So, it’s the middle of March and I’m already on to dram number four from last year’s American Whiskey and Bourbon Advent Calendar. Slow and steady wins the game, and all that.
To be honest, one of the knock on effects of spending so much time in lockdown is that I have accumulated a large number of drams. What with the whisky club, the awards judging, the swaps with pals and the PR samples sent to me, there are boxes and boxes of drams filling up cupboard and shelf space both at home and in the office.
First world problems, I hear you cry. But, without making the conscious decision to avoid doing so, it has highlighted just how easy it could have been over the last nine or ten months to actually drink a great deal. Especially seeing as though there’s been sod all else to do.
From the outset, though, I decided that I was going to take my time with this advent calendar; to learn about each dram and use this as a much needed opportunity to fill the gaps in my American whiskey knowledge.
And the first thing I’ve learned today is that Jim Beam is the world’s best selling bourbon. Of course, it’s a name I’d always heard of. However, it’s not a whiskey I’m particularly familiar with drinking. It’s one of those brands you often see on offer in Tesco or Asda but those bottles are usually the brand’s flagship whiskey - Jim Beam White Label - or some ghastly sounding fruit flavoured bourbon offering. The latter might explain why the special offers have never been enticing enough for me to pick up a bottle.
The Beam distilling dynasty dates back to the late 1700s with Jacob Boehm, a German settler who took advantage of a government incentive to move to Kentucky to grow corn. Jacob, now with the anglicised surname Beam, used his excess corn by distilling it to produce bourbon. In 1820, Jacob handed the distillery over to his son David but it was much later, in 1854, when David’s son built a new distillery in Nelson County near the new railway line. Fast forward to 1933, after Prohibition had been repealed, and another new Jim Beam distillery was built in Clermont, Kentucky where it stands today.
Since Suntory bought Beam in 2014 - to become Beam Suntory - the Jim Beam brand has experienced huge growth worldwide. But despite producing spirit in phenomenally large quantities, only 1% of Jim Beam barrels end up being bottled as single barrel releases. Just like Scotch whisky, each single cask or single barrel bottling is unique and will, as such, have its own flavour profile. I actually have no idea which barrel this dram is from as there isn’t any information on the label. So, it may well be that if I were to try another single barrel release, my tasting notes would be quite different. A little online digging though reveals that the single barrel releases are between four and seven years old.
I also noticed something else which seems quite unlike the world of single cask Scotch whisky: price. This retails at £36.75 over on Master of Malt which seems remarkably cheap for a single barrel bottling. Even when you consider the strength (47.5%), I think you’d be hard pushed to find a Scotch whisky equivalent for less than double that.
So, here are my thoughts on what I believe is my very first taste of Jim Beam whiskey:
Nose: initial notes of Butterkist popcorn followed by soda bread and tinned clementines. After a while there are notes of apple strudel and custard together with rye spice.
Palate: an immediate whack of strong pepper followed by notes of toffee apples and a hint of cherry chocolate. There's a slight char note throughout and it's slightly drying in to the finish.
Overall: this isn’t too shabby at all especially given the price. I’m not sure how much of the mash bill is rye but this certainly comes through more on the palate than on the nose. This is pretty well balanced and extremely drinkable; definitely one to sip on whilst you sit back and watch the telly box.
Jim Beam Single Barrel is available on Master of Malt HERE.
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