There are a few brands of Kentucky straight bourbon that can reliably be found behind a bar, and Jim Beam’s white label is one of those brands. Produced since 1795 it remains one of the more popular bourbons sold around the world.
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 and would make distribution easier.
James Beauregard Beam took over shortly before prohibition began and was forced to close the facility during that unfortunately 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 longer than comfortable 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 the grain bill at the very least 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 before being bottled.
While I only have a smaller plastic version of their bottle for my tasting purposes, the traditional 750ml bottle uses a square body construction that tapers sharply to a round short neck. The plastic bottle mimics this shape even though it doesn’t have quite the same third dimension as the normal bottle.
The bottle is topped with a plastic screw topper and shipped.
At first it smells pretty much exactly like a wet oak barrel. But with a little time and some additional brain power I think I can start to smell some vanilla in the background as well.
The liquid feels a little light on the tongue, which makes sense given the lower 80 proof alcohol content.
As for taste, the very first thing I get is a sweet vanilla syrup that’s damn near overpowering. As the initial sweetness fades there’s some spice in the background that cleanly transitions into a smooth finish. There’s no bitterness throughout and noticeably less “burn” from the alcohol content.
All I can taste is a sweet vanilla syrup. It’s almost like drinking a lighter version of straight Coca Cola mix without the carbonated water. There’s no depth, no additional spice behind the flavor, and not much “there” there.
Personally it’s just way too sweet for me.
Really all I’m getting now is just orange flavor. There’s no depth to the flavor, nothing to balance the drink out. Even the vanilla flavor has taken a back seat to just pure orange and bitters.
Again, there’s just nothing here. If anything the only thing that the bourbon adds to the ginger beer is even more sweetness if that’s possible.
There’s no depth, no additional flavors added by the bourbon. Heck, you might even get more flavor out of a Moscow Mule at this point rather than this mixture.
It’s fine. If you’re looking for something to mix into your drink I suppose it will work, but standing on its own merits there’s no reason I would choose this over something like Bulleit Bourbon. It doesn’t add any flavor of its own to the mixed drink and as a standalone spirit it leaves me wanting.
Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Suntory, Japan
Production: Clermont, Kentucky
Classification: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Grain bill: 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Aging: 4 years, new charred oak barrels.
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $16.49/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
It’s fine for the price, but then again vodka would be just as effective.