around, and we’re really excited about it.”
DeBolt said the Beam gift will allow UK to expand its current program, allowing more students to go directly into the industry with a distilling certificate after they take classes in fermentation or even bourbon hospitality and tourism.
“We want to listen and learn and develop classes that meet the industry’s need,” DeBolt said. “For example, engineers have a very particular skills set, we want to have that tailored to the spirits industry to allow that information transfer so they can work in this great industry in their backyard.”
The gift will also help expand research infrastructure for faculty already studying subjects like air and water quality or grains, such as corn and rye.
“The big thing about the gift is that it’s really great how Beam Suntory looked at this for the good of the whole industry,” DeBolt said.
Bourbon is big business in Kentucky, whose value is estimated at around $3 billion, a 300 percent increase in the past decade, according to the Kentucky Distiller’s Association. About 20,000 people work in the industry, which contributes about $8.6 million to Kentucky’s economy annually.
Fred Noe is Jim Beam’s seventh generation master distiller.
“With the continued global growth of bourbon, we need to focus on educating the next generation of distillers, scientists and engineers who can tackle the needs of this industry well into the future,” Noe said. “And there’s no better place to make bourbon than right here in Kentucky.”
UK started a certificate course in Distillation, Wine and Brewing Studies in 2014 and will begin an online version of that course this fall.
UK and Beam officials said they would also be developing and expanding alcohol awareness programs statewide. UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the university is sensitive to the issue of underage drinking on campus.
“This institute is about a holistic approach to industry issues — whether that’s distillation science or responsible drinking,” he said. “We will be working closely with distillers and the Kentucky Distillery Association on all of these issues ... Everyone involved in this effort is aligned on the importance of that emphasis.”