By Richard Thomas
Before flavored whiskeys like Fireball and Bird Dog caught on, the bourbon honey liqueurs started coming back. Wild Turkey is the grandfather in this category, having had a fine honey liqueur in production since 1978, only lately rebranded “American Honey.” Yet these days it seems every big whiskey brand has a honey liqueur of some sort, including Jack Daniels, Bushmills, and Jim Beam.
Part of what drove the rise of honey liqueur is the same factor that sucked rye whiskey off the shelves a few years ago, namely the demand of creative bartenders working their cocktail magic. So for a whiskey drinker, the question about honey liqueurs is whether they are good on their own or with a little ice, or are they strictly mixology material?
The answer for Wild Turkey’s American Honey is yes, it’s great neat or on ice, but that cannot be said for all of them. Alas, Jim Beam Honey falls into the “mixology material” end of the spectrum.
As a liqueur, Jim Beam Honey falls below the whiskey-minimum 80 proof line, with an abv of 35% (70 proof). In the glass, the liquid has that solid gold coloring that is the standard for drinks of this category.
The nose is very simple: it has that corn husk scent I expect to find only in corn whiskey and very young bourbon, plus a spoonful of honey. Those two smells have a good old country feel to them, so it’s not unpleasant, but it speaks to a youthful sort of whiskey product.
The liqueur has a thick mouthfeel, matching the type of honey flavor in the liqueur: dark honey. Most Americans are unfamiliar with deep brown honey, so if nothing else Jim Beam Honey might acquaint them with it just a little. Pollen and cookies spice are in there too, but except for just a hint of young corn spirit, the whiskey aspect of the liqueur is noticeable in its absence. The finish was rich, leaving a lingering, thickly honeyed aftertaste, so much so that it was just on the right side of cloying.
In terms of drinking on its own, Jim Beam Honey is too much honey and not enough whiskey. However, I can see where that powerful and rich honey aspect would make it very useful for mixing drinks, and that might be why Jim Beam has so many mixer suggestions. The other day I was commenting how having a maple bourbon on hand cuts the ingredients for a Maple Bourbon Sour down to two. Having Jim Beam Honey on hand cuts the ingredients for a Bourbon Hot Toddy down to three as well.
The upside of Jim Beam Honey is that it is cheaper than some other liqueurs. A fifth (750 ml) goes for $16 (£22 in the UK), and a liter can be had for the same price as a fifth of Wild Turkey American Honey.