One of our readers recently commented that it had been a while since they had seen a bourbon review. Which is fair — I’ve been going heavy on the rum and the tequila lately with the start of summer. So I took a stroll down to the local liquor store and decided to grab the first inexpensive bottle of bourbon I could find that I knew nothing about. It turns out the bottle I grabbed, Old Tub, actually has way more history to it than I had expected.
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, though, his tenure began shortly before prohibition 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 grew successful, and they were purchased by a Chicago spirits merchant in 1945, then by American Brands in 1968, and finally in January of 2014 by the Japanese spirits giant Suntory. Despite the changes in ownership, the Beam family and their descendants have continued to remain involved in the production of the company’s spirits and have often held the position of master distiller.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
The name on this bottle, “Old Tub”, goes all the way back to the beginning of the Beam distilling history in the 1790’s and holds a special place of honor in the company. Previously, this whiskey was only available as 375ml bottles locally in the distillery shop but in 2020 they decided to do a limited release of full size 750ml bottles for wider distribution. Precisely how limited that release was seems to be up for debate, though, as I’m still comfortably finding bottles on the shelves here in mid-2022.
While the name might be historic, it seems like this is a whiskey “inspired by” that past and not necessarily a historic recipe. In fact, there’s not much we can tell about the contents besides the legal descriptions on the bottle.
As a bourbon, this is required to start with a mixture of grains that contains at least 51% corn — but a good number of Beam’s spirits seem to use a mixture of 77% corn, 13% rye, and 10% malted barley. Not saying that’s what’s in here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is some spirit that they skimmed off another distillation run.
Those grains are cooked and fermented using the “sour mash” process. In this process, some of the leftover fermented grains and liquid from a previous distillation run are added into subsequent mixtures. This makes for a more acidic and alcoholic environment, one in which yeast can thrive and create more alcohol but harmful bacteria is less likely to ruin things. That’s probably where the name “Old Tub” comes from, since they are literally using the old tub of mash for the new mixture.
The mildly alcoholic liquid is then distilled, creating the new make whiskey. As a “Kentucky Straight Bourbon”, that raw spirit is then placed into charred new oak barrels for a period of no less than two years — in fact, since this is also listed as a “Bottled in Bond” product, it’s an increased minimum of four years we’re talking about, and specifically in a U.S. Government inspected warehouse.
Following those four or so years in a barrel, the spirit is blended with other barrels from the same distilling season (defined as a six month period, and another quirk of the “Bottled in Bond” label) before being bottled at exactly 100 proof. As the bottle proudly notes, there’s no filtration going on after the whiskey is removed from the barrel, which means more flavor components are present but also that it might turn cloudy on ice (like the “louche” in an absinthe).
This feels like one of those limited release bottlings that are specifically designed to fly under the radar unless you really know what you are looking for. And it worked — I had no idea what I bought until I started researching it.
The bottle itself is designed and constructed exactly like pretty much every other inexpensive bottle of whiskey on the shelf: it’s a roughly wine-bottle-shaped body with a medium length straight neck and a plastic and synthetic stopper.
Where this gets a little interesting is the label.
It looks like this label has been in use for at least a few decades, but it feels like an even older Victorian original design. I can’t find any confirmation on that, unfortunately — but if true, that would be a cool touch. We’ve got the brand name “Old Tub” in a stylized red font up top, a small faded image of a whiskey barrel in the center, and all of the rest of the legally required information laid out in more of a silver gray color. Just enough components to make it feel well constructed and appealing without going overboard.
I do also like that the label doesn’t take up the entire bottle. There’s space at the top and the bottom for the color of the whiskey to shine through, which (especially in this product) seems to be critical. If you’re going to create an unfiltered, bottled-in-bond bourbon whiskey, then the color of the spirit should really be the star of the show. And in this case, it is.
This smells exactly like a good Kentucky bourbon should — I’m getting the brown sugar, toffee caramel, a splash of vanilla, some orange citrus hints, and even the raw corn is shining through a bit here. It’s a solid, if unremarkable, profile.
That caramel and brown sugar sweetness is immediate and forceful as soon as you take a sip, followed by some vanilla and a bit of raw corn. As the flavor develops, the raw corn becomes more prominent and mixes with some fruity aspects — specifically, some apple and orange citrus. From there, I don’t see a whole lot of development of the flavor, but there is a bit of added texture from a black pepper spice kick on the finish.
One thing I do want to mention is that the flavor of this bourbon is extremely well-saturated. It feels warm and mouthfilling, with no roughness or bitterness whatsoever. Smooth as silk and absolutely delicious.
As much as Beam makes a fuss about this being unfiltered with the possibility of some particles or cloudiness when you add ice to the spirit, I’m getting none of that. In fact, this might actually be clearer than a normal bottle of Jim Beam. Just one observation and your bottle may vary, but FYI.
When taken neat, this is a well-saturated bourbon with a pretty standard flavor profile. Usually, the addition of some ice changes things, but in this case I don’t actually get many flavor changes besides perhaps a bit more strength to the black peppery spice. The saturation of those flavors is a bit watered down, but at this point it’s still the equivalent of taking a sip of the standard version of Jim Beam neat. Which is a great sign that this might hold up really well in some mixed drinks.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
There’s a great balance to this cocktail that I really appreciate. It’s a bit lighter and sweeter than my personally preferred version of an Old Fashioned, but it’s also probably closer to what you’d want from a textbook example of the drink. That caramel and brown sugar flavors we saw previously are doing some good work counteracting the bitterness of the bitters, and the aromatic components are elevating the flavor profile without being overpowering.
This really works quite well, and I think a lot of that comes from the saturation of the flavors persisting and holding their own against all the ice and other components. I’d recommend going a bit light on the sugar, but don’t skimp on the orange peel.
The flavors here are on point for a good Kentucky Mule — maybe even a little better than good, actually.
The sweeter components in the whiskey are once again balancing out the more bitter aspects of the ginger beer mixer, but without overpowering and over-sweetening the result. It’s a bright and cheery cocktail for sure, something great for sipping on a hot summer day, but with enough complexity to make it interesting and enjoyable.
On the finish, there’s a touch of black pepper spice adding a bit of character to the cocktail, but only a hint. It isn’t nearly anywhere close to the level I get with a rye whiskey, but it is still there.
I love when a distillery does a bottling that really tries to pay homage to their roots. Other facilities might just slap a new label on an existing product and call it good, but here they seem to have actually done something consistent with the style of those original spirits by skipping the chill filtration process and going a little longer on the maturation period.
The end result in this case is a well-saturated, if a bit average, bourbon. It works well in just about every test we can throw at it, creating something delicious and enjoyable at every turn. The only quibble I have with it is that it doesn’t seem to being anything unique or different to the table… but honestly, at this price point, that’s something I can easily overlook.
|Jim Beam Old Tub|
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Special Type: Bottled In Bond
Aging: 4 Years
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $20.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A delicious well-saturated bourbon that hits all the right notes and for the right price.