by Josh Cary
Last month, I stopped by Botanica Wichita for a bourbon tasting hosted by Adam Clary of Standard Beverage. The evening consisted of a quick history of bourbon, which was enjoyable, even if it was a rehashing of most of the things any bourbon fan already knows and a tasting of four whiskeys from the Jim Beam lineup. These were as follows; Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged, Jim Beam Double Oak, Jim Beam Bonded and Knob Creek.
I’m going to break the tasting down into two components, as the juice inside the first two bottles and the last two bottles are essentially the same. The only difference is the second barrel used in the Double Oak and the extra age given to the Knob Creek over Beam’s underrated, in my opinion, Bonded Bourbon.
First up, the new slickly packaged Extra-Aged and Double Oak.
These two bourbons come in at 86 proof and are the same mash bill as the bulk of the Jim Beam lineup, meaning that it is a low-rye mash made up of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley.
Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged ($20)
This product replaces the original Jim Beam Black Double Aged 8-Year Bourbon, which I have always been a fan of, even if the proof is a little low for my liking. This new product is no longer age stated, but at the event, it was said to have been aged between 4 and 8 years. So, if you’re a fan of the original, this version may leave you wanting for more depending on how much 8-year bourbon makes it into the final blend. I feel it’s a slight step down from the previous age-stated version, but it is an obvious step up from the standard Jim Beam White Label.
Quick Disclaimer: We were tasting .5 oz samples out of small plastic tumblers, so forgive me as the tasting notes are going to be a bit lightweight.
Nose: cinnamon and oak.
Palate: caramel, cream, oak.
Finish: clean, fairly long, but unremarkable.
Overall: Not a bad bourbon for the money, but with the Double Oak likely sitting next to it on the shelf…well, read on.
Jim Beam Double Oak ($20)
This is a new product that starts life just as the Black Extra Aged Bourbon, but this time instead of simply letting it sit in the barrel another 1 to 4 years, they re-oak it, meaning they put the whiskey in a freshly charred barrel to continue aging. This product is also NAS, but we were told it was aged between 4 and 8 years. The second barreling does wonders, and this bourbon really smooths out and gains some complexities that the Extra-Aged doesn’t have.
Nose: oak and vanilla.
Palate: pronounced oak, caramel, vanilla, and a nice woody spice.
Finish: oak, medium to long, wood spice.
Overall: For my money, this is the bottle to pick up if you’re going to snag either of these bourbons (but at $20 or less, you might as well buy both and see how they stack up for you). The extra oak is nice, and it offsets the low 86 proof, giving it a little something extra throughout the whole experience that makes it a worthy addition to anyone’s shelf.
Next up, Jim Beam Bonded and Knob Creek.
Jim Beam Bonded Bourbon ($22)
This is one of my favorite budget bourbons on the shelf these days, and you’ll almost always find a bottle in my decanter as it’s the preferred nightly drink for both my wife and I. This is essentially Jim Beam’s standard White Label that has been bottled-in-bond, meaning it was distilled in one calendar year, at one distillery, by one distiller, aged at least 4 years in a bonded rick house, and bottled at 100 proof. Jim Beam 100 proof is also known as Knob Creek when it gets another 3 to 5 years in the barrel, so this is one that is worth checking out if you haven’t already.
Nose: oak, acetone, caramel.
Palate: caramel, vanilla, wood spices, oak.
Finish: full-bodied, long, not overly complex.
Overall: It’s a standard at our house for a reason, but you’ll want to decant it for a few days to allow it to really breathe. At four years it’s just too young to go from bottle to glass, even if you give it an hour. Once you decant it you can be assured that you’ll have a well-balanced bourbon that you won’t feel bad about downing in a matter of days. I don’t think I’ve had a bottle last longer than a week at our house.
Knob Creek Bourbon ($40)
There are a lot of major figures in bourbon history, but few have done so much for the spirit in modern times as Booker Noe. Booker passed away 13 years ago this month, but he can rest assured that his name will never be forgotten, at least not among those of us who hold bourbon in high regard. Over the course of 4 years from 1988 to 1992, Booker introduced some of the first small batch bourbons; Booker’s, Baker’s, Basil Haydn and Knob Creek. Each of these bourbons holds a unique place in modern bourbon, but Knob Creek stands out as the most famous of the 4. Bottled at 100 proof, but not officially bottled-in-bond, Knob Creek is now said to be aged 7 to 10 years with the original “Aged 9 Years” statement removed from the label. Beam has stated that it isn’t due to low stock of Knob Creek, but instead that they have ample stock of younger and older bourbons and are able to blend them to provide the same flavor without holding to a set age statement.
Nose: caramel, corn, vanilla.
Palate: nutty flavors, caramel, oak, vanilla.
Finish: long, full-bodied, wood spice.
Overall: Knob Creek is a known entity. It is consistent and a can be a good bourbon to have around for a drink at the end of the day. But for my money, it’s tough to restock when it has run out. I tend to wait for a blowout sale (harder to come by these days), because when I put it next to a decanted Jim Beam Bonded, it’s hard to not just buy a pair of the Bonded and move on. If I’m looking for something in the $40 to $60 range, Knob Creek isn’t going to be it.