For nearly two decades, Noe has worked at the Jim Beam Distillery, which was built by his great-grandfather Jim Beam after the repeal of prohibition in 1933. Noe has served in many capacities at the distillery throughout his career, including aiding in the development of Booker's Bourbon, his father's signature bourbon. Today, Noe introduces consumers around the world to The Small Batch Bourbon Collection, his family's award-winning collection of premium, hand-crafted bourbons featuring Booker's, Baker's, Knob Creek and Basil Hayden's.
Born and raised in Bardstown, Ky., the Bourbon Capital of the World, Noe grew up immersed with family. His childhood home was the same home as Jim Beam's. In fact, that street was once called Distillers Row, with a master distiller in almost every house. Noe's father filled nights with stories of the family heritage, handing down centuries of Beam lore. Noe and his father's high standing in the community and extensive charitable work for the Commonwealth of Kentucky earned them both the title of Kentucky Colonel. (Other Kentucky Colonels include Mohammed Ali and Sen. John Glenn.) Noe still resides in Bardstown in a house built adjacent to the Beam family home, with his wife Sandy and 10-year-old son Frederick Booker Noe IV.
Bankrate: How do you keep a family's name and reputation at the highest level throughout the generations?
Frederick "Fred" Booker Noe III: I just happen to be the seventh generation. I always loved hanging around the distillery; I fished there, played around the trucks and trains. It was my comfort zone. I'm an only child. We want to keep the business in the family, though the majority share was sold off in the 1960s. I always had it in the back of my mind that I would go work there, even when I was bouncing around in college. It was my choice, though. We had other family members that could have taken it over, I have 19 cousins. I was the one most interested in the business. I do have a cousin who is an engineer for the distillery, but he had a whole career at NASA first!
Bankrate: Have any of the Noes or Beams taught you lessons about money and business?
Noe: A lot of it, what I've learned, is to be honest and don't try to make it up. Don't make things up just to make the products look good. My job is not to change anything. My son is 10. I want to pass the business to him just as it is. They also taught me to treat people the way you want to be treated. For instance, when I'm on tours, doing tastings, if there are other people waiting in line for an autograph, I stay, even if I have other things scheduled. I give them whatever they want. I wait and stay until EVERY person gets what they want.
Bankrate: What charities are you involved with?
Noe: I am involved with any kind of charity that helps out around here. I am very active with the Boy Scouts and also my historic Catholic church, St. Joseph's. My wife and I are on the road quite a bit. When we come to a county where it is against the law to have free bourbon samples, we team up with a charity to co-chair the event and have people give a donation as a fund-raiser.
Bankrate: Jim Beam now carries several premium names under its label. How does the consumer know which is the "most premium" or how to distinguish between the different bourbon styles?
Noe: You're talking about our small-batch labels. Well, we have tasting notes on the back of the package and on the label of the larger bottles. For instance, Booker's Bourbon is the only uncut, unfiltered bourbon in the world. It's right out of the barrel, the way it was made hundreds of years ago. You can cut it with your own water to suit you. Baker's has a big, vanilla nose. It is aged seven years. It is named for my cousin's dad.
Bankrate: What bourbon is the most popular of the small-batch labels in the United States?
Noe: Knob Creek. It's popular abroad, as well. Knob Creek is my favorite. It's aged for nine years. It's 100 proof with big flavor.
Bankrate: There is a prevalent sentiment that with a cocktail you should just get a "regular" bourbon.
Noe: Well, that's only true if you are using the Coke or whatever to mask the flavor of the bourbon. For a premium cocktail, I always say you need the best ingredients. My mother drinks premium bourbon with ginger ale, she always has. With its sweetness, Knob Creek is great in a Manhattan. Booker's, with its strong flavor, it's great to cook pork chops with. You see, the alcohol burns off and the flavor remains. Knob Creek is great in barbecue sauce.
Bankrate: Why do you think the market is changing from clear spirits to bourbon?
Noe: People are more adventuresome now. In my father's day, they were very loyal to one particular brand. Younger people are more willing to try a different cocktail each time they go out. They will have a little bit less, but they want a little bit better.
Bankrate: Do you own interests in things crucial to production, such as barrels?
Noe: No. We have been getting our barrels from Independent Stave, John Boswell's family, for generations. It's a family business just like ours.
Bankrate: Do you manage your own money?
Noe: Oh yeah. You have to. The company majority was sold in the 1960s. I have a good friend in town who's a CPA. He does my taxes. We were roommates in college. I figure, if something goes wrong, he can sweat it out at the courthouse! His dad works for Barton distillery.
Bankrate: Do you have any investments?
Noe: I had some stocks. Some went up; some went down. I do have some antiques; a few things are on loan to the distillery. But, as long as I'm here, they'll probably stay there, too.