Article by Carla Carlton
British singer/songwriter Barns Courtney tasted his first Jim Beam when his songwriting partner Dan Smith (who now records as T.O.L.D.) brought a bottle into his bedroom. “He said, ‘You should taste this.’ Then he took a big swig and started coughing his guts out,” Courtney said. “I said, ‘Dude! What is that? You don’t seem to be enjoying it.’ He said, ‘This is Jim Beam, and I’m going to train myself to like it, because it’s cool.’”
Courtney has been drinking Beam ever since. “Whiskey is synonymous with rock ’n’ roll.”
Barns and Beam came together on May 9 as he performed the first-ever pop-up show at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, Kentucky. The 30-minute, seven-song set in the second-floor bar area served as a sound check before his band’s appearance that night with Elle King at the Mercury Ballroom in Louisville and the release the next day of his new single.
A group of 15 fans was selected to attend the show by hashtagging “BeamSoundCheck” in response to social posts from Barns, Jim Beam and new local alt-rock station 105.1 FM. They and Courtney also took a private tour of the distillery.
“We wanted to do a sponsored concert, but not the typical big thing—we wanted a more intimate show,” said Dan Cohen, senior director of PR and social media for Beam Suntory. “You know, ‘Beam is where friends become family.’ So Barns is here with friends, talking to fans.”
As bourbon tourism grows—the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Craft Tour saw more than 1 million visits in 2018—many distilleries are adding events like dinners and concert series to draw visitors. The Barns Courtney show was a one-off, Cohen said, “but our intent is to continue to use the American Stillhouse as a venue for epic experiences for our fans. So we could certainly do more of these in the future.”
Courtney’s energetic set included his breakout hits Fire, (featured on the soundtrack of the 2015 Bradley Cooper film Burnt), Glitter & Gold, and 99.
Sipping from a glass of Booker’s afterward, he likened his first distillery tour experience to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and said he had enjoyed the opportunity to talk with bourbon rock star Fred Noe, Beam’s master distiller. “He’s a real Southern soul,” he said.
He also welcomed the chance to do an event at Beam, a brand he actually drinks.
“When your heart’s not in it, it’s apparent. Like, at South by Southwest one year, they had the Doritos Stage, and a guy is playing in front of a giant Dorito. What does that even mean? I’m a genuine bourbon fan, and they [Beam] are genuine music fans.”
Aimee Linton of Louisville, one of the ticket winners, brought her friend Tiffany Adkins of Georgetown, Indiana. Aimee is a Barns Courtney fan. Tiffany is a bourbon fan. Neither had ever been to the Jim Beam distillery before. By the end of the event, they were both Beam fans. “I mean, who gets to do this?” said Aimee, after they got sweaty hugs and took selfies with Courtney. “Now, every time I see Jim Beam, I will think of this.”