You may remember a few years ago when the purchase of bourbon giant Beam Global by Japanese drinks conglomerate Suntory shook the whiskey world. Everyone wanted to know whether the Japanese – who are no slouches when it comes to whisky themselves – would interfere with the making of the classic American bourbons in Beam’s portfolio. Unless I missed something, the answer has been a big resounding “no”, and Beam whiskey hasn’t changed a bit. In fact, the only outward sign of the merger is this new expression. Legent is a love-child of classic American bourbon and Japanese blending artistry, which is intended to show how these two disparate whiskeymaking styles can harmonize. Fred Noe, Jim Beam’s master distiller, and Shinji Fukuyo, Suntory’s chief whisky blender chose 5 year-old barrels of Kentucky bourbon (from the standard Beam “low rye” mashbill of 76% corn, 12% rye, 10% malted barley) and finished some of them in California red wine casks and some in sherry casks. The original bourbon (the largest component, by volume) and the two finishes were then blended together by Suntory’s Fukuyo in the Japanese style.
The final whiskey is bottled at a robust 47% ABV. You can find this Japanese-influenced Beam bourbon for a fairly reasonable (these days) $35 – $40.
I got a chance to taste this bourbon when a college buddy of mine, Drew, brought a bottle to a recent reunion-of-sorts. I admit that this review may have been written on the back of a brown paper bag (the vacation rental had no paper and I had no tablet) and perhaps after an evening of tasting a little too much of the aforementioned bottle. Still, these are the memories that stick with you: Good friends, good food, and good booze. I’ll take that any day over a box of dusty samples.
Nose: Beam green apple and green grass. Slight tart lemon note, and some kind of exotic fruit, like ground cherry or… tomatillo? Nice balance. Butterscotch tones. Some oak.
Palate: Thin body with an immediate and robust tongue burn. Almost (but not quite) too hot. Nice oaky sugars, nutty nougat, and more Beam-style cut grass.
Finish: On the longer side. Fruit finally appears, with elements of classic sherry (plum, raisin, vague rancio). Continues nutty and now with some rye spices (mostly clove) and not-at-all bitter oak.
With Water: Water adds a lot of acetone to the aroma but also adds sweetness (vanilla buttercream frosting) to the palate. There’s a little more oaky presence and caramel on the finish. Water optional – I would only add it if you need to proof it down, due to the acetone note it brings out on the nose.
Overall: Very good for the price. The sherry finish is detectable but not at all dominant. Really, due to its balance and assertive flavors this may be one of the best Beam whiskies that I’ve had. Well done, Suntory.