Category Archives: Taste of the…

Gateway Series #2: Jim Beam Black

For part #2 in our Gateway Series, we’re looking at the next tier in the Jim Beam family.

Jim Beam Black 8yo Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
43% ABV/86 Proof
Available just about everywhere

What the distillery says:
Elegant.  Smooth.  Refined.  That’s what eight years of aging will do to a bourbon.  Until it’s sweet like caramel.  Meant to be sipped.  Savored.

It’s not bragging if you can back it up.  And the Beverage Tasting Institute of Chicago gave Jim Beam Black the highest rating among leading North American whiskeys in 2003.  We knew that beforehand.  But it’s nice to have some confirmation.

What Richard says:
Nose: More complex than the standard white label.  There’s a lot of caramel
with a herbal almost medicinal under current.
Palate:
More robust than the white label in flavor but still plenty of
kick.  It continues to be rough around the edges but you can taste the
improvement of age.  There is a sweeter center to the palate but it’s
still peppery with a good bit of alcohol.
Finish:
It goes down smoother than the standard expression but that’s not
really hard.  It is still one of the rougher 8 year old bourbons that I’ve
had.
Comments:
Black label is something that stands up well in cocktails.  Much
more so that the standard white label expression.  You actually get some
bourbon flavor instead of just alcohol content.  That said, this still
isn’t something I’m going to sit and sip neat.
Rating: In cocktails: Average, Neat: Probably Pass

What Matt says:
Nose: More pleasant than the White Label.  Lots of caramel.  With water, the sweetness turns to floral with overtones of nail polish remover.
Palate: A boatload of oak (too much) and much mellower than the White Label.  The sourness present in the younger expression is still there, but sits further back and smooths out.
Finish: I’m with Richard on this one.  Rougher than most 8yo bourbons but much less burn than the White Label.
Comments: Good in cocktails.  While whiskeys like Jim Beam White Label give bourbon a bad wrap, Black Label takes it up a notch (not a big step though).  Again, I’m with Richard.  Not something I would voluntarily drink neat.
Rating: In cocktails: Average, Neat: Probably Pass

Overall Rating:  Probably Pass unless it is for a cocktail

Gateway Series #1: Jim Beam White Label

In honor of the Kentucky Derby, we have decided to kick off our “Gateway Series” with Jim Beam “White Label.”  The gateway series is an attempt at preparing the neophyte for a trip to the average (or below average) bar.  We will be reviewing the most common “well” whisk(e)ys and other easy to find drams.

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (it’s the one with the white label), Aged 4 Years

40% ABV/80 Proof
Available just about everywhere

What the distillery says:
Constant.  Guaranteed.  Like gravity.  Sunsets.  Taxes.  But a hell of a lot more satisfying.  The same bourbon.  Made pretty much the same way.  By the same family .  For 213 years.  Sweet.  Satisfying.  Seductive.  This is the world’s #1 bourbon.  For a reason.  Or several.

Seven generations of craftsmanship go into every bottle.  Ingredients:  Corn, rye, barley malt, water, time and pride.

What Richard says:
Nose: Honey and fresh cut wood.  With water lighter vegetal notes start to creep out.
Palate: Spicy black pepper with the slightest, and I mean slightest hint of sweetness.  It’s very harsh with a lot of alcohol sting.
Finish: This stuff goes down rough.  All pepper, fire, and burn.
Comments: This is the bourbon most neophytes think of when they think of bourbon.  It’s sweeter than scotch but harsh as hell.  Not something I would reach for by choice.
Rating: Probably Pass

What Matt says:
Nose: Rubbing alcohol, vanilla, and something sour at the back (vaguely reminiscent of the excrement of an infant).  With a little bit of water, it opens up to grape lollipops and the sweet smell of decay.
Palate: Big Red chewing gum and wood smoke.  There’s also something hard to place that rolls around at the back of the tongue.  It’s almost like drinking the beer from the sour mash straight.  With water, the palate disappears.
Finish: Burns all the way down, comes back up and wraps around the edges of the tongue leaving traces of that sour smell.  With water, the finish tastes like a three day old wet cigar butt.
Comments: I don’t want to sound like a snob by saying that I would rather drink just about anything than this.  There is a reason it is primarily used as a mixer.  If you want a Beam and cola, that is fine by me.  I would not recommend this either neat or on the rocks.  This Jim Beam expression desperately needs something to mask the taste.  If you want a good sipping whiskey, this is not the one.  There are other whiskeys in the Beam family that would be much more appropriate.  Remember, Booker’s, Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and Knob Creek are all part of the Jim Beam line and more and more bars are carrying these in addition to regular old “white label.”
Rating:  Probably Pass

Overall Rating:  Probably Pass

El Dorado Special Reserve 12 Year Old Rum

40% ABV/80 Proof
Available in the United States and Europe – $25 to $30

What the distillery says:

This fine aged Demerara Rum is produced by Demerara Distillers Ltd., master distillers since 1670. Matured for at least 12 years is oak casks, this rum is hand-blended to achieve it’s uniquely smooth, rich, award-winning character – straight or on the rocks.Honey in color.

What Matt says:

Nose: It has your typical rum notes (vanilla, caramelized sugar), but there are also some botanicals in there. It is almost like a craft gin married with a somewhat typical rum.
Palate: Vanilla, the sugar moves a little toward burnt from the nicely caramelized nose, there is also an oak component.
Finish: Here the sugar moves all the way to burnt with a long alcoholic burn.
Comments: Rum has never been my favorite alcoholic beverage. In my youth, I had too many encounters with inferior rums like Captain Morgan or Bacardi. I did not really appreciate rum until I spent some time in the Caribbean, where rum is a part of the culture. I discovered that rum can be really good. Indeed, rum is starting to become part of the craft distillation movement. This means that rum will be increasingly drinkable as a stand-alone. This rum lives up to those standards. This means that it holds up to being served neat. However, compared to other craft rums, this lacks a little nuance on the palate. The palate just does not deliver what the nose promised. This makes the rating a little difficult. By the standards of every rum on the market, I would say that it stands out, but compared to craft rums it is only average. In fact, I would recommend Appleton’s, a widely available macro-rum, above this one.
Rating: Average

What Richard says:

Nose: Burnt caramel, vanilla, candied apricots, honey-dipped oranges, a hint of mint, floral notes of lavender and…rose? Very, very sweet. You can almost taste the sugar cane through the nose.
Palate: All sugar and alcohol. As lovely as the nose was, the palate is very two dimensional.
Finish: Heavy on the alcohol. It kind of finishes like a strong cough syrup.
Comments: I am admittedly not the most well versed rum drinker. That said, this stands out against your baseline Bacardi and Captain Morgan. That palate and finish aren’t noteworthy but nose is exceptional. But we buy it to drink it not to smell it.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average

Glen Garioch 15 Year

43% ABV/86 Proof
Available in the United States and Europe – $45 to $55

What the distillery says:

Honey in color. Medium-bodied with hints of lavender and oak with a syrup sweetness. Long, mellow and very sumptuous finish.

What Matt says:

Nose: Heather, dulce de leche, trace hints of smoke
Palate: Clean palate with honey, vanilla, peat, cardamom, and what I could only assume is sherry.
Finish: Medium-long finish. The peat asserts itself here with a little alcohol and vanilla.
Comments: A very respectable Highland Malt. Fairly typical, which is to say good. Richard sent me this, so I don’t know much about it. I’m assuming that it spent some time in a sherry cask based on the flavor and color. Among the broad spectrum of all whiskies, I would say this is slightly above average, but does not quite stand out.
Rating: Average

What Richard says:

Nose: Tobacco, cedar, orange blossoms and a slight hint of vanilla.
Palate: Spicy and smoky but with a light bit of sweetness.  All of this is layed on a foundation or earthiness.
Finish: The finish gives me a bit of briney peat and alcohol burn.
Comments: I really find this dram uninspiring.  It was the last “blind buy” that I made, meaning bought without tasting or hearing anything about it.  It’s not particulary bad.  It just doesn’t make me want a 2nd dram.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average

UPDATE 1/26/10: As this is now a discontinued version of Glen Garioch replaced with a 12 Year Old we’ve moved this to The Collector’s Cabinet

Glenkinchie 12 Year Old

43% ABV/86 Proof
Available in the United States and Europe – $45 to $50

What the distillery says:

Subtly sophisticated Lowland is a superb pre-dinner drink; try it taken straight from teh freezer.  Pale gold in appearance.  It has a light sweet nose with barley-malt, green grass and wispos of autumn smoke.  The body is firm and light.  The palate is slightly sweet yet fresh, late summer fruits and harvest fields, young wood and malted barley.  A suprising dry finish with a smoky spiciness.

What Matt says:

Nose: Light, sweet (cereal and honey), fresh cut grass, with a trace of smoke.
Palate: Very floral, citrus, honey, over-ripe fruit
Finish: A little spice, some alcohol and sweetness.
Comments: More complex and interesting than your average lowland malt, this is an everyday kind of malt. While none of the flavors are terribly bold, this is a good dram. A great intro into single malt Scotch.
Rating: Stands Out (among Lowlands)

What Richard says:

Nose: Grassy with light hints of fruity sweetness.
Palate: Mellowed and muted flavor.  Slight hint of iodine on the rear of the palate.  As the flavor begins to clear it leave a malted barley after taste that’s very beer like.  Almost like an IPA.
Finish: Smooth, mellow, little about the finish stands out.
Comments: Glenkinchie is a lowland malt.  As such you expect the category to be mellowed with a less drastic flavor profile than malts from other areas of Scotland.  Glenkinchie holds true to this.  Nothing really stands out.  When you’re done with the dram it’s almost like it was never there.  Nothing offensive in this whisky but nothing to write home about either.  That being said, the 12 Year Old is Diageo’s replacement to the 10 Year Old in the Classic Malts range and I do note improvement from the additional years.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average