Campus News

Beam Suntory, UK advance strategic partnership: $9.3M investment for the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits

Mechanics room inside the James B. Beam Institute
Ribbon-cutting ceremony for Beam Institute
President Capilouto inside Beam Institute

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 4, 2024) — The University of Kentucky James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits and Beam Suntory, a global leader in premium spirits, have renewed their strategic partnership to help strengthen Kentucky’s signature industry for generations to come. The continued partnership between Beam Suntory and UK will ensure the Institute continues to offer unparalleled expertise for teaching and research.

Beam Suntory will donate $7.5 million to be paid over a 10-year period. An additional $1.875 million in funding for the Institute will be provided through the Commonwealth of Kentucky Research Challenge Trust Fund (RCTF) Endowment Match Program, subject to approval by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

“This gift will continue to advance Kentucky’s signature industry by funding research to address systemic challenges facing the spirits industry globally, such as energy and water reduction, improving distilling, maturation and bottling techniques for greater efficiency and implementing scalable and sustainable agricultural practices,” said Seth DeBolt, James B. Beam Institute director and professor at the UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “It’s an incredible opportunity to identify and share best practices with partners and distillers globally and show students the breadth of opportunities within the spirits industry.”

Beam Suntory’s investment provides funding for an endowed chair and professorships, which will further support the Institute’s mission to lead the global advancement of the American whiskey industry though workforce education, scientific discovery, environmental sustainability, community and social responsibility.

The Institute will also work with industry partners to expand best-in-class responsibility programming, such as that offered at The Learning Bar, which can be used at other colleges and universities, and thereby broadening its expertise and reach beyond Kentucky. The endowed funding will allow the Institute to expand student enrollment by 50%, creating a robust pipeline of future leaders in the spirits industry.

“The ongoing partnership between the University of Kentucky and Beam Suntory reflects one of our core values – Growing for Good – by committing to investing in the future of bourbon and the professional and economic opportunities it provides,” said Greg Hughes, president and CEO at Beam Suntory. “We’re proud to have such a strong partnership in not only advancing the industry today, but also in training the next generation of distillers, creating more opportunity and representation, in bourbon and beyond.”

Beam Suntory and UK established their strategic partnership in 2019 with the formation of the Institute. Since then, Beam Suntory has provided nearly $6 million in funding, which has helped fund numerous initiatives to support the future of distilling education, including:  

  • Establishing an annual conference, which has grown each year and now hosts more than 800 attendees to share research and best practices across the industry;
  • Constructing a 7,500 square-foot on-campus research and teaching distillery — the world’s largest;
  • Providing responsibility training to more than 1,600 students through the hands-on Learning Bar;
  • Expanding the popular Distillation, Wine and Brewing Studies Certificate (DWBS). To date, 225 students have completed the certificate, with many more participating in the courses as electives;
  • Focusing on workforce development through internship and distillery apprenticeship programs and university courses to support the next generation of leaders in the spirits industry.

"In extending our deepest gratitude to Beam Suntory for their generous contribution, we recognize not only their pivotal role in supporting the bourbon industry but also their unwavering commitment to our institute's mission,” said Nancy Cox, vice president of land-grant engagement and dean of Martin-Gatton CAFE. “This gift strengthens our ability to address industry challenges and reinforces our dedication to preparing future leaders who will drive the spirits industry forward.”

As a land-grant institution, UK is committed to the citizens and industries in the Commonwealth.

The James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits is a multidisciplinary effort of experts from the UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, UK Stanley and Karen Pigman College of Engineering, UK College of Arts and Sciences and UK Gatton College for Business and Economics. In partnership with Beam Suntory, it continues to advance the next generation of distillers — ensuring the welfare and prosperity of Kentucky’s spirits industry and promoting Kentucky as the production and innovation capital of the bourbon industry.

The RCTF Endowment Match Program enhances private gifts such as Beam Suntory’s contribution aimed at STEM+H fields with an emphasis on economic development and creating new external research funding.

For more information, visit the Beam Institute website at

About the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment

The Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is an Equal Opportunity Organization with respect to education and employment and authorization to provide research, education information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, physical or mental disability or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity. 

About Beam Suntory

As a world leader in premium spirits, Beam Suntory inspires the brilliance of life by delivering great consumer experiences through its world-class portfolio of brands.  Known for its craftsmanship of premium whiskies, including Jim Beam®, Maker's Mark®, Basil Hayden® and Knob Creek® bourbons; Japanese whiskies, including Yamazaki®, Hakushu®, Hibiki® and Toki™; and leading Scotch brands including Teacher's, Laphroaig® and Bowmore®, Beam Suntory also produces leading brands such as Courvoisier® cognac, Tres Generaciones®, El Tesoro® and Hornitos® tequila, Roku™ and Sipsmith® gin, Canadian Club® whisky, and is a world leader in ready-to-drink cocktails, with brands like -196 and On The Rocks™ Premium Cocktails.

A global company with approximately 6,000 employees in more than 30 countries, one of Beam Suntory's core values is Growing for Good and through its Proof Positive sustainability strategy, the company has committed to ambitious goals and investments to promote environmental sustainability in its operations, ensure the company has a positive impact on the communities where employees live and work, and programs to educate and inform consumers to make the right personal choices about drinking. Headquartered in New York City, Beam Suntory is a subsidiary of Suntory Holdings Limited of Japan. 

For more information on Beam Suntory, its brands, and its commitment to social responsibility, please visit and

About RCTF

The 2022 Kentucky General Assembly allocated $20 million dollars in RCTF funding to support endowment growth in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and health sciences (STEM+H) at UK for qualifying gifts. UK has approved RCTF funding at a 2:1 ratio, enabling more funding for transformative research efforts in the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The RCTF program, administered by the Council on Postsecondary Education, provides Kentucky’s universities support with the goal of stimulating business development, generating increases in externally sponsored research, creating better jobs and a higher standard of living, and facilitating the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s transition to a knowledge-based economy.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.