Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jim Beam Rye and Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey Comparison Review:

“Here's to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

Rye is on the rise. Everyone knows it. Each year more distilleries are jumping on the rye bandwagon, loading up their warehouses full of the stuff. Yet the revival as it stands is still very small. Much of the new products coming out are really old products. Or rather they have been in production and are simply bottled by different companies, many of these companies utilizing LDI’s large stock of 95 percent rye – Bulleit ‘95’ Rye coming to mind. Today, however, I thought I would focus on another interesting rye product. Or rather two rye products: Jim Beam Rye and Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey. At present everyone seems to know Old Overholt, partly due to its more recent cameo performances made in the popular Mad Men series. Jim Beam Rye on the other hand, being overshadowed by Beam's larger labels, has just recently began receiving its due attention. So why am I talking about two products as if they are really one product? Simply because they are one product. When you're buying a bottle of Overholt you are inevitably buying a bottle of Jim Beam Rye. They both come from the exact same distillate. The difference, as far as I can tell, is in the barrel selection for each brand. 

So how did this happen? When Jim Beam merged with National Distillers in 1987 it
consequently inherited Old Overholt. Being that Rye had been on decline since the repeal of prohibition, Jim Beam immediately ceased Overholt's distilling at the Forks of Elkhorn Distillery and simply waited for the supply to run out. Once the stock had been consumed Beam merely began using their own production of rye for Overholt, the same rye used for their own Beam Rye. And this has been relatively unchanged up the present day.

So the question we really want to know as whiskey drinkers is: Does it taste the same? I would answer yes and no. Whatever Beam is doing (different barrel choices, etc) both are admirable and each unique enough in their own right for someone to actually question buying one over the other. So how do they review?

Jim Beam Rye Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $15.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Classic square Jim Beam bottle with a yellow label. Nothing to complain about.

Alcoholic Content: 40% abv, 80 proof.

Nose: Fresh and clean. Sweet green apple. The rye grain is not overbearing – it holds a unique malty note. It opens up and displays some of your typical vanilla, corn, and caramel notes.

Palate: Clean and quick. Light fruit, lavender, honey, mint, and clove. All melded together with a creamy strain. Very similar to the nose – what you smell in the glass is what you taste in the glass.

Old Overholt Rye Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $16.95 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Cheap brown bottle. As much as the get-up looks mass market I find that I wouldn't want it any other way.

Alcoholic Content: 40% abv, 80 proof.

Nose: This comes on much bolder than the Beam rye. The rye grain is more robust, less menthol, mint and fruitiness on the front – more earthy and vegetal. Throughout there are stout wood and flint notes.

Palate:  The woodiness comes through much more on the Overhalt. The tannic notes are definitely there, as they were in the nose, however there is an overarching creaminess which balances out the flavors nicely.

Comparison Conclusion: These are both very similar. Each of their noses are where they differ most heavily, and the tannic nature of Overholt compared to the fruitiness of Beam also distinguishes them on the palate. Yet they both come together in the mid-palete with the pleasant creaminess of lavender. They are both surprisingly great products for being so inexpensive. And the price is only $1 or $2 difference which means you won't have to simply choose the cheaper one. What do I most likely prefer from the two? Probably the Old Overholt. Loads of tannins/woodiness can be overbearing in some whiskies, yet this ain't bad at all when not being compared to Jim Beam Rye, and it also gives a fairly average whiskey something more to offer.


  1. I didn't know Overholt was popular. I've used it in cooking and find it smooth on my tongue. Quite nice.

    1. Yes it has a certain celebrity in particular circles, and it is quite an old brand anyway. It's a great inexpensive rye.

  2. I had an Old Overholt Old Fashioned last week at Drink in Boston. It was one of the best cocktails I've ever had.

  3. I find using Old Overholt to make either an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan has by far become my favorite way to drink either.

  4. About 1yr ago I decided to try Rye whiskey. Picked Old Overholt and liked it very much. Last week I bought a bottle of Jim Beam Rye. The first thing that came to mind with the JB Rye was the odor of mildewed corn shucks. That is just wrong.
    I'll stick with Old Overholt.

    1. Ultimately it comes down to your preference. Both are fairly similar in my eyes - the Old Overholt is just a bit more exciting.

  5. Old Overholt has been good friend to me since the early 1960's. I was just a kid, but wise old men would teach youngsters how to drink properly and stay out of trouble back then. The all agreed that bourbon was a common trap and introduced me to rye whiskey and water. They taught me how to appreciate the flavors and the clean gentle "rest" of the rye spirt. They were right!