Friday, December 14, 2012

A Gateway Bourbon: Jim Beam White Label Bourbon Review

“You know family is big and me and dad had a good ride together and one of these days we’ll be back together. My job is to make sure that his Bourbon is still as good as it always was.” - Fred Booker Noe III

The scotch reviews have been dominating so I thought I would bring things back to center with a new bourbon review. Jim Beam, of Beam Inc. is the best selling bourbon in the world, and one cannot turn their nose up to this simple, inexpensive, and if I say so, nicely made mass produced product. When approaching something like Jim Beam White Label it needs to be known at the start that this is not supposed to be Knob Creek, Bookers, or any of Beam's other high-end brands. This is a product which is all about consistency. It's for the masses and it's supposed to appeal to bartenders and mixologist. And even though this whiskey is young, we also know that 4 more years produces a great go-to bourbon. As I already reviewed the Black Label, with good marks no doubt, we know the potential in the White Label is present. This means that the desire for a quality product is there - Beam craftsmanship cannot be overlooked due to its large size. Needless to say, if we are not expecting high end, does it mean we should expect a “bad” bourbon? No, not at all. If you mix this in a cocktail, like I do, great. If you enjoy drinking this on the rocks, excellent. Don’t let anyone scoff at you for enjoying of this. This is a great spirit to introduce one into the world of bourbon. Not a benchmarker, but it is good enough to lay the groundwork to eventually make your way into the higher end stuff. Call it a gateway bourbon – if it does its job beyond the cocktail, it will entice one to keep on looking for more flavor, more complexity, and more enjoyment.

Jim Beam White Label Bourbon Review:

Price: Found this Jim Beam White Label for $12.99.Can't really beat that.

Packaging/Labeling: Jim Beam all the way. Classy, traditional and American. The screw top is fine - a cork would actually be out of place on the bottle.

Alcoholic Content: 40% abv, 80 proof.

Nose: Light and soft. You do get some of the more phenolic notes on the front, yet they do yield to young apple and strawberry cream. Sweet corn husk, vanilla, and wood dust.

Palate: A bit lifeless on the arrival. Char on the sides develop into honey, nuts, and an almost grape sweetness in the background. Graininess melts into a little red spice, and a bit of liquorice which is so distinctive in the JB Black. Wood tannins break away into a neat corn finish... very pleasant corn finish actually.    

Conclusion: I’m amazed that it can actually be as “enjoyable” as it is at this age. If any suggestion would come to JB White Label, I would ask that they raise the abv up 3 or 5 percent. With the increasing interest and growing trend for higher proof whiskey the last few years, this is the perfect way to present the product as a more serious bourbon. Ideally, I would love to see a Jim Beam 100 or 101 expression. I do recommend this for beginners, and cocktails alike. There are betters bourbons out there, but this is not in any way to be dismissed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Oban 14 Year Old Scotch Whisky Review:

Whenever someone asks me if I want water with my Scotch
I say I'm thirsty, not dirty. 
– Joe E. Lewis

Oban, one of my most cherished distilleries in Scotland, is located in the west-coast highland town of Oban (pronounced O-bin). It is the largest town on the west coast and it is an easy stop for those driving up to the northern Isle of Skye making it the second most visited distillery for Diageo, with over 32,000 visitors a year. Interestingly, the city of Oban was never a city before the distillery was opened in the late 1700’s. Only once the distillery was built, did a town begin to form. The distillery meant jobs and its location on the coast meant a shipyard. From there it continued to grow and flourish as it built itself up around the distillery. Thus Oban is quite unique in that it cannot grow from its present size of four washbacks and one pair of stills. There just isn’t any room. Though, even for the small size of the distillery it would seem rather odd that at full capacity it would be producing upwards of about 700,000 litres a year. The pair of stills could allow for more but there is a bottleneck in the washbacks. Oban's unique flavor profile is dependent on a very long fermentation period (about 4 1/2 days), which translates to about six mashes a week. Inadvertently this means that there simply isn't a lot to go around. The 14 year old, reviewed below, is the only standard bottling, with the hard to find distillers reserve, limited editions, and an 18 year old released exclusively for the US market.

Oban 14 Year Old Scotch Whisky Review:

Price: Around $74.00 for a 750ml bottle. Expensive no doubt, the size and availability of the spirit justifies the price.

Packaging/Labeling: Fairly traditional bottle; clean, neat, and classy with a nice corkstop.

Alcoholic Content: 43% abv, 86 proof. 

Nose: Strong spearmint with a smoky mineral arrival. Peppermint and fresh cut wood with honey. Light notes of dark and tart fruit.
Palate: Bittersweet and malty on arrival. Smooth dark oak and light smoke. Nutty ginger, citrus, and salt on the end which develops into an almost bitter spice and drying finish. To note I find the bitterness, though a bit off putting to some, quite enjoyable.  Fresh cut leather lingers on.

Conclusion: Ahh, I just love this one. The bittersweet and salty is a wonderful mouth feel. Just enough peat for those who need it, and a comfortable amount for those who don’t. For $74.00 I find this well worth the money. Everything I could want in maritime malt. I do have to say that the whole time I'm sipping on this my mind is wondering what 4 more years (as in the 18 year old) could do for this – really enjoyable. If you're having seafood tonight, Oban would be a great accompaniment. Highly recommended.