Jim Beam is the most popular bourbon in the United States by sales volume. But while the standard edition of their bourbon might be ubiquitous, there’s a wide world of bourbon in their catalog to try. Today’s choice is their award winning Black edition.
The first Beam to produce and sell a barrel of whiskey was Jacob Beam in 1795, who produced a corn whiskey that used the sour mash fermentation process and was commonly known as “Old Tub.” His son David continued the tradition and moved the distillery to Nelson County Kentucky to take advantage of the rail lines that were popping up, which would make distribution easier.
James Beauregard Beam later took over, unfortunately shortly before prohibition began and he was forced to close the facility during that sober period of American history. However, he was also the driving force behind reopening the distillery once prohibition was lifted. The new distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, founded in 1935, would be known as the Jim Beam distillery in his honor.
The company was successful, and they were purchased by a Chicago spirits merchant in 1945, then American Brands in 1968, and finally in January of 2014 it was purchased by the Japanese spirits giant Suntory. Despite the change in ownership, the Beam family and their descendants have remained involved in the production of the company’s spirits and have often held the position of master distiller.
Despite the time off during prohibition, Jim Beam claims that their Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has been made the same way since 1795. That may be mostly true, but I get the feeling that, at the very least, the grain bill has changed over time.
Jim Beam starts with a fermented mash containing 77% Corn, 13% Rye, and 10% Malted Barley. That’s more rye that usual for a bourbon, but half as much as Bulleit uses in their spirit. Nevertheless, it still has well over half the grains coming from corn and so meets the legal requirements there.
Once fermented and distilled, the spirit is added to new charred oak barrels where it normally sits for four years before being bottled. In this case, it’s left alone for twice as long — a total of eight years prior to bottling, to allow the bourbon to absorb even more of the flavors.
Another difference of note is that this whiskey is bottled at 43% ABV, which is 3% higher than the normal Jim Beam offering.
The bottle is a little bit shorter and fatter than the standard Jim Beam bottle. That said, all of the same elements are present. There’s the squared bottle body, the sharp shoulder, and the medium length neck. The whole package is capped off with a plastic screw-on top.
The label is large and in charge, obscuring the majority of the bottle. Which is a shame, since it blocks us from seeing the spirit and its golden brown coloring. I usually prefer to see what I’m drinking, but in this context that label also hides how much spirit is left in the bottle — bar patrons are less likely to order from a near empty bottle, and the label makes it much more visible from across a bar.
It smells sweet and delicious, without any bitterness or bite. There’s the usual players here — caramel, toffee, vanilla, and a bit of spice as well.
The taste delivers on the promise of the smell with no surprises whatsoever. This is a proper bourbon with the proper bourbon tastes, the proper bourbon color, and the proper bourbon weight. The only departure from the norm is a bit of peppery spice on the finish that doesn’t overwhelm the spirit but instead acts as a pleasant aftertaste.
In the Jim Beam line, I’d say this is halfway between the standard edition and the Double Oak. Where the standard was too sweet and the Double Oak was deliciously rich, this is a nice middle ground. Perfect for introducing first time bourbon drinkers (if there are any left).
The only real difference here is that the peppery aftertaste is slightly diminished at first, but it does show up eventually. Delayed, but not gone.
I had this same experience with the Double Oak, that the flavors weren’t actually diminished with added ice. Usually the lighter and more subtle flavors disappear and only the strong survive, but in this case they’re all still present and accounted for.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I think something is a little off here. The bitters are a touch too bitter — there’s not quite enough flavor to properly counteract the power of the orange and bitter flavor. It’s much too orange-y for my taste.
While I think the Black version is closer to the original than the Double Oak in how it behaves, in this case it doesn’t quite have the same rich flavors as the Double Oak to call on to counteract the orange bitters.
Like we saw with the old fashioned, there’s just not enough of the bold flavors to counteract the ginger beer. Admittedly, their Black version does a much better job than the standard version — there’s something to taste here besides sweetness, but beyond that there’s not really anything to write home about.
I’d have expected the peppery finish to come through at the least, but it just doesn’t have any presence. Unfortunately.
I like it better than the standard Jim Beam bourbon. There’s less sweetness and more flavor, but it’s still not quite there in my opinion.
It’s not my first choice for inexpensive whiskey, but it’s definitely an acceptable product.
Jim Beam Black
Owner: Suntory, Japan
Production: Kentucky, USA
Grain bill: 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Aging: 8 years
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $18.49/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
It’s a good sipping bourbon, but maybe not a good mixing bourbon.