By Richard Thomas
Jim Beam Straight Bourbon Whiskey needs little introduction, as it is one of the best-selling whiskeys in the world and an iconic label. Most casual whiskey-lovers are only dimly familiar with the Beam family, however, despite their place in the history of bourbon.
The story begins as so many Kentucky stories do, with the immigration of a Germany family to the frontier in the late 18th Century. The Beams were originally the Boehms, but the name was shortened and Anglicized, just as so many French and German names in Kentucky were during that period. The Beam family first started selling whiskey in 1795, and saw many changes and moves through the 19th Century. Modern Jim Beam began with the building of the Clermont distillery in 1933, and the founding of the James R. Beam Distilling Company in 1935, and it was only at that point that the flagship whiskey was named “Jim Beam,” after the presiding master distiller.
The company is one of the biggest names in bourbon, with just the Jim Beam name alone embracing a handful of labels. In addition to the classic, original “white label”, the Beam name embraces a green label, a black label, a rye, a 7 year old and the 90-proof Devil’s Cut. That’s not counting the spin-offs, like the Red Stag flavored versions of Jim Beam or Beam’s Eight Star, nevermind the extensive line of small batches, the entire other labels owned by Jim Beam, and the Canadian, Irish, scotch and other whiskeys owned by the larger corporation.
Jim Beam comes in a squared bottle with a label design that reminds me of nothing quite so much the kind of thing I might find in the trunk of a 1960s muscle car. The bottle has a plastic screw cap, which is just the sort of thing I dislike, but Beam White is so entry-level I can’t really complain about it. The whiskey is aged for four years, and bottled at 80 proof (40% alcohol).
In the glass, the whiskey has the mid-amber coloring of the stereotypical bourbon. In the main, the nose is like a thin, sweet vanilla syrup with some mild oaky notes. While not complex, it is not altogether dull either. On the palate, the flavor continues as a sweet syrup of caramel and vanilla, with just a touch of rye spice. The finish is sweet, but not especially long or deep. Basically, Jim Beam looks, smells, and tastes like a youngster, which is exactly what it is.
Whiskey like Jim Beam Original is desirable mostly because of its low price and flexibility. The bourbon serves as a good foundation for mixed drinks, and isn’t ruined by ice, but at the same time works well enough neat in a tumbler or snifter.
As a widely available, mass-produced bourbon, Jim Beam is cheap. A fifth usually costs around $18, give or take local taxes. Sometimes the whiskey can be found for even less.