Tag Archives: jim beam

Jim Beam Distillers Series

JB_distillersIt looks like I’m about a year late on this one particular bottle.  Announced and released around this time last year, Jim Beam’s Distillers Series was supposedly available only through January 2009, but I managed to pick up a bottle at Astor place just last week.  I was intrigued by the friendly price point right around $20 and since I’ve enjoyed most other Beam releases I’ve tried – Jim Beam Black being one of the better bangs for your buck.  Then again, maybe there’s a reason this “limited” release is still on shelves a year after it hit them.

Stats:

– $20ish

– Jim Beam Distilling Co.

– 90 proof

Presentation:

JB Distillers Series comes in the classic Beam bottle, but has done away with the classic paper label.  Along the sides are six of the past distillers for Jim Beam: from Jacob Beam on the top left to Booker Noe at the bottom right.  Right up front is the current distiller Fred Noe.  Beside each miniature portrait is a brief, nostalgia laced biography.

Other than these portraits and biographies, there isn’t much.  No description of the whiskey beyond the age.  No old-timey flourishes.  Nothing much but the clear glass bottle.  One hopes that this is because they believe the contents need no introduction beyond sight, but really it seems they’re so singularly focused on their genealogy that they may have lost sight of what these men were actually making.

Tasting:

This is definitely a Jim Beam on the nose, but in a richer, sweeter way.  I’m getting sap and honey in there with some dry oak.

On the tongue, this is much smoother than I’d expected and than most other Beam releases.  There’s definitely that dry oak flavor to it and a sweet, warm finish.  Up front there’s also a bit of hay or dry grass.  I do get the sense that this is a little thin for all its smoothness, however.

Over all:

This is not something that is particularly interesting or exciting, but it is quite good for its simplicity and smoothness.  The best way to describe Jim Beam Distillers Series would be ‘austere’.  The ultimate test for whether I like something is if I pour myself a second tasting as I finish the review, and this one certainly passes.

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Baker’s (mini-bottle)

bakersMy little brother was thoughtful enough to give me a sampler for Jim Beam’s Small Batch Bourbon Collection over the holidays, so I saw this as a perfect time to complete my reviews of this line by tasting Baker’s.  (You can find the other’s here: Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, Booker’s)

What does it mean that I’m reviewing something in its mini-bottle form?  Honestly, I’m not too certain either.  Sure, this didn’t make it into the full-bottle batch and this can’t be experienced in the same way that the full bottle could; on the other hand, its the same stuff inside and it seems that Beam has taken great care with the miniature versions of their Small Batch Collection.

Stats:

– Probably a few dollars by itself

– Made by the folks a Jim Beam

– 107 proof

Presentation:

While it’s difficult to judge a bourbon’s bottling when in mini-bottle form, the small batch collection minis do seem to hold largely true to their bigger-bottle form.  Knob Creek mini has its distinctive angular form and Basil Hayden mini has its tall, distinguished proportions.  Baker’s and Booker’s bottles are given a tear-drop form that is only mildly reminiscent of their actual shape, but represent a valiant effort in miniaturization, regardless.

I do remember liking the Baker’s distinctive capital B and use of type during visits to the bar and the mini-bottle uses this same motif to only slightly more confusing effect (the capital ‘B’ is right next to the ‘B’ in “Baker’s” making it look like “BBaker’s”.)

Lines and fills are ever so slightly rough and overly bold in order to mimic an old letter press and come in varying typefaces.  One edge of the label is serrated while the others are smooth.  All in all, this comes across as the older brother of Knob Creek.  Not afraid to stray from the yarns of long-dead grandfathers that adorn other bourbons, but not dispatching with a sense of history over all.

Tasting:

Very upfront nose.  Citrus, grass, roasted almond, fresh cherry.  There is very little subtlety about this aroma, but it is pleasant and un-astringent for a 100+ proofer.

On tasting it’s sweet, with some notes of oats and citrus, finishing with a nice lingering warmth and some tanginess, this settles into a vanilla-and-smoke after a while.

Over all:

Baker’s is not shy.  It is bright for the most part and settles into something a little more subdued over time.  I actually like this one quite a bit – and it may even be my favorite of the small batch collection from Beam.  That said, it also is the one that reminds me the most of Jim Beam black – and that’s not a bad thing in my book.

I’ll have to pick up a full-sized edition when I get a chance.

The American Hooch 2008 Gift Guide

I’ve gotten questions from many friends and co-workers about what bourbon they should buy for their friend/boyfriend/roommate for the holiday season.  This is always a difficult thing to judge since some of the best wiskies don’t always make for the classiest gift, but on the other hand many of the gift-like bottles aren’t the most original or demonstrative of taste.

With that in mind, here’s my American Hooch 2008 Gift Guide to help you navigate your social relationships with a properly chosen bottle of alcohol.

The Mantle Piece Bourbon

willettThis one is for that someone on your list who wants something to show off to folks stopping by over the holidays.  Willett Family Pot Still Reserve is certainly a fine tasting bourbon, with notes of butterscotch, cherry-sweetness, and honey, but it is most impressive in its profile.  Your receipient will not only be impressed with the pot still shaped bottle, but also the wonderfully gurgly noise it makes when you pour.  I wrote about it here.

This one might be a little tougher to find, but it will make an immediate visual impression.  It will also run you around $40.

Continue reading The American Hooch 2008 Gift Guide

Basil Hayden’s

basilhaydenBasil Hayden’s is the other of Jim Beam’s top-shelf selection, along with Booker’s and Knob Creek which I’ve written about before.  I’ve heard that BH is a lot smoother and gentler than those other two.  That could be a good or a bad things depending on who’s saying it and what the occasion is, though I have to admit I prefer a bolder drink so I’m a little wary.  On to the stats!

Stats:

  • $30-$40
  • 80 proof
  • Made by the Jim Beam folks

Presentation:

Certainly the bottle reflects Basil Hayden’s relative lighness to an extent.  Soft tones and carefully constructed curves contrast with Booker’s homemade feel and Knob’s bursting angularity.  The labeling is actually pretty interesting.  It consists of a smooth, brown paper tunic over the neck of the bottle and extending down the sides and belted by a band of wood and copper.

I like the consistent soft coloring and relatively minimal look, but the story about George Washington and the four-year-old state of Kentucky is a little schlocky.  I suppose anyone who’s read this blog before could have seen that coming.

Tasting:

Basil Hayden’s immediately lets off a sweet aroma once it is poured.  While strong, further inspection opens up tree bark and dry wheat, but remains powerfully candied all along.  Candied wheat?  Is that a thing?

On tasting, there is a quick hint of the explosiveness of Knob Creek, but it quickly fades into a strawberry mingled with a bit of spice.  Toward the end there’s a slow burn of something like dry corn followed by a very clean and easy finish.

One thing that did surprise me here was the mouth feel – it was much bigger than I’d expect from the lighter end of the Beam small-batchers.

Over all:

Basil Hayden’s was very pleasant.  Just now I’ve poured myself another tasting, in fact.  But ultimately it’s nothing to get excited about.

It would make an excellent introductory bourbon for the uninitiated or those used to lighter fare, but only if it weren’t so pricey.  This will be nice to have around and contrast with some of the rest of my collection, but isn’t my favorite of its immediate family.

Booker’s

I went all-out with this week’s selection and tried Booker’s, which sits atop Jim Beam’s small batch bourbon series.  I quite enjoyed Knob Creek and was pleased with Jim Beam Black, so I figured I’d see what the best they have to offer is like.

Presentation:

To signify (or justify) the higher price tag and quality, Booker’s comes in a wine bottle.  Whether this is due to some naturally more graceful form or merely the association with the beverage of a pricier heritage, I’m not sure.  The top of the bottle is encased in black wax, covering a raised and tasseled ‘B’ at the base of the neck – a tasteful effect over all.

The marketing copy is short yet prominent.  The label is faux hand-written – one is to presume this is the posthumous hand of the titular Booker Noe himself.  Looks nice, but either hand label your bottles or don’t, splitting the difference just makes me think I’m not getting what you want me to think I’m paying for.

Additionally, there is a smaller label higher on the bottle with a specific age and proof statement (5 years, 5 months, 126.8 proof in my bottle’s case).  Seeing as this is a single-barrel expression, I’m fairly sure that this changes from bottle to bottle.

Despite my complaining about the fake hand-writing and wine associations, Booker’s does come across as appealingly simple over all.
Tasting:

To the nose, I could hardly tell that Booker’s was 126+ proof.  The nose was quite subtle and complex.  Mainly it was sweet in a molasses and maple sort of way, yet there were also intriguing elements of oak, vanilla, and buttercream.  Very appealing.

If I thought that Booker’s was easy on the nose, it was saving the full wallop of its proof for the palate.  It was very difficult to discern much of any flavor in the first sip as a result of the overwhelming alcohol.  The second sip revealed a bit more of what was behind the curtain, but it wasn’t until I added some water (which I rarely do) that the full flavor of Booker’s came through.

In it are notes of fresh baked bread, burnt sugar, the familiar Beam sweetness, buttercream and oak.  The finish begins spicy and fades into a grassy freshness.

Over all:

Booker’s is a very good bourbon.  There are flavors in it that I have never tasted in a bourbon before (buttercream mostly) that were a pleasant surprise.  I’m definitely glad that I own a bottle to bring out on special occasions, but ultimately the price tag makes this a prohibitive purchase for anyone who isn’t serious about their drink.

Jim Beam Black

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.

Presentation:

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?

Tasting:

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.

Over all:

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.

Knob Creek

After last week’s screed against nostalgia-based marketing, I chose a bourbon that relies less on grandfather-distillers of yore and focuses more on stuff their grandchildren are making today.

Presentation:

Knob Creek’s marketing material on the bottle is refreshingly contemporary, while not completely eschewing references to less mechanized times. They use sans-serif fonts, irregular angles, and intersecting text while making nod to the past with the wax-sealed top and the singular serrated label edge. The bottle text does not speak of ancient recipes or generations old practices, rather it focus on the care that goes into the product itself: 9-year aging, small batch, straight bourbon.

The one deceiving element, however, is the fact that this presentation would have you believe that Knob Creek is a small-time craft distiller, when in fact it’s an arm of Jim Beam and created on the same stills with similar methods.

Tasting:

Opening the bottle releases a sweet whiff of post-rain freshness, but the real fireworks start after it’s poured. The nose definitely tells you this is an assertive drink – definitely 100 proof: warm, wet asphalt, oak, hard candy.

Knob Creek is even less subtle on the palate. It comes in swinging with sweetness and and almost-citrusy tartness. This is followed by a fruity, meaty depth you can sink your teeth into. It finishes long and slow with spice mellowing into a lingering oak.

Over all:

This is a very assertive drink and equally enjoyable. The extra few years in the barrel seem to have done a lot of good. Knob Creek is perhaps the first bourbon I’ve tasted in the course of this blog that could go head-to-head with many single malt scotches as far as complexity and meatiness go.

Definitely my favorite so far.