By Richard Thomas
Although the white whiskey trend started several years ago in the then-nascent craft whiskey sector, that hasn’t stopped the big boys getting in on the act. Hence, Jim Beam’s introduction Jacob’s Ghost White Whiskey.
Billed as a throwback to what the historic founder of the Beam dynasty, Jacob Beam, was making in the late 18th Century, “Ghost” is essentially a lightly aged white dog. The whiskey is drawn from the same mashbill as Jim Beam White, and unlike many many white whiskeys Jacob’s Ghost has spent at least a full year in oak. Because the straight whiskey designation requires only one further year in the barrel, it’s fair to say Jacob’s Ghost straddles if not crosses the line between white whiskey and aged whiskey.
Because of that very un-white whiskey aging period, Jacob’s Ghost isn’t actually white (i.e. clear). Instead, it has a very pale straw appearance. The coloring is so faded that the liquid is very nearly clear, and one might miss it at a glance, but it definitely there. Jim Beam bottled the whiskey at 80 proof (40% abv).
The nose is subdued, but corn at the heart of it. The scent has corn sweetness and corn husk grassiness on the surface, with faint notes of dry wood and pepper underneath. The flavor follows on that understated, whole corn cob line, with a slight trace of vanilla. The finish is in keeping with the overall character, staying on the light and modest side.
When Jacob’s Ghost originally came out, a number of pundits praised what they assumed the year of aging did for the whiskey, and I must admit that “Ghost” is very mellow. However, that could owe just as much to the minimal cut of the whiskey (80 proof) as to the year as it does to the aging, and more important is that the whiskey is so mellow as to be lacking character. This points straight to a pet peeve of mine, namely critics who are woefully unfamiliar with white whiskey making calls on the subject.
By eliminating aging as a major factor making good clear stuff is about mashbill and where the distiller makes his cuts, and with only two legs left on that stool, a good whiskey-maker should be making different choices for a white as opposed to an aged whiskey. White whiskeys can have bold flavors without being harsh, but you wouldn’t know that from drinking white dogs, including Jacob’s Ghost. Where this white dog product is mild to the point of blandness, others show the harshness barrel aging is meant to eliminate. Hence the far too many people who freely declare all white whiskeys suck, because they aren’t familiar enough with the sector to know any differently, and think a good example is a meek creation like Jacob’s Ghost.
One general point of complaint about Jacob’s Ghost is the price, often between $20 and $22. When one considers that Jim Beam White, a product that is at least four years old, is usually at the $15 mark, it’s fair to wonder why this lightly aged whiskey costs at least a full third more.