I was at the company holiday party recently, talking with some coworkers about our favorite whiskies. While I recognized most of the names, one stood out: Legent. The person who brought it up said it was the best thing they had tried all year and I knew I had to give it a sip.
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.
The Legent bourbon is a cooperation between the Jim Beam distillery and Suntory, whose expertise in blending whiskey to create new and interesting profiles is legendary.
There’s very little information about the actual contents of the bottle, but the implication is that this starts out life as a fairly bog-standard Jim Beam bourbon with a grain bill of 77% Corn, 13% Rye, and 10% Malted Barley. Once it has been matured to the acceptable level to pass as a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey (2 years in new charred oak casks), the bourbon is further matured in sherry and French oak red wine casks. Finally, all three strains (regular bourbon, sherry finished, and red wine finished) are blended by Shinji Fukuyo, the head blender for Suntory in Japan.
The bottle itself isn’t very intricate, but there are some nice design elements here that add to the appeal.
The body of the bottle is pretty standard, with straight walls on a medium-thickness body, rounded at the shoulder. The upper portion of the bottle is what’s interesting, with a short but relatively wide neck and a particularly wide flared lip on the bottle. This wide flare makes it much easier to control the pour of your whiskey, which really helps you savor every sip. The whole thing is capped with a cork and wood stopper that’s the same width as the wider lip.
Looking at the labeling, you can tell that someone spent some time and money on making this look pretty. I appreciate that all of the markings are painted onto the bottle instead of simply being a transparent plastic label. This not only lets the beautiful color of the whiskey shine through and be the star of the show, but that also feels less cheap than the plastic.
What is interesting to me is that nowhere on the packaging or the associated website does it say that this is a Jim Beam product. It seems like Beam Suntory are trying to put this out as another brand completely, even going as far as putting “Legent Distilling Co” as the producer of record on the bottle. Jim Beam has a well established price point and place in the market, so trying to put out an “elevated” brand (like Elijah Craig for Evan Williams) makes sense.
I don’t really get any aromas differentiating this from the Double Oak version of Jim Beam. It’s very sweet, with a vanilla aroma mixed in alongside some cherry fruity notes and a bit of caramel on the end. Perhaps the only real difference is that it’s a bit sweeter, a touch more brown sugar than usual.
The flavor, on the other hand, is leaps and bounds beyond the usual Jim Beam offering. I can taste the red wine influence and it gives the spirit some of the same characteristics as a good merlot — something the local wine bar describes as an “iron fist in a velvet glove.” Powerful flavors delivered in an appealing and delicious manner. There’s a bit of cherry and a touch of grape in there giving it some rich fruity notes beyond what you’d usually expect.
I do also get the sherry coming through, adding some sweetness to the mix that’s delicious and helps temper the stronger aspects of the bourbon.
That said, it’s definitely still a bourbon. The rye content from the Jim Beam base adds in some peppery spice that compliments the spirit and makes it even more complex, and the vanilla and caramel notes contribute beautifully to the symphony of flavors.
With a little bit of ice, the more delicate flavors fall out and this turns into something that very closely resembles the Double Oak version of Jim Beam. I’m not complaining — it’s probably my favorite version of their spirit.
The actual oak wood flavor comes through nicely with some additional caramel and vanilla joining the party. There’s also a good bit of peppery spice from the rye content. That said, there’s still a hint of sherry and merlot, it’s just far in the background at this point.
In short, what was unique about this spirit seems to have disappeared. It’s much like how a usual Japanese blended whiskey performs, with the more subtle flavors falling away as it becomes cold and diluted.
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 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 the additional aging and finishing, there is a stronger flavor to the bourbon and it holds up much better against the ginger beer.
Legent holds up in a mule much better than any of the Beam offerings I’ve tried yet, but it does honestly feel like a bit of a waste when this is so much better neat.
This whiskey is made to be sipped neat. Much like the rest of the Japanese blended whiskies, the finer notes and the subtle flavors are the big draw. Those get quickly lost when extra things like bitters or ginger beer are added… in which case, it turns into just a standard bourbon, which still isn’t bad.
I’d recommend taking this neat and enjoying it. This should make for a great sipping bourbon for those lazy afternoons, and while it’ll work great in a cocktail, it really isn’t used best in that format.
Legent Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Beam Suntory
Production: Clermont, Kentucky
Classification: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Grain bill: 77% Corn, 13% Rye, and 10% Malted Barley
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $36/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
The best of Japanese and Kentucky whiskey in one glass. Just don’t add ice.