Blind Beam

Since I've been talking about the cool cache of certain brands lately, I thought I'd mention the blind tasting of Bourbon I went through yesterday, curated for the purpose of identifying richness without bias. After tasting about twenty whiskies -- all beneath the $30 price point -- I found that two really stood out as displaying both superb richness and weight: the new Jim Beam single barrel release and the 8 year old Black (which comes in at $27.99 for a liter). The former is recognizedly a Beam product -- it carries that corny sweetness that I find permeates through the entire Beam portfolio, but it does it with a bit more balance than some of the other expressions. The latter is all wood spice and cinnamon, and I was shocked to discover that Beam made the whiskey.

What both of these Bourbons do well is offer a more-supple style of whiskey for a very reasonable price. I think (in fact, I know) that this richer, sweeter flavor profile is what many Bourbon fans are craving right now and not finding in most standard releases. People invariably want new whiskies that taste like Pappy, Booker's, and Blanton's -- three of the richer, sweeter Bourbons on the market. Yet, they're continuing to purchase more herbaceous, spicier, leaner whiskies that don't give them that burst of sweet oak they're looking for.

In times of shortage it really pays to revisit the big brands -- the guys with inventory who aren't being forced to stretch their stocks as thinnly. I've never expected greatness from Beam, but I respect their ability to make a good product for a good price. They're on the shelf as of now.

Jim Beam Single Barrel Kentucky Bourbon $29.99 - One of the best and most balanced Bourbons from the Beam portfolio, displaying a soft and supple entry of sweet corn, followed by hints of banana and wood spices. At 95 proof the alcohol balances out the richness perfectly and the Bourbon ends up being much leaner than it initially appears. Batches will obviously vary and the tasting notes a bit different depending on which barrel you're purchasing, but I think Beam is on to something with this value-oriented release. It's undoubtedly Beam whiskey through and through, but it's the best possible expression of it, in my opinion.

Jim Beam Black 8 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon 1L $27.99 - The one thing most Bourbon drinkers say about Knob Creek, Booker's, Baker's and Basil Hayden is that -- for all their differences -- they are all identifiably Beam products. There's a certain flavor profile that's consistent through each expression that gives the distiller away. It's a certain sweet corn flavor that manages to materialize across the board and sometimes it's a love it or hate it type of thing for serious Bourbon fans. When I first tasted the Beam Black 8 year expression I was certain that Heaven Hill made the whiskey. The high spice of the rye, the char flavor of the wood, and the weight of the palate all screamed Elijah Craig. But I was utterly shocked when I took the whiskey out of the brown bag (this was at a blind tasting) and saw that the liter-sized bottle read Jim Beam Black. At $28 a liter, this is killer Kentucky juice. Double-aged in new oak and proofed down to 43%, the sweet corny flavor of Beam is completely gone and in its place stands an integrated oak profile and lots of spicy clove and cinnamon. It's very well done and very well-priced.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll