For Immediate Release – September 13, 2017
BARDSTOWN, Ky. – The esteemed Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame today inducted three individuals into its hallowed ranks and bestowed its prestigious Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award on one of the most monumental icons in the modern era of Bourbon.
“This year’s inductees are joined by the fact that they’re all leading figures behind the growing global renaissance of Kentucky Bourbon, “said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “Each, in their own way, has helped shape our current success.
“Today, we honor their remarkable achievements that continue to drive our industry’s new Golden Age. Their world-class leadership, vision, dedication and integrity has forever transformed our signature spirit.
“For that, we raise a glass in deserved tribute and heartfelt thanks.”
This year’s inductees are, in alphabetical order:
- Chris Morris, Vice President & Master Distiller, Brown-Forman Corp.
- Bill Samuels, Jr., Chairman Emeritus of Maker’s Mark Distillery (Lifetime Achievement)
- The late Harry J. Shapira, Executive Vice President, Heaven Hill Brands
- Jerry Summers, Director of Community Relations, Beam Suntory
Samuels, who retired in 2011 after 35 years as President of Maker’s Mark, was honored with the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award. He was elected a charter member of the Hall of Fame in 2001 and a Lifetime Honorary Member of the KDA Board of Directors in 2011.
Samuels’ marketing genius and innovative leadership helped propel Maker’s Mark and its signature red wax to one of the world’s most recognized brands. He also is a lifelong champion of education, health care and business in the Commonwealth as one of its greatest ambassadors.
“Having grown up around some of the true legends in the industry, this award is pretty heady stuff for me,” Samuels said. “Any ‘lifetime achievement,’ in my case, is largely built on the opportunity I had to learn from the best in the business.”
Gregory and Rob Samuels, Bill Jr.’s son who is the eighth generation of the Samuels family in the distilling business and is now Chief Operating Officer at Maker’s Mark, presented Bill with a hand-crafted plaque in the shape of Kentucky made entirely from barrel staves – and, of course, dipped in red wax.
“It’s been said before that my dad would rather be different than right,” Rob Samuels said. “I can tell you from first-hand experience that, in fact, he’s often been both.”
The award was named in 2015 for Beam, who joined Heaven Hill in 1960 as a sixth-generation distiller in his storied family. He became Master Distiller in 1975 and earned numerous awards for distilling, aging and selecting some of the world’s most acclaimed Bourbons.
He was named Master Distiller Emeritus in 2013 shortly after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. His public advocacy for ALS research, care and awareness has generated millions for his “Promise of Hope” fund.
Beam passed away in January at the age of 75. The crowd of Bourbon barons and dignitaries at today’s ceremony stood and paused for a moment of silence in reverence of his passion, loyalty, old-fashioned work ethic and craftsmanship.
Founded in 1880, the KDA is the state’s voice for Bourbon and spirits issues. Its diverse membership produces 90 percent of the world’s Bourbon, from legendary, global brands to emerging micro distilleries that are building the next generation of Kentucky’s timeless craft.
Kentucky Bourbon is one of the Commonwealth’s most historic and treasured industries, a booming $8.5 billion economic engine that generates as many as 17,500 jobs with an annual payroll topping $800 million, and pours $825 million into tax coffers each year.
The KDA this year unveiled a University of Louisville study that shows the industry is in the middle of a $1.2 billion building boom. There are now 52 distilleries in the Commonwealth and 6.8 million barrels of aging Bourbon – both modern records.
The KDA’s famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® also made history last year, with tourists recording a record one million stops at 20 participating distilleries. The booming attraction has increased attendance by 300 percent in the last 10 years.
Created by the KDA in conjunction with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in 2001, the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame recognizes individuals and organizations that have made a significant and transformational impact on Bourbon’s stature, growth and awareness.
It is the highest honor given by the signature industry and is presented annually during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, which runs through Sunday in Bardstown.
Candidates may be nominated each year by the KDA, its member distilleries and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival from four categories: Industry, Journalism, Roll of Honor and Lifetime Achievement. Nominees are then sent to the KDA Board of Directors for final selection.
The induction ceremony was held on the grounds of My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, one of the state’s most revered historic sites.
Federal Hill, the Georgian style mansion built around 1795, inspired Stephen Collins Foster to write his immortal song, “My Old Kentucky Home.” It is now part of Kentucky’s parks system and symbolizes the Bluegrass State’s gracious hospitality and genteel culture.
KDA President Gregory presented each inductee with an engraved miniature copper still before an elite, invitation-only crowd of 150 whiskey luminaries. Each inductee’s name also was added to a Hall of Fame display at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown.
“This is one of the most special days in our landmark history where legends officially become lore,” Gregory said. “It’s with great honor that we welcome these four gentlemen into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and celebrate their extraordinary impact on our industry.”
For more information, contact Eric Gregory at (502) 875-9351 or (859) 771-1050
Visit the Kentucky Bourbon Festival online at www.kybourbonfestival.com.
Learn more about the Kentucky Distillers’ Association at www.kybourbon.com.
Master Distiller, Brown-Forman Corporation
Chris Morris is Master Distiller for Brown-Forman Corporation, the seventh since the company began in 1870. A Louisville native, he has spent his working life in the Bourbon industry. He is responsible for maintaining the award-winning taste of the whiskies produced at the Woodford Reserve and Old Forester Distilleries. Additionally, he serves as a brand ambassador for Brown-Forman at numerous trade and consumer functions.
Morris grew up around Bourbon, as he is one of three generations of his family to work at Brown-Forman. His career began in 1976 as a trainee in the central lab working for the Master Distiller. In 1988 he went to work for Glenmore Distilleries Company and joined United Distillers through its acquisition of Glenmore in 1991.
In 1997 he returned to Brown-Forman and was chosen to begin training as Brown-Forman Master Distiller, a position he has held since 2003. In 2002 he developed the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon product and more recently the brand’s Whiskey Row Series.
At Woodford Reserve, he developed the Masters Collection, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Rye and Distillery Series products. In 2015, Morris was given the additional responsibility of Vice President of Whiskey Innovation for Brown-Forman.
As a student of the industry Morris authored the Society of Wine Educators Certified Spirits Specialist program, introduced the use of tasting notes for Bourbon in 1992 and developed the Bourbon Flavor Wheel in 2004.
Morris has served on the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s Board of Directors, and is Chairman of the Order of the Writ Society. He has served as a Whisky judge at the IWSC and ISC competitions and Co-chair of the DISCUS Master Distillers Committee.
William (Bill) Samuels, Jr.
Chairman Emeritus, Maker’s Mark Distillery
Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award
Maker’s Mark Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr. has been called a maverick, a giant in the distillery business, a marketing genius, a visionary, and the best friend the Kentucky Bourbon industry has ever had. But he prefers another label: Eyewitness.
Bill has personally seen it all: the creation of the premium Bourbon category and the resurrection of the entire industry. That first-hand perspective has given Bill what many recognize as the most comprehensive view of the business today. And the best stories.
- Bill’s next-door-neighbor as a child, and his godfather, was Bourbon legend Jim Beam.
- He was there when Bill, Sr. burned the family’s 170-year-old whisky recipe – and caught his sister’s hair on fire.
- He listened to his father lose the argument with his mother about sealing their new Bourbon with dripping red wax, resulting in one of the most recognizable trademarks in the spirits world.
- Bill tagged along to his father’s advisory board meetings where all the key distillers of the day – otherwise competitors –helped his father create this completely new approach to making Bourbon.
- The only day of school he missed was in 1954 when he watched the first barrels of Maker’s Mark produced.
- He learned much of the distillery business not from his dad, but from Jack Daniel’s great nephew Hap Motlow, and sat in on company meetings that helped expand that great brand to international fame.
As a teenager, Bill got a PhD in salesmanship by driving Harland Sanders around Kentucky as the Colonel was launching his new chicken business. Later, Bill earned a degree in engineering physics, helped design both the Gemini and Polaris missiles, and became friends with the founding administrator of NASA and with America’s leading physicist at the time (Edward Teller). Then it was on to law school and the White House (as an intern) before joining his father in the family business.
He was put in charge of marketing – he’s not sure his father wanted him to have anything to do directly with the whisky, itself – and began writing the brand’s distinctive, quirky ads himself. Bill followed no conventional marketing wisdom; he determined that he would rather be different than right. His father insisted that they never talk to anyone about the whisky who wasn’t already interested. So Bill tricked his father into talking to a Wall Street Journal reporter (saying he was a fraternity brother) with the resulting story giving the brand national credibility practically overnight.
Bill also witnessed the merger of Bourbon and tourism. 60 years ago, a distillery wasn’t considered a tourist destination. But his mother insisted that a dollar’s worth of improvement go into the Maker’s Mark distillery grounds for every dollar his father put into operations, eventually creating one of the most popular visitor experiences in Kentucky.
When Bill assumed leadership of Maker’s Mark in the mid-1970s, his father’s stern warning was simply, “Don’t screw up the whisky.” Despite the labor-intensive, largely inefficient methods used to hand-make Maker’s Mark, Bill heeded his father’s advice and stubbornly stuck with every step in the process even as the brand – and demand – grew exponentially over the years.
The unparalleled success of Maker’s Mark as a premium Bourbon created an entirely new category in the industry and led to renewed interest in “brown spirits.” Today, Kentucky Bourbon in particular has so many devoted new fans that there are, for the first time, more barrels of Bourbon aging in the Commonwealth than there are people in the state.
As Bill was considering the transition to Chairman Emeritus status, he introduced a new expression of his whisky called Maker’s 46. Although Bill calls it “realizing the dream of a desperate old man about to retire with no legacy,” in fact Maker’s 46 is indeed another remarkable achievement in distilling craft: a bolder, spicier flavor with an elongated finish yet without any bitterness.
Anything of any significance that happened in the past two or three generations of distilling, Bill not only lived through it, but chances are he was actually there. Bill Samuels, Jr. – the industry’s incomparable Eyewitness Emeritus.
Harry J. Shapira
Heaven Hill Brands, Inc.
Harry J. Shapira was born into the Bourbon business in April of 1947 as the only son of David Shapira, one of the five founding brothers of Heaven Hill Distilleries.
Raised in Louisville, KY, Shapira earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Louisville School of Business in 1969. Following graduation, he served in the U.S. Army until 1971, where he was stationed at the Pentagon.
After his Army service, Shapira accepted a position with the Lazarus department store company in Columbus, OH. Shapira returned to his family’s business in 1973, eventually being named vice president for Heaven Hill Distilleries.
Shapira was elected executive vice president in 1996 following the death of his uncle George Shapira, the last surviving member of the five brothers. He also served as Secretary/Treasurer for Heaven Hill.
During Shapira’s tenure, Heaven Hill grew beyond its traditional roots as a Bourbon distiller to become the nation’s largest independent, family-owned and operated spirits producer and marketer.
He spearheaded Heaven Hill’s tourism and visitor experience efforts, overseeing the construction and opening of the Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown in 2004 and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in downtown Louisville in 2013.
Shapira served on numerous associations and boards, and was president of Keneseth Israel Synagogue in Louisville from 1995 through 2000.
Harry Shapira passed away in 2013, survived by his wife Judy, two married sons—Ian is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Washington Post and Adam is a Cardio Electro Physiologist in Dallas—and four grandchildren.
Roll of Honor Nominee
Throughout his almost 40-year career at Jim Beam, Jerry Summers has been heavily involved in the communities in which Jim Beam serves.
He has served on the boards of Kentucky Distillers Association/Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, KTIA, Bullitt County Tourism/Chamber/ Economic Development Authority, Kentucky Bourbon Festival, Leadership Bullitt County, YMCA of Bullitt County, Bullitt County School for Excellence and Commerce Lexington. He is also involved in supporting the Moore-Mayfield Foundation, Ronald McDonald House and Kosair.
Throughout his career, Jerry has worked tirelessly to raise the stature of the Bourbon industry so that is duly recognized as one of Kentucky’s signature industries. As Chairman of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival Board of Directors, Jerry served on the Executive Team that secured a new Executive Director, advanced the festival through the implementation of new events and shepherded the festival through a period of change and growth. You can see the impact of Jerry’s vision and guidance on both the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and KTIA through their growth, streamlined operations and enhanced professionalism.
Through his involvement with the Kentucky Tourism Industry Association, Jerry served on the Executive Team that selected our current KTIA President and it was under his term as chair that the KTIA team began implementation of the efforts to take KTIA and the Kentucky Travel Industry to a new level.
Through his mutual positions in the Bourbon and tourism industries, Jerry has actively worked to increase the partnership and strengthen the relationship between tourism and Kentucky’s signature Bourbon industry. The tourism industry and the Bourbon industry are both highly collaborative and Jerry epitomizes that spirit of collaboration.
Jerry Summers is someone who could be referred to with equal accuracy as “Mr. Bourbon” or “Mr. Tourism” and as an industry we are better for his influence and ability to so beautifully embody both.
In his home community of Bullitt County, Jerry’s presence has been even more felt. He was instrumental in the efforts to beautify and enhance the Hwy 245 corridor and I-65 interchange into the heart of Bourbon Country and has been an indispensable partner to the Shepherdsville-Bullitt County Tourism Commission. His leadership and support has allowed the Commission to grow into a strong. presence in state tourism.