Head to Head: Jim Beam Black vs. Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o

JBB= Jim Beam Blackwpid-2014-08-29-19.06.45.jpg.jpeg

JB12=  Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)


JBB: 8 y/o

JB12: 12 y/o

Proof: 86 (43%)

Michigan State Minimum

JBB: $25

JB12: $40


JBB: New penny, long legs of medium thickness

JB12: Middle aged penny, thicker, slower legs.


JBB: Barrel char, alcohol, sourdough bread, crisp oak.

JB12: Oak, caramel, ancho chili, alcohol, crème fraiche.


JBB: Light and creamy. Dolce de leche, alcohol, French lavender.

JB12:  Full bodied but light. Same as above, but without the herbal note on the back end.


JBB: Semi-dry, a bit of yeasty funk, then alcohol and a hint of wood. Doesn’t stick around too long.

JB12: More balanced. Caramel, creme brulee, oak, alcohol. Fades fairly quickly.

Parting words: Before summing up the tasting notes, I would like to comment on some wording on the labels of these two bottles. First, Jim Beam Black calling itself “double aged” is a bit silly. All it means in this context is that JBB is aged twice as long as the standard Jim Beam with the white label. Silly and a bit slippery, but no harm done, really.

The other bottle is a little more problematic, at least to some. It reads “Jim Beam Signature Craft” with a label lower down on the bottle stating that it’s 12 y/o and 43% ABV. There has been much weeping and gnashing of teeth lately regarding the use of the word “craft” by large producers like Beam and Diageo. The controversy stems from the use of the word by micro-distillers to refer to themselves. Big producers who call themselves craft are, the argument goes, stealing the micros’ thunder and basically lying to consumers.

The use of craft by large producers does not bother me in the slightest. In my view, the term has already been emptied of all meaning by these micro producers themselves. ADI and other organizations of micro-producers have allowed too many phonies to claim the name of craft for it to mean anything anymore. There are “craft distillers” who do nothing more than cut whiskey distilled by someone else with local water and claim to be artisans. There are some who don’t even go to that much effort. Even those who do distill their own product often have a brewery make their mash or use prepackaged yeast. Jim Beam does all their own mashing at their three Kentucky distilleries and has at least three proprietary yeast strains. That sounds pretty crafty to me. So I have no problem with Beam using the word for what it does. If the micro-distilling community wanted to protect the sanctity of craft, then they should have done a better job of regulating themselves and come down harder on the fakers.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the bourbon. Neither of these are bad. The Black has some rough edges but it’s drinkable and refreshing on the rocks on a hot summer day. The 12 y/o (“Triple Aged”?) is more sophisticated and nicely balanced. It works well as a summertime after-dinner pour.

My gripe with both of these is the low proof. It’s less of an issue with Beam Black, since it’s fairly cheap and the low proof may help mellow out the funk. It is recommended. There is no justification for a $40 bottle of bourbon like Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o to be bottled at only 86 proof. If Heaven Hill has enough stock to produce a 12 y/o bourbon at over 90 proof for under $30, then Beam can afford to up the proof on its “Signature Craft” series at $40. Because of that, Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o is only mildly recommended.


Maker: Symington, Gaia, Porto Grande, Portugal.wpid-2014-08-27-18.23.47.jpg.jpeg

Grapes: Unknown

Place of origin: Douro, Portugal.

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for $7 (Trader Joe’s)

Appearance: Dark burgundy,

Nose: Raspberry, toasted oak, whiff of hardwood smoke.

Palate: Sweet and tart on entry then dries out. Raspberry jam, blueberry, oak, white pepper.

Finish: Chewy with heavy tannins, black cherry, oak.

Parting words: For a $7 wine, Tuella is pretty good. What I tell people is that most of the wines at Trader Joe’s taste like a wine about twice the price. The $15 ones taste like $30 ones, the $20 ones taste like $40 ones and the $4 ones taste like $8 ones. This tastes like a $14 wine.

Tuella is OK on its own, but it’s a little unbalanced. It does very well with food, though. We had it with a cheese and red pepper pizza and it drank beautifully. It may well age nicely but I have a hard time devoting my limited cellar space to a wine that cost me less than $10. Tuella 2011 is recommended.

Head to Head: Black Velvet vs. Black Velvet Reserve

BV= Black Velvetwpid-2014-08-22-17.47.05.jpg.jpeg

BVR= Black Velvet Reserve

Maker: Black Velvet, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada (Constellation)


BV: 3 y/o

BVR: 8 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum

BV: $10

BVR: $13


BV: Pale copper with some beading.

BVR: Very similar. Maybe a little darker.


BV: Alcohol, creamed corn, burnt caramel.

BVR: More balanced. Corn syrup, oak, caramel, vanilla, cumin, tarragon.


BV: Sweet and fruity. Plum, maple sugar candy.

BVR: Sophisticated and complex. Pralines, plums, oak, toffee.


BV: Very light. A hint of cookie butter and corn syrup.

BVR: Caramel, charred oak, black cherry, alcohol. Lingers for a long time.


BV: Does very well in an old fashioned and with ginger ale. OK on the rocks.

BVR: Did not mix.

Parting words: I had been avoiding Black Velvet for a long time, just because I assumed it was terrible given its price point and its Canadian-ness. I gave it a half drunken try at a local whiskey tasting and I was pleasantly surprised. I was downright impressed with the reserve, which I tried after that.

Both have a sweet fruity quality that is very enjoyable. The original BV is a little rough around the edges, but the low proof smoothes it out nicely. It also mixes very well.

The reserve is a tasty, sophisticated, complex and well-balanced sipper. It’s a steal at only three dollars more for almost three times the age and flavor of its younger sibling. In its case the low proof works against it, though. Black Velvet Reserve would be highly recommended and possibly one of the world’s best whiskies if it were unfiltered and at barrel proof. It’s a shame that it’s not, but as it is, both Black Velvet and Black Velvet reserve are recommended.

Trader Joe’s Block Red

Maker: Unknownwpid-2014-08-20-21.13.54.jpg.jpeg

Grape: Shiraz

Place of origin: Austalia.

ABV: 13%

Price: $10-$12/3 liter box

Appearance: Dark plum with hardly any legs or necklace.

Nose: Alcohol, mixed berry pie, heavy on the blackberries. A touch of oak.

On the plate: Raspberry jam, toasted oak, black pepper.

Finish: Cherry juice, smoldering hardwood.

Parting words: If I were to taste this wine in a blind tasting, it might not fare well. It’s drinkable enough and fares better with food, but it’s not exactly exciting. It has too much bitterness and is simultaneously a hair too tart. The effect is like eating a slightly burnt fruit pie. But it’s cheap. Really cheap. TJ’s Block Red is recommended.

Soft Parade

Maker: Short’s, Bellaire, Michigan, USAwpid-2014-08-18-20.21.51.jpg.jpeg

Style: Strong rye ale with pureed strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.

ABV: 7.5%

Purchased for: $11

Appearance: Golden brown with a hint of pink. Lacy head.

Nose: Roasted malt, fruit juice.

Palate: Medium bodied and nicely balanced. Hot cereal, Hawaiian Punch, wild blackberries.

Finish: Dark rye toast, with a tiny bit of mixed berry jam.

Parting words: Summer is the time for fruit beers and this one is very popular in these parts, and not just because of the great label art. It’s everything a fruity summer beer should be. It’s fruity and refreshing while still having the character of the “base” beer, in this case a strong rye ale. The ABV is sneaky and could take one unawares, but there’s nothing not to love about this beer except maybe the price. Soft Parade is recommended.


Maker: Good Harbor, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USAwpid-20140807_084633-1.jpg

Grapes: Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles, Seyval Blanc.

Place of origin: Leelanau peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV: 12%

Price: $10 (website)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Light. Dried flowers, white peaches.

Palate: Full bodied and semi-dry. Underripe peaches, light apple juice, a touch of white grape juice.

Finish: Dry and slightly fruity. Fades quickly.

Parting words: Besides being the flower that SHOULD be the Michigan state flower (apple trees aren’t native, bro), Trillium is the name of Good Harbor’s perennially popular white table wine.

Unlike other popular Michigan whites in this price range, Trillium is actually fairly dry. It pairs very well with food like a true table wine should and while it has just a whisker of fox, it isn’t too noticeable and shouldn’t shock any Europeans you may serve this wine to.

Trillium is inoffensive in both senses of the word. Not bad but not interesting either. I’ve seen it as high as $15, but as long as it’s around $10, it’s recommended.

Atwater Summer Time Ale

Maker: Atwater, Detroit, Michigan, USAwpid-20140804_170659.jpg

Style: Wheat ale brewed with lemon peel & grains of paradise.

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $9/6 pack

Appearance: Dark copper with a light foamy head. Slighly cloudy.

Nose: Malt, mandarin orange, peach.

Palate: Medium bodied and effervescent. Lightly roasted malt, hint of yeast, balanced by some acidity.

Finish: Fruit then a bit hit of bitterness. Lingers for a long time with a bit of stickiness on the lips.

Parting words: This Atwater’s take on the summer wheat ales that Michigan brewers have made popular (we can all name at least one).

This one is different than its cousins, though, because of its bitterness and much more subtle fruit flavors. If I hadn’t read the label, I would never have known that lemon peel was used in the brewing of this beer. That’s not a knock, though. Some of these types of beers can be too fruity and ham-fisted in their use of fruit and spice. If anything this is a little too far on the other side of the spectrum. There’s a little too much bitterness and richness for a summer ale. Seems more fitting for fall.

Still, it’s enjoyable and the price is typical for microbrews. Atwater’s Summer Time Ale is recommended.

Old Charter: The Classic 90

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)wpid-20140801_130826-1.jpg

Age: 12 y/o

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Note: No longer in production.

Thanks to @Primo55 for the suggestion of the final three words below

Appearance: Auburn with

Nose: Oak, black walnut, alcohol, caramel.

Palate: More walnuts, old oak, and a hint of butterscotch and brown sugar.

Finish: A little hot, but then a long, sumptuous oakiness that never falls into bitterness.

Parting words: Old Charter is an old brand dying a quiet death. It was founded in the nineteenth century by the Chapeze brothers (there is still a Chapeze house in Bardstown available for events), and was acquired by Sazerac in the 1990s when the newly spawned Diageo was selling off Kentucky bourbon brands. In recent memory, there have been 7 y/o, 8 y/o, 10 y/o, The Classic 90 (12 y/o) and Proprietor’s Reserve (13 y/o) Old Charters and Charter 101 (NAS). The only two left are the 8 y/o* and Charter 101. In the good old days of the glut, the 10 y/o and The Classic were two of the best bargains in bourbondom and the Proprietor’s Reserve (OCPR to bourbon nerds) was one of the finest bourbons of its era.

The Classic is a classic after dinner sipping bourbon. Even though they were a mere year apart in age, it  and OCPR taste very different from each other. OCPR was subtly sweet butterscotch while The Classic is defined by oak. There’s a resemblance to Barterhouse bourbon from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel series, but the oak in The Classic is balanced by sweet caramel and nuts so it doesn’t taste tired like Barterhouse. A better point of comparison might be Elijah Craig 12 y/o. The role of oak is similar but in both cases there’s enough sweetness to keep it from going into “beaver bourbon” territory.

For many years Old Charter The Classic 90 was fairly easy to find but with the growing popularity of “dusty” out of production bourbons, it’s not so easy to find these days. It’s highly recommended if the price is right. I won’t be looking for any in the near future since I have two bottles in the bunker. Neener, neener, neener.

*Thanks to John B for reminding me via Facebook that even the 8 y/o is NAS now. They’re now calling it “#8” in true Sazerac style.