Surely, one of the first bourbons I ever tasted was Jim Beam – probably the white label variety and probably with more attention paid to the effects of the drink than its characteristics, sadly. This is a classic brand that has maintained its status as the standard for Kentucky bourbon for many years. As a result, it’s difficult to look at a bottle of Jim Beam Black with a fresh and critical set of eyes.
JBB is aged 8 years – twice that of the white label and one year short of Beam’s Knob Creek. The packaging strays little from the design of the mainline variety, sporting the familiar signature, family tree, red seal, and typeface. The marketing copy on the side is relatively understated in both its description of the product as well as in the coy humility inserted at the end: “…we know a little about making exceptional bourbon.”
All in all, the packaging is what you expect from Jim Beam, it is one of the standards against which other whiskeys judge their appearance. The grabs at nostalgia here seem more genuine than fetish-object: the signature at the bottom was introduced decades ago as a hedge against trademark infringement (forgery carrying a higher penalty than the infringement itself).
What can one really say about this bottle?
There is nothing overpowering in the nose of Jim Beam Black, nor is there anything overly complex. Notes of floral sweetness, oak, and fruit present themselves and quietly retreat.
On the palate Black is much more assertive. Immediately the corn-driven sweetness is prominent at first, followed by something akin to berries, fresh legumes, and char. The finish is largely clean with a hint of lingering spice.
The similarity between Jim Beam Black and Knob Creek is certainly clear, yet it seems that Knob Creek’s extra year in the barrel made significant difference in the product. Black is punchier than Four Roses, more interesting than Bulleit, but falls short of Knob Creek in terms of depth and complexity. Regardless, with the lower price, this would be a good buy.