This week I received a bottle of Jim Beam’s Distiller Series Bourbon, a 90 proof bourbon aged seven years. The bottling is in honor of Jim Beam’s seven head distillers and its packaging includes printed portraits and brief biographies of each distiller. It’s my understanding that there are seven different bottles; my bottle has Frederick Booker Noe III – the current master distiller – on the front.
Here’s what the press release from Jim Beam says about this whiskey:
“The Distillers Series” celebrates more than 200 years of bourbon heritage and craftsmanship, just in time for the holidays and the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Aged seven years to 90 proof, the new recipe offers a rich taste profile with a warm, lingering, mellow finish – perfect for easy sipping.
“The Distillers Series” bottle showcases key contributions from the seven generations of the Jim Beam family. Each premium bottle features high-quality direct printing, with photos of the distillers and a brief history of their accomplishments. “The Distillers Series” is available a limited quantity of 750ml bottles to legal purchase age consumers, through January 2009, for a suggested retail price of $20.99.
“As the only living distiller among the seven generations honored with ‘The Distillers Series,’ I work everyday to uphold the legacy we’ve created,” stated Fred Noe. “These limited edition bottles are more than nice holiday gifts; they’re the stories of my great-grandfathers and uncles. They’re more than two centuries of history and tradition. And, more than anything, they’re great bottles of bourbon.”
I get that this bourbon is produced to honor the Beam family’s heritage and the timing of the release around the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition is a good time for it. But I would also love for the Beam company to focus more on what makes this particular batch of bourbon special, not merely the nice packaging that holds it.
The Distiller’s Series bourbon has a beautiful yellowed ruby color. The nose is strong and sharp, with cherry, honey, and pepper scents dominating. The first sip goes in easy; the pepper hits the hardest, then comes cherry with hints of charred wood. What’s most surprising from the strong nose is the the lack of burn. For a 90 proof bourbon, it’s quite smooth – significantly more so than the traditional 80 proof Jim Beam. As I finished the glass of Distiller’s Series Bourbon — consumed neat, in a whiskey tasting glass — I started to get a much stronger vanilla cream flavor, along with more pepper tones on the middle-outside parts of the tongue. It was almost as if the mash was dancing between sweet corn flavors and almost the sugar-molasses quality of an aged rum.
After sipping the Distiller’s Series Bourbon neat and warm, I wanted to try it in a cocktail.
2 oz Jim Beam Distiller’s Series Bourbon
1 oz Dolin Vermouth Rouge
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6
Stir. Pour into a cocktail glass & garnish with a bourbon cherry.
The Distiller’s Series Manhattan was pretty spot on, though a bit more bitter than I’d hoped. The pepper flavor from the bourbon made the cocktail have fairly high punch up front — I’ve found the Dolin Rouge tends to amplify the high notes of a spirit it’s paired with. That said, the honey and cherry flavors work great with Italian vermouth.
For just around $20 for a fifth, this is a pretty good deal. I can see this being a decent bourbon for making Manhattans at a big party — good enough to make it special, but at a $21 price point not so expensive as to be precious. I wouldn’t put it up against any of the $30-40 per bottle bourbons (Maker’s, Knob Creek, Willett etc) and I probably would prefer Buffalo Trace or Wild Turkey 101 if someone forced me to pick my favorite $20 bourbon. That said, it’s not every day that you find a perfectly enjoyable and fun bourbon that only costs $21. If you’re looking for something in that price range, I’d recommend giving the Distiller’s Series bourbon a try.
It’s clear that the Jim Beam Distiller’s Series Bourbon is a very different bottling than regular Jim Beam or Jim Beam Black. I think the company is soft-selling the quality of this product by focusing on the family history and attractive packaging. I get the desire to honor the family tradition. But in my mind, the honor comes in making a bourbon that I, as an enthusiast, will enjoy drinking. What’s on the outside of the bottle just isn’t as important. But your mileage may vary…
Go below the fold for the history of seven generations of Beam master distillers.
The seven generations shown on “The Distiller Series” bottle include:
—Jacob Beam: Founder of the Jim Beam family of distillers, Jacob made a name for himself across the country with his Old Jake Beam Sour Mash, brought to market in 1795.
—David Beam: Youngest son of Jacob Beam, David adapted new techniques, including copper stills, to meet soaring demand for Old Jake Whiskey.
—David M. Beam: Known as the steady hand during the Civil War, David gambled 60 years of his family’s legacy by dismantling the distillery formerly located in Washington County, Kentucky and rebuilding it in Nelson County by the Louisville and Nashville railroad. The gamble paid off, because with its newly acquired ability to ship product both north and south, The D.M. Beam Company gained a national following.
—James “Jim” Beauregard Beam: Jim Beam grew the family whiskey, now named Old Tub, to more than 10,000 barrels per year until Prohibition brought production to a halt. Following the repeal of Prohibition, at age 70, Jim and his son T. Jeremiah rebuilt the distillery by hand in 120 days. He shed the Old Tub name for Colonel James B. Beam, better known as Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which is still the name today.
—T. Jeremiah Beam: Following the repeal of Prohibition, T. Jeremiah was determined to expand the distillery and maintain the quality standards his family had set years before. Known throughout Kentucky as a bourbon fanatic, T. Jeremiah’s reign represents a legendary and inspirational chapter in the Jim Beam history.
—Booker Noe: After more than 40 years of distilling, Booker increased production 12 times and created The Small Batch Bourbon Collection® straight from the barrel.
—Frederick “Fred” Booker Noe III: Fred is the seventh generation distiller of Jim Beam, and is carrying forward the family legacy today. Fred was added to the traditional Jim Beam bottle label in September 2007.