Yet another Jim Beam product, and yet another bourbon that doesn’t taste (to me) like Jim Beam. Thank goodness. The marketing for this particular bottling claims that it’s made in small batches from a “rare jug yeast” that has been in the family for 60 years. Considering that selections for bottling are made in the warehouse, not the stillroom, and that all of the Small Batch and Jim Beam bourbons share the same mash bill, I’m guessing that’s a load of nonsense or at least refers to the normal yeast strains used in all Beam products.
This bottle comes from Batch B-90-001 and is 53.5% ABV (Baker’s is always 107 proof). It’s also seven years old. Three cheers for age statements!
Nose: Pine sap, fresh corn, with a vinegar edge to the nose tickle. Somewhat austere bourbon notes – mild notes of brown sugar, oak, and vanilla in balance, but without the big, round fullness of Booker’s. Deeper in the glass, the vinegar notes turn to a pleasant tart cherry. Not a particularly sweet bourbon.
Palate: Thin bodied, with a rehash of the tart cherry notes and distinct barrel tannins up front. Little tongue burn (surprisingly for 107 proof), and again the wood wins out over the sweetness. Not overly wooded, just not very sweet. Some slightly bitter vegetal notes appear toward the end, like the herbal component of bitters or aperitif liqueur.
Finish: Medium-long. A malty sweetness creeps out of the wood, at last, along with blanched almonds, light brown sugar, and more tart cherries. The overall impression is dry, but the finish is pleasantly, mildly, sweet.
With Water: A few drops of water makes the whiskey slightly sweeter on the tongue – like a simple syrup. It also seems to tie the bourbon together and makes for a more integrated whole, with less austerity. A few drops of water is a good idea with this one.
Overall: This is a bit of an oddball. One expects from bourbon a big, sweet ball of corn syrup, alcohol, and oak. Here the sweetness is merely background, letting nuances (including bitter and tannic ones) from the wood and, perhaps, the rye component play out. It does not show any of the objectionable “paint thinner” notes of white-label Jim Beam, nor is it excessively bitter or hot on the tongue. One thing going for it is that this “non-sweet” style of bourbon lets a lot of nuance through that is usually covered up by the onrush of sugary flavors. This could be described as a bourbon for people who don’t like sweets. In fact, if you’ve sworn off bourbon because it’s “too sweet” – this is probably worth a shot. For everyone else who likes their bourbons big, bold, and treacly… try before buying.