Whiskey Review: Jim Beam Devil’s Cut

I’ve been hearing about Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut bourbon for years, thanks to a major marketing push when it was first launched on the market. I never took the time to actually try it out, though.

History

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 thus 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 by 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.

Product

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 than usual for a bourbon, but half as much as rye-heavy 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.

For this specific version, though, things take a bit of a twist here.

There’s three ways that whiskey is lost during the aging process. The first is through evaporation (commonly known as the “Angel’s Share”, as it disappears into the heavens). The second is through regular tasting, where a tool called a “thief” is dipped into the barrel to grab a sample. The third way is typically lost into the oak barrel itself — whiskey gains its flavors when the heating and cooling cycles of the days force whiskey into the wood of the barrel itself and then back out again. Some of that whiskey that was forced into the wood never comes back out, and Jim Beam calls this the “Devil’s Cut.”

For this bottling, Jim Beam empties its whiskey barrels in the usual way and then presses the wood to extract that “Devil’s Cut” of whiskey. They take that whiskey, blend it with some of their “extra aged” regular bourbon (hence the “made with” statement on the bottle), and bottle it for sale in the form we see here today. They don’t say the proportion of extracted whiskey to regular bourbon, so in theory they could have just taken a regular bottle of Jim Beam, dropped a single drop of “Devil’s Cut” in there, and shipped it out.

Packaging

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 the 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. This is a bottle design aimed toward bar display, rather than looking good on your personal whiskey shelf.

Neat

First impressions are that this isn’t much different from the Double Oak version of Jim Beam. It looks and smells like a good rich bourbon, with a hefty helping of vanilla, caramel, and cherry or crisp apple coming off the glass.

Taking a sip, though, there’s something very different going on. It still has the same flavors from the Double Oak version, but the saturation has been dialed up to 11 for this bottle. Those flavors are as deep and as rich as James Cameron in the Mariana Trench — specifically, the caramel and charred oak are dominating the flavor profile. Surprisingly, though, the flavors aren’t overpowering or bitter. Rather, they are as smooth and delicious as they are simultaneously loud. It’s a interesting juxtaposition.

On the finish, there’s a bit of peppery spice and some rye bread, which makes sense given the rye content in the whiskey.

On Ice

Usually, a little bit of ice has a mellowing effect on whiskey — it tones down the harsher aspects, scrubs the weaker components, and generally smooths out the experience. In this case, the flavors are strong enough that they still come through in the end, but the ice just helps them meld together a bit better than when taken neat.

Those same flavors are there and, while they aren’t quite saturated to the level they were before, it’s still a more significant punch than what you get in the majority of American bourbons. That charring is definitely coming out more as well, leaving an almost charcoal-like aftertaste behind.

I feel like this would go really well with a cigar.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

One of the things you can count on a good rich bourbon for is making a great old fashioned, and this is no exception.

The trick here is that all the flavors in the whiskey are complimentary to the angostura bitters, the cherry, and the slice of orange. There’s some good fruit already in the whiskey, a bit of sweetness from the vanilla and caramel, and that charred oak flavor provides some much needed depth and complexity. All in all, this makes a great Old Fashioned.

Fizz (Mule)

There are a couple thing I’m looking for in a Kentucky Mule. First, I need to know that the flavors in the whiskey work well with the ginger in the ginger beer; second, the spirit still needs to bring something unique it brings to the conversation.

That said…. Devil’s Cut makes a decent mule, but I think it could be better.

There’s absolutely a good balance to the flavors — the darker richer tones from the whiskey counter the brighter essence of the ginger well. It’s a good balance that plays off each other and works pretty well for me. There’s even a bit of a peppery spice to add some depth and complexity.

But where I think this starts to fall down is that there’s just not enough sweetness to overcome the bitterness of the ginger beer. Normally, a bourbon is much sweeter and has more of those caramel flavors — but in this case, there’s just not enough to tone down that bite.

Overall Rating

It’s absolutely worth the extra money. There’s a depth to this bourbon that’s delicious and it works really well in cocktails as well as on its own. Some people might find it a little overpowering, but I feel like those folks would at least be forewarned about what they are getting themselves into and can find a suitable alternative. But for those who like a solid, powerful bourbon, this is a fine choice. The only less-than-stellar version (the mule) was enough to knock its rating down a little bit, but it’s still a great choice.

Jim Beam Devil's Cut
Produced By: Jim Beam
Owned By: Beam Suntory
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $18.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 4/5
Some people believe that the devil hides in corners. Who knew he was hiding inside the wood of a circle?

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