Responses by Chris Myers, senior creative director, LOVE.
Background: The purpose was two-fold. The first part was to elevate the James B. Beam Distillery Company (JBBDCo.) from a minor logo detail on the side of a bottle to a consumer-facing parent brand. All the bourbons made by the family now sit under the JBBDCo. brand—e.g., Jim Beam, Knob Creek and Basil Hayden.
The second part was giving the JBBDCo. brand a home. The existing narrative at the distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, had been built around Jim Beam products. We were given a unique opportunity to reimagine the experience to appeal to multiple audiences, not just bourbon fans—to make JBBDCo.’s home the must-see destination in Kentucky for locals and visitors alike through bourbon, food and culture.
Design thinking: When we first met the team at JBBDCo., Fred Noe, master distiller for Jim Beam brands and great-grandson of Jim Beam, told us some amazing stories about his dad and the family’s bourbon-making history, including all the various secrets and traditions that had been passed down over the years. Fred was so charismatic, telling these stories in a way that meant you didn’t need to be a whiskey enthusiast to find them interesting. It wasn’t really about the whiskey; it was about family, music and culture.
We noticed a similar sense of soul and humor in the Beam tour guides. That made them stand out from the rest of the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. There was something rock and roll about them, and it was this spirit that we’d felt in our early chats with Fred and the team, too, so we wanted to capture that in the new space.
Challenges: We started this project four-and-a-half years ago, so the obvious challenge was the pandemic. It essentially meant that this whole site was designed in CGI and over Zoom. It wasn’t until the launch event in May that I saw everything in the flesh. I can’t tell you how surreal it was walking around what had been mere renders on our screens for so long.
Beyond that, the timescale was challenging. Projects like these don’t come along often. They are amazing, but they take over your life for years. It takes stamina to keep the energy levels up to ensure you deliver against your vision.
Favorite details: I’m really proud of how we reinterpreted everything we learned about bourbon from the Beam family and put our spin on it to make sure other people understand and remember it. We’ve learned a lot from brand experiences we’ve worked on before—like Guinness and Johnnie Walker—about striking a balance between great interior design and landing big brand points.
Take yeast, for example. Yeast is a massive part of what gives bourbon its characteristic flavor. But conversations around yeast are pretty dull—to the average person, at least. By putting a pristine vintage car in the center of the room with a jug of the precious Beam yeast strapped into the passenger seat, we were able to stress the importance of the yeast in a way that resonated. People can visualize how Jim would take it home with him every night in his very own car back in the ’40s.
Visual influences: We were going for authentic Americana—the idea of everything being big, bold and even brash to an extent. Charred American oak boards, reclaimed barrels and, of course, the vintage car—all classic iconography that celebrates the distillery’s heritage with a modern twist. But I think we naturally came at things with a European sensibility, too, and it was cool that JBBDCo. made the bold move to go with a British agency. It would have been easy to go down bourbon cliches, but many people who have visited the site have said that this feels like a modern interpretation. And I think part of that comes from us offering an almost outsider perspective.