I have not, historically, been much of a fan of Jim Beam. Something about the house character jars my sensibilities, and I seem to detect it in every inexpensive release they do. Older Beam (Knob Creek, Baker’s, Booker’s, etc.) doesn’t seem to have that problem.
It was thus that I took David Driscoll’s effusive shilling of Beam’s new limited “Old Tub” release with a grain of salt. I mean, he’s not always right. (Spoiler: He is always right.) Still, $19 wasn’t too much to throw away on a bottle of bourbon, I figured, and it could always become cocktails.
Old Tub is what Jim Beam used to be called a century ago when it was first sold in bottled form. The name changed to “Jim Beam” in 1943 and the previous brand name was relegated to a Kentucky-only low-volume brand. Now, in 2020, Beam has released a limited edition renewal of the Old Tub brand. It’s still bottled-in-bond, and in an effort to lend the release some authenticity the whiskey is not chill-filtered and also not charcoal filtered. Honestly, I don’t know why in 2020 any whisky company still filters its whisky, but kudos to Beam for recognizing that maybe keeping some flavor in their young whiskey might be a good idea. Before you ask, the liquid is screened to prevent chunks of oak and charcoal from ending up in the bottle.
The whiskey is a Kentucky straight bourbon and is 4 to 5 years old. So, 4 years old. Due to the Bonded requirements it is bottled at 50% ABV and was distilled in a single distilling season and aged in a government-bonded warehouse. The bourbon is “limited” but you can bet your breeches if it takes off Beam will make more.
Nose: Cork. Chewy chocolate nougat. Caramel popcorn. Circus peanuts (banana-flavored candy). Peanut butter. It smells – God help me – like a turn-of-the-century saloon with peanut shells on the floor.
Palate: Robust, heavy body, almost chewy. Tongue burn is as-expected for 100 proof. Most of the aroma compounds continue onto the palate. It actually tastes like it smells. There’s also some cherry and cinnamon and a bit of charcoal.
Finish: On the short side. A little menthol picks up on the finish, and it fades without much change, but also without any bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water don’t seem to change things much, aside from maybe adding a touch of corn-syrup sweetness to the aroma and palate. I actually prefer it without the water, but it’s cheap enough to experiment with. See what ice does, too – see if you can detect the visual “unfiltered” difference when it becomes chilled.
Overall: Something unique in bourbon? What?! Seriously, I expected this to be reconstituted Jim Beam with a soupçon of marketing, but no! I don’t know if it’s the lack of filtration or the barrel selection or what, but this is not only downright tasty bourbon, it’s also got an honest-to-God antique character. Tasting this, I actually feel like someone from 1920 knocking back a glass in a saloon after a hard day on the trail, or whatever. This gives me the same sense of history that some older single malt scotches do, when they smell like barnyard/hay.
This is also cheap enough that I can call it a “Must Have” without any regret. If you like bourbon, you’ll like this even if Jim Beam isn’t your cup of tea. Also, I don’t know if this is really a limited release or not, but you can probably assume that even if it becomes popular and Beam adds it to the regular lineup, they’ll have to cut some corners. Future batches will probably not be quite this good, so buy some now if you’re interested.