The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame inducted four new members and presented its first Lifetime Achievement Award yesterday.

Parker Beam, the long-time master distiller for Heaven Hill, received the Lifetime Achievement Award, the first time this award has been given. From now on, it will be called the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the first class in 2001.

The 2015 class includes Owsley Brown II, former CEO and Chairman, Brown-Forman; Kathleen DiBenedetto, Senior Director of Commercial Marketing, Luxury, Beam Suntory; U.S. Senator Wendell Ford; and Donna Nally, co-creator of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

The KDA Board of Directors had unanimously voted to name the award after Beam, now in his 55th year at Heaven Hill.

Beam joined Heaven Hill in 1960 working under his father, Earl, as a sixth-generation distiller in the storied Beam family, and embarked a career that led to many great bourbons and numerous awards. His master distiller career was cut short in 2013 after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Beam’s public efforts for ALS awareness and research have led to more than $500,000 raised for ALS charities.

“For more than half a century, Parker Beam has represented Heaven Hill, the Commonwealth and our iconic industry with unmatched integrity, gentleman class and old-fashioned work ethic,” said Eric Gregory, president of the KDA. “His passion and loyalty to our amber art is beyond reproach.”

Louisville’s Brook White of Flame Run Glass Studio and Gallery created the lifetime achievement award.

The Hall of Fame inductees received an engraved miniature copper still and their names were added to a Hall of Fame display at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown.

The KDA provided bios for each of the inductees. You can read those here. But this was the first hall-of-fame induction I’ve been to where I laughed, cried and wish it didn’t end.

As Parker Beam attempted to stand up, my eyes moistened, as did many others. His brain still works; his body does not. ALS has taken its toll on the man who’s meant much to so many. When he and I spoke, we talked cattle, and he lamented on the fact cattle prices are dropping. “People aren’t eating as much beef,” he told me. But they’re certainly enjoying bourbon, and Beam and this year’s inductees are big reasons why.

Some fun quotes from the induction ceremony….

Owsley Brown IIPhoto provided by the KDA.

Owsley Brown IIPhoto provided by the KDA.

“Show me another industry where a company celebrates a competitor’s success,” said Eric Gregory, President of the KDA after Bill Samuels Jr.’s introduction speech to honor the late Owlsey Brown.

Parker Beam. Photo provided by the KDA.

Parker Beam. Photo provided by the KDA.

“Remember that time Booker {Noe} recommended you put lard in the fermentation,” said Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell when honoring Parker Beam. The crowd erupted in laughter. Lard was once used to contain the foaming of rye during fermentation. Allegedly.

Kathleen DiBenedetto. Photo provided by the KDA.

Kathleen DiBenedetto. Photo provided by the KDA.

“I will never take the consumer for granted,” said Kathleen DiBenedetto, when referring to the dark years of trying to sell the Beam Small Batch series in the 1990s.

Wendell Ford. Photo provided by the KDA.

Wendell Ford. Photo provided by the KDA.

“He used bourbon as a tonic for compromise,” said Ed O’Daniel, the former KDA president, of the late Senator Ford.

Donna Nally. Photo provided by the KDA.

Donna Nally. Photo provided by the KDA.

“I had to remind Bill {Samuels Jr.} that the Bourbon Festival was about all the brands, not just Maker’s Mark,” said  Donna Nally in her induction speech. She worked at Maker’s in addition to the festival. The room laughed out load.