If aging in a charred barrel makes for good drinking, then aging in TWO charred barrels must make for amazing drinking. Or at least, that’s the logic that brings us the Jim Beam Double Oak 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 sits for four years. Normally that would be the end of the process, but with this Double Oak variety the whiskey starts the aging process all over again in brand new charred oak barrels and another four year wait.
Just like the Black edition, this variety clocks in at 43% ABV, about 3% higher alcohol content than the normal bone stock Jim Beam product.
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 like any other proper bourbon, a good bit of caramel with a vanilla twist. There’s some crisp apple in there as well, which brings a bit of bitterness into the mix.
The spirit is smooth and delicious without the any of the bitter kick that I find in other similar bourbons. It’s very heavy on the oak flavors (as one would expect from a “double oak” offering), tasting more like you’re licking the inside of an oak barrel than anything else. Very heavy on the vanilla.
Honestly, it’s pretty good. Jim Beam isn’t my first choice for sipping something neat but this might actually be okay. It’s smooth, tasty, and has a good weight on the tongue for being about 86 proof (43% ABV).
Surprisingly, the ice doesn’t actually change any of the flavors. Usually a bit of ice will subdue the sweeter and more subtle flavors and bring the bolder items to the front, but in this case all the ice is doing is smoothing out the whiskey even further.
At this point, it’s pretty much comparable to any of the craft bourbons that are coming out — and damn near indistinguishable from Woodford Reserve.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
A little bit of orange bitters goes a long way, and in this case I think it really works.
Because there’s no bitterness or other issues with the underlying bourbon, the orange bitters are able to nicely counter balance the spirit. The crisp and bright orange flavor does a nice job balancing out the darker caramel and vanilla notes of the oak. It’s a nice thing to enjoy, honestly.
Just like with the old fashioned, there’s just enough of the underlying dark and earthy flavors coming through from the bourbon itself. It balances the sweet and tangy ginger beer nicely for a well rounded and enjoyable cocktail.
In my review of the standard edition Jim Beam I mention that it’s too sweet and not rich enough to be useful in a mule. But with a second round in the charred oak barrels, there is a stronger flavor to the bourbon and it holds up much better against the ginger beer.
This is undoubtedly the best thing I’ve tasted from Jim Beam yet. Their normal offering is a little too sweet and doesn’t have all the rich flavors I usually prefer in a bourbon. But thanks to that second pass through a new charred barrel, those flavors and textures are finally present and accounted for. It makes for not only a delicious sipping bourbon with complex and interesting flavors but also pairs nicely in cocktails and mixed drinks.
Jim Beam Double Oak
Owner: Suntory, Japan
Production: Kentucky, USA
Grain bill: 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Aging: 8 years (2x 4 years in a new charred oak barrel)
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $18.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
A damn good drinkable and well-rounded bourbon.