This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to go to Spec's for a Jim Beam whiskey tasting. We went to the upstairs conference room and sat with 60 other spirit lovers to hear from Fred Noe, who is the guy in the middle in the photo. Yes, that's Kid Rock on the left, and some other guy on the right. Fred is the seventh generation of the Jim Beam distilling family, meaning that he is the direct descendant of Jim Beam himself.
This guy is a hoot, let me tell ya. Sure, his speech was peppered with little bits of profanity here and there, but it was all good-natured, and I couldn't tell that anyone really minded it. He was never mean or disdainful about any other spirits or anyone. He was a nice guy who happened to love spirits, bourbon especially.
Two things I especially remember: 1) He said that you should never make a face when you taste a whiskey. You should cut it with whatever you like to make it palatable for you. Some people try to be purists, he said, and they look down on those who mix their spirits, especially bourbon. But he said, "If you mix the best bourbon with Coke, you will have the best bourbon and Coke you can get." And if that's what you like, that's great. Make it so that you like it. 2) The way to smell a spirit is with your mouth open. It looks weird, but it works. It allows the alcohol burn smell to be released through your mouth, so you only get the good scent of the spirit. Cool.
But now to the liquor. We tried six different bourbons, five of which are pictured here. The sixth one was a surprise, oh it was. By means of disclosure, let me say that Jim Beam has been my go-to bourbon for years now. I would typically have a bottle of Beam for mixing and a bottle of Maker's Mark for sipping or for special cocktails. Recently, I have moved to Evan Williams and Rittenhouse Rye 100, but I still like Beam. In fact, the reason I moved to Evan Williams is that it seems identical to Beam, yet a few dollars cheaper.
So we started off with Basil Hayden's, which is a sugary blend. It's very sweet with a very special finish and a lingering bit of alcohol warmth. Very nice, but not worth the difference in price between it and the other Beam products.
Then we moved to Jim Beam Black, which has been around since the 1970s. It is aged eight years, which is twice as long as the regular white label beam, so they call it "double aged." At $17 a fifth, it is a good value. It has a lot of vanilla to it, with a very clean, vanilla finish. Very nice.
Next came the Knob Creek 9 year Single Barrel Reserve. I was most excited about this one, but it came as a disappointment. I guess the mixing of the barrels can be a good thing, especially when its 120 proof. The non-chill filtration process allows it to have a lot more of the vanilla smell, but this one burns. The burn stays, too. Sure, the vanilla comes through great, but this one had to be cut with a tad of water. It seems like a good idea, but I will stick with the blended bourbons. Like this, it's just too strong.
Then came Booker's, which is named after Fred Noe's dad. It's completely uncut, which means that it's strong. This one was 121 proof, if I remember correctly. The nose is spicy, not just vanilla, but other spices, too: pepper, nutmeg, and others that I can't place. Again, not something I want to drink straight. It burns the entire mouth, not just the back of the tongue. It burns the front and all over. At $43.39, I will pass.
Next we tried the surprise, a new one called the Devil's Cut. It's not out yet, but it is good. When it comes out, try it. It was the best of the bunch. What they do is they put the used barrels through a process to try to remove the last bit of whiskey stuck in it. Man, does it work.
Then there was Red Stag. I have been seeing it for a couple years now, but I always balked at "black cherry infused" bourbon. What the heck is that? Well, it tastes good. Sure, it's sweet, and it hardly tastes like bourbon, but it tastes good, and that is what matters. Forget your pride and serve both you and your girl some of this stuff on ice. It's like cherry/vanilla ice cream.
Thanks, Fred Noe, for a great tasting, and for continuing to make some great bourbons!