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Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame inducts three, presents Samuels with lifetime achievement award

The esteemed Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame Wednesday 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.

Bill Samuels (Photo Provided)

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.

Jerry Summers

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.

Chris Morris

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 160 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.”

From KDA

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