The great mysteries of the modern world: Who was DB Cooper? What happened to MH370? And who the hell keeps buying flavored whiskey? Thanks to that last mystery, I once again took a trip along the bottom shelf of the liquor store to try and make sense out of Jim Beam’s Red Stag offering.
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.
This is a spirit that flips the script a little bit on the usual formula for flavored whiskey. Normally the plan is to take an existing whiskey, infuse it with some flavor, and ship it out — a formula that Fireball uses in their offense against nature (oops, I mean… whiskey). In this case, what Jim Beam has done is take an existing cherry liqueur and infuse it with their standard bourbon.
For a refresher on how Jim Beam makes bourbon and a review of their usual product check out our Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey review. (Or also, the Double Oak or Black reviews since they all start from the same process.)
So, technically this isn’t a whiskey review but instead a review of the liqueur (which is defined as a sweetened distilled spirit). But it bears Jim Beam’s name on it, so it’s fair game in my book.
Where does this cherry liqueur come from? How is it made? What exactly constitutes “infusing?” All these questions and more remain unanswered by any of the marketing materials or reviews I’ve been able to scrounge up. So we don’t actually know much about it, except that its cherry liqueur + Jim Beam. Off to a great start…
The bottle is a pretty straightforward copy of the standard Jim Beam design, with the major difference being the label on the front. For the Red Stag product, there’s a prominent rack of antlers front and center and the Red Stag branding dominating the rest of the label. The bottle is capped with a metallic screw-on cap and bears the warning to “serve chilled.”
It’s a solid label, but there’s really nothing interesting here. It’s a variation from the normal design that didn’t take any chances, and I’m guessing that’s on purpose. The contents are enough of a departure from the norm that it makes sense to keep the style and branding as consistent as possible so people have some frame of reference for what they’re buying.
As soon as you pour it, you can smell the sweet cherry aroma coming off the glass… and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I’m still like three feet away from this thing, standing outside in a stiff wind, and it’s almost overpowering. Getting a bit closer and sniffing the rim it’s pretty much just straight cherry cough syrup.
Taking a sip, the liquid is thick and viscous (again, like cough syrup). I think that has more to do with the sugar content than the 35% alcohol in the drink. It’s cloyingly sweet, and I can taste the sugar on my lips long after I’ve put the drink down.
The consistency and the experience is pretty much identical to Fireball, but instead of burning cinnamon, you’ve just got a metric ton of sweetness and cherry flavor.
Speaking of flavor, I can taste precisely zero of the bourbon in this thing. Nothing. Nada. It’s like the existing cherry liqueur was waved in the direction of a bourbon barrel and that’s about it.
Just like with Fireball, I can actually see the syrupy sweetness in the glass. The ice cubes aren’t so much diluting it as they are creating their own isolated pools of water in the thick sludge that is the cherry liqueur.
With some added ice, I’ll admit that it’s less aggressively sweet, but it’s still pretty bad. This isn’t something I would voluntarily drink on my own, and I’m dreading how it will taste once I start adding mixers.
The bottle says “enjoy chilled” but the chill does nothing. It’s still aggressively sweet and cough syrup flavored.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Why did I do this to myself? I knew it was going to be bad, I should have cut and run when I had the chance. But no, “journalistic integrity” or some such nonsense means I’m here hating my taste buds for your entertainment.
The good news is that there’s now a second flavor in the glass. The bad news is that it’s not so much of a complimentary and collaborative effort between the two flavors as it is a fight to the death. The cherry and orange flavors seem to be battling it out for dominance, with one or the other being expressed but rarely both at the same time. As for the bitterness, well, the drink apparently absorbed that much like Slimer in Ghostbusters absorbs food.
You know, it’s not entirely terrible… if we really use a relative scale here and not hold it to real standards.
It seems like the bitter ginger beer has done a somewhat acceptable job balancing out the sweet cherry taste. It’s still like you mixed cough syrup with ginger beer (so still, awful) but compared to the horror that was the old fashioned, it’s slightly better.
Just like with Fireball, this is a product with near zero appeal to me. It’s not my cup of tea, but someone somewhere must be drinking this stuff if it keeps getting produced. So take my opinion as just that — one opinion from a crotchety man who’s 30-something going on 65.
What I keep coming back to here is the question of why Jim Beam makes this stuff. There’s nothing that the bourbon brings to the table, no added taste or texture that I can detect. It’s all covered up and destroyed by the oppressively sweet cherry liqueur. They could have made this from straight neutral grain spirit and had the same flavor, but because there’s a drop of Jim Beam in here, they get to use the label and the branding. Which is really all you’re paying for.
Jim Beam Red Stag
Owner: Beam Suntory
Production: Kentucky, USA
Classification: Infused Liqueur
Grain bill: Unknown
Proof: 35% ABV
Price: $12.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 1/5
Jim Beam is wasting perfectly viable bourbon. Don’t encourage them.