By Richard Thomas
My interest in Jim Beam Black 8 Year Old was rooted in a simple curiosity. That classic of small batch bourbons, Knob Creek, also comes from Jim Beam and is a nine year old (albeit a much stronger one). So, I wondered, would an eight year old version of Jim Beam, bottled at a slightly higher 86 proof, be comparable to Knob Creek?
Before I go into that, let me state I think far too much is made of Jim Beam White these days, what with some pundits running around declaring it better than any micro-distillery bourbon made today. Jim Beam White is an outstanding product for the money, with prices in the United States running as low as $13 per fifth. Yet let’s not blow things out of proportion and obscure its proper place as the benchmark of mass market bourbon products. Bourbons in the same class are a full notch better and for only $5 or so more.
In your glass, Jim Beam Black promises to be something a bit special. The appearance is a sharp-but-light amber, sort of a reddish copper. Although not suggestive of a thick or well-aged bourbon, the liquid is still something to look at and study. The nose is a real sniffer, mixing citrus and corn sweetness with strong vanilla and a solid trace of cedar. It’s not sophisticated, but it is balanced and a treat to smell.
From there, the flavor was a serious disappointment. The texture was thin, and the main flavor was a dry, toasty oak that I think some less experienced, more generalized reviewers mistook for the whiskey being “hot” (despite it’s low relatively proof of 86). There was a little vanilla, but not much else on the sweet side. It’s not bad, but lacks personality beyond the dry wood.
I would say the sample I had must have been degraded or flawed, or perhaps something was wrong with me at the time, but I went back for more on another day and got the same result. This ought to be an example of what I mean by getting a notch better bourbon for five bucks more, but it’s not. Frankly, I prefer Jim Beam White to Jim Beam Black.
Jim Beam Black Double Aged 8 Year Old goes for about $18 in most U.S. States. I have seen it listed in the UK for £22, where it would be a very bad bargain.