Is Louisville in Northern Kentucky? Sound off in the comments.
Maker: Jim Beam, Boston/Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)
Style: Kentucky-style Rye (low rye rye)
Age: 9 y/o (? barreled 2009, released 2018)
Proof: 119.6 (59.8% ABV)
Purchased for $70 ( Holiday Market)
Appearance: Medium copper
Nose: Oak, black pepper, cayenne, tumeric. With water, a little more sweetness. Caramel and anise.
Palate: Full-bodied and creamy, then hot. Still creamy, but with toffee, a little citrus and clove.
Finish: Heat and not much else except a little sweetness at the end. With water: Red pepper, oak, brown sugar.
Parting words: I love Knob Creek rye, so I was very excited when I saw this limited edition release. I was less excited when I started drinking it. KCR is already very bourbon-like but this edition is even more so. I like bourbony ryes, but at a certain point you have to ask yourself why you’re not just drinking bourbon (which is usually cheaper).
The strength of this editon of Knob Rye is its lucious mouthfeel. It’s a show-stealer, and it even holds up with a generous does of water. Aside from that, there’s not much here that isn’t in the standard Knob Creek Rye. I think I might like the standard edition better, even without factoring in the much higher price. It’s pleasant, but I really can’t recommended it at $70, even mildly. Hopefully the next edition of cask strength Knob Creek Rye will be better.
Maker: Jim Beam, Claremont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)
Age: 5 y/o (label says 5-6 but the age of the youngest barrel in the mix is the legal age of the whiskey)
Style: Standard rye-recipe bourbon.
Proof: 100 (50% ABV)
Michigan state minimum: $25
Appearance: Medium copper.
Nose: Cayenne pepper, caramel, peanut butter, tarragon.
Palate: Medium-bodied and hot. Behind the heat there’s toffee and caramel and grape soda.
Finish: hot pepper-infused peanut brittle.
Parting words: Jim Beam has been putting out so many new expressions in recent years, I’ve literally been unable to keep up. If I had, I would have probably purchased and reviewed this bourbon sooner! It’s 100 proof like its stablemates Jim Beam Bonded and Knob Creek. Unlike those, it’s not chill-filtered and is 5 y/o (the label annoyingly calls it 5-6 y/o). This makes it identical on paper to the Urban Stillhouse Select. In the glass, the USS is more rounded and shows more baking spice than peanut brittle. Compared to Beam Bonded, it is older and less funky but the price is identical, at least in this state. If you like the funk, stick with the Bonded. If you want something a little more refined but still firmly Jim Beam, pick up some JB Distiller’s Cut. It is recommended.
The bourbon boom has been good to tourism in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s the largest city in bourbon country and home to its own cluster of distilleries. Louisville’s bourbon pedigree is second to none (except maybe Bardstown) so it’s in a great position to cash in. It started in 2013 with the opening the Evan Williams Experience downtown and continued in 2014 with the opening of Diageo’s historic Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively Kentucky to the public as a home for the Bulleit brand. 2018 will see the long-awaited debut of Old Forester Main Street Distillery.
Unlike the above distilleries, Jim Beam doesn’t have any historical connections to Louisville. That hasn’t stopped them from joining their competitors, though. In 2014 the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse opened in Louisville’s Fourth Street Live! (sic) development, three blocks south of Main.
I have been to The Evan Williams Experience a couple times and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s Disneyesque, but it does a good job of balancing marketing, education and entertainment. I went into the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse expecting that sort of experience. I should have taken a hint from the name, though. Jim Beam’s Clermont gift shop and visitor’s center is called the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. That is the Urban Stillhouse’s closest parallel, not the other Louisville bourbon attractions.
The Urban Stillhouse is essentially a gift shop with a tasting bar and event space. There’s virtually no educational component and certainly nothing Disneyesque about it. That’s not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s just not the Evan Williams Experience. This makes a lot of sense give its location in what’s essentially an outdoor mall. A long, intensive tourist attraction wouldn’t fit well with the chain restaurants and touristy nightclubs of Fourth Street Live! (sic).
Our crew (minus Liz who had a couple church things) stopped in on our way to Bardstown from Detroit. Parking was a little hard to find given the gridlock and our unfamiliarity with downtown Louisville, but we managed to find a garage. The interior is nicely decorated in a similar style to the American Stillhouse. The front part of the space is the gift shop and the back is taken up by a long tasting bar with a cocktail bar on the side. Tastings are $8 per person and include a succinct but largely accurate talk.
We received three samples at first. Ours were Jim Beam Black (now “extra aged”), JB Urban Stillhouse Select (essentially an exclusive version of Distiller’s Cut) , and JB Apple (which our guide correctly described as a liqueur). Our guide walked us through a tasting of the first two, which he said were about the same age. Telling us to hold off the Apple, he then poured us a sample of whatever we wanted from the back of the bar. That included the entire Jim Beam, Jim Beam flavored and Knob Creek lines plus Basil Hayden. I ordered JB Double Wood, which I liked. This extra sample was poured into a souvenir shot glass with Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse, Louisville and the Louisville skyline etched into it. After that, we were instructed to try the Apple. I’m not much of a flavored whiskey guy, but it was fine. Would make a decent shot, substitute for apple pucker or addition to mulled cider.
In the gift shop portion of the space there is also a small still and bottling room where visitors can assemble their own custom version of Urban Stillhouse Select from bourbon at a variety of ages. We didn’t do that, so I’m a little fuzzy on the details of that process. I did purchase a full-sized bottle for myself and a 375 ml as a thank-you gift for our neighbors for babysitting our youngest one so we could get an early start on our trip. For the small one, I took advantage of the custom laser etching service available for $10 per bottle. I chose a short, simple message in a single font but in seemed like the folks ahead of me in line were getting the full text of Moby Dick inscribed into theirs in four different fonts. The etching looked nice but it did take a couple times through the machine to get that way.
The etching service is not just for visitors, though. When we were there, there were boxes of bottles inscribed for the Kentucky Derby Marathon, to be held the next day, sitting near the etching machine. There were also inscribed bottles for a political even being held upstairs later that day.
Here’s a review of Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Select:
Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)
Bottled: April 25, 2018.
Proof: 100 (50% ABV)
Note: Not chill-filtered.
Price: $46 (only available at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse)
Appearance: Medium dark copper.
Nose: Alcohol, yeast, leather.
Palate: Full-bodied and medium dry. Tabasco, burnt marshmallows, caramel sauce on vanilla ice cream.
Finish: oak, grape soda.
Parting words: The price is high on JBUSS (vs Distiller’s Cut at $25, Knob Creek at $35, McKenna SB at $34), but one buys a bottle like this as a souvenir, not a value sipper. Both the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse and Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Select are recommended.
Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA
Age: 14 y/o (distilled 2001, bottled 2016)
Proof: 100 (50% ABV)
Michigan State Minimum: $130
Appearance: Very dark, burnt caramel color. Slow, sticky necklace.
Nose: Classic grassy KC nose. Alcohol, cut grass, woodruff, allspice, dried orange rind.
Palate: Burn, cayenne, vanilla custard, orange, chewy oak.
Finish: Hot & herbal with big oak.
Parting words: Long time readers will know that I never buy whiskey this expensive and that I whine about value even for bourbons as cheap as $20. So why did I buy this one? I don’t know. It was available for one, and I love Knob Creek for another. It had also been a couple months since I had purchased any spirits so I figured it was in the budget.
Let me start off by saying that Knob Creek 2001 is a good bourbon. It’s certainly the best Knob Creek I’ve every had. It has the big velvety tannins one would expect from a bourbon of this age. It’s firmly within the standard KC profile with pleasant spicy and herbal aromas and flavors. If this were a bottle of the old 9 y/o or of the single barrel KC, I would be very impressed. As a $130 limited edition, I’m underwhelmed. For that kind of cash, there needs to be more going on. More candy, more fruit, more of something. It certainly needs more proof. I’m not sure why this wasn’t released at barrel proof (to enable a broader release, maybe?) but one hundred proof isn’t good enough for a $130 limited edition when the same line has a single barrel at 120 proof at $50. If you have the room in your budget to blow $130 on a good bourbon that isn’t great, then you might like this. If you’re a normal human being and not a tater like me, then you might want to skip this. Reports are that batches 2 & 3 may be better, but this batch isn’t close enough to a fair price for even a mild recommendation. Knob Creek Limited Edition, 2001 (batch 1) is not recommended.
Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)
Age: 4 y/o (minimum)
Style: Bottled in bond bourbon (single season, single distiller, 100 proof, at least 4 years old)
Proof: 100 (50% ABV)
Michigan state minimum: $23
Appearance: Light copper.
Nose: Alcohol, oak, cut grass, fresh caramel corn.
Palate: Creme brulee, alcohol, tarragon.
Finish: Alcohol, creamed corn, burnt caramel.
Parting words: Bonded Beam was a staple of the Jim Beam line for decades, but was discontinued in the 1980s. Jim Beam Bonded was (re)released in 2015 at the demand of bartenders, according to Fred Noe. It has a touch of the grassy Beam Funk, but it doesn’t overwhelm. JB Bonded mixes well in everything from Coke to eggnog to Manhattans. It’s not particularly complex but it’s what one expects from a bond at this price. Speaking of price, now that Knob Creek has dropped its age statement, it might be worth looking at JB Bonded for your sipping needs if KC’s price (currently at $37 in Michigan) goes up any more. Jim Beam bonded is a good choice to work into your middle shelf mixer rotation. It is recommended.
Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)
Age: 9 y/o
Proof: 120 (60% ABV)
Barrel #3026, hand selected by the Georgia Bourbon Society
Appearance: Burnt (not Burt) orange with thick irregular legs.
Nose: Charred oak, caramel, leather, cinnamon, dried Thai peppers, earth.
Palate: Hot, but still drinkable neat. Roast corn on the cob, hard toffee, sage, alcohol.
Finish: Alcohol, oak, black licorice.
Parting words: Our timing was very poor this Spring. For the first time in years, my wife and I weren’t able to go to Kentucky on the last weekend of April. That was because my wife was due to give birth on April 28. I was excited at the prospect of having my son born at the fabled Gazebo in Bardstown but my wife wasn’t so keen on the idea. So we had to skip this year.
As a result of that and of living over 700 miles from Marietta, Georgia, I didn’t get my bottles of the Georgia Bourbon Society Knob Creek until just a week or so ago. My post about how we selected them has been one of the most popular posts on this blog. It’s here.
This bourbon lives up to its promise. The cinnamon notes I got at the barrel selection aren’t nearly as pronounced now as they were then, but they’re still present. This is a great bottle from a great barrel, if I do say so myself, and the fact that my friends and I helped pick it out makes drinking it an even greater experience. Highly recommended.
Style: Kentucky style rye
Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)
Proof: 90 (45% ABV)
Michigan State Minimum: $22
Appearance: Pale copper with thick legs.
Nose: Alcohol, oak, caramel, sourdough, tarragon.
Palate: Medium bodied. Rock candy, salted caramels, cocoa powder, strawberry bubble gum.
Finish: Spearmint, amaretto, oak, alcohol.
Mixed: Made a Sazerac, old fashioned, hot toddy and put it in ginger ale with some orange bitters. Did well in everything I tried, but didn’t particularly distinguish itself in anything.
Parting words: This new “Prohibition style” rye is a replacement for the old yellow label Jim Beam rye. In the dark days of rye in the 1980s and 1990s, Jim Beam rye was one of the only brands of rye widely available. I first tasted rye in the late 90s and I believe Jim Beam was the first one I tried. I came away with the impression that rye whiskey’s defining characteristic was its mild sweetness and thus stayed away for several years after that. It wasn’t until I started exploring bourbon that I rediscovered rye and learned that it’s actually supposed to be spicy.
This Jim Beam rye reboot is definitely an improvement on the old yellow label. The proof is higher, for one thing, and it has more going on than just sweetness. It has pleasantly rye-ish herbal notes in the nose and finish and doesn’t get as lost in cocktails as its predecessor. Beam has also solved its Old Overholt problem. No longer are Overholt and Beam Rye the Ford Pinto and Mercury Bobcat of the whiskey world. They are actually different products now. Old Overholt is 3 y/o and 80 proof, while this is at least 4 y/o (probably in the 4-6 range) and 90 proof. It is still too sweet for me, and the back label is an example of how not to fill up the back of a bottle.*
Bad copy aside, this rye whiskey does fine against its competition. It’s easier to find, more consistent and cheaper than the overrated Sazerac and Wild Turkey ryes. I don’t care for the current (DSP KY 1) Rittenhouse rye, but a lot of people do and it is 100 proof which means Rittenhouse is better able to stand up to mixers than Jim Beam Rye is, even at the new higher strength. I would have to give the edge to Rittenhouse as a mixer, but Beam is still recommended for that purpose. Not recommended as a sipper, though. For that, spring for a bottle of the excellent Knob Creek Rye.
*”Founded in 1795, Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye is made with the same exacting standards that have governed Jim Beam for over 200 years.” Considering that Jim Beam the man was born in 1864 and the company that bears his name was founded after prohibition, that doesn’t seem possible without time travel being involved. What the 1795 date really refers to is when Beam patriarch Jacob Beam (aka Jakob Boehm) began commercial distilling in Kentucky. He did not found the company that bears his great-grandson’s name, let alone come up with the rye recipe used to make what’s in this bottle.
Have you ever selected your own barrel of bourbon? I have a few times. Well, me along with a dozen or two of my drinking buddies. I’m a member of the Georgia Bourbon Society, a group that selects a barrel or two of bourbon for ourselves once or twice a year. No, you don’t have to be from Georgia to be a member, obviously. It’s just a group of friends from all over the country, organized by two men who live in Atlanta.
There are dozens of groups like the GBS around the country. Some are ad hoc groups, some are loose affiliations like us and some are organized clubs with rules and membership rolls and whatnot. This sort of thing has been going on for a long time, but it has become much more common as bourbon’s popularity has taken off.
GBS has made the rounds over the years. Our first selections were of Elijah Craig and Elijah Craig barrel strength. Our next one was Elmer T. Lee, then two barrels from Four Roses, then a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel from Wild Turkey. Last weekend we selected a barrel of Knob Creek Single Barrel at Jim Beam. It was a great experience.
We gathered at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse (aka the gift shop) in Clermont, Kentucky at 10 AM that morning. First on the agenda was, of course, the tasting and selection. We gathered in Warehouse K amongst the barrels.
There were tables set up with four glasses each, one with a red band, one with a green band, one with a blue band and one with no band at all. A glass water bottle was on each table too. Three barrels had been rolled out for us to choose from, each one corresponding to a colored band. Red was first, green second and blue third. We sniffed and tasted all three in turn and then over again and then took a secret ballot. Just one vote separated the first and second places so we considered a taste off, but in the end we just went with the first place finisher. I thought it tasted and smelled like snickerdoodle cookies. It was a very good barrel of bourbon.
The winning barrel was then rolled on to a truck and driven over to the distillery for dumping. Some of our members had the privilege of aiding in the dumping process. We then all watched and waited to see how much bourbon was going to come out of that barrel. About 33 gallons is the answer (that’s about 20 gallons lost to evaporation over the ten years of the bourbon’s life).
After a delicious complimentary bbq lunch, we got a full tour and then the unheard of (at least unheard of by me) experience of actually watching our barrel get bottled and packed. We were able to follow the bottles all the way down the line to the end, where we got to pack them into cases ourselves.
We then had the opportunity to buy a bottle then and there through the gift shop, at a higher price, of course. There were five bottles left over after all the cases were filled, so five of us stepped up to buy one. My friend Amy, also a GBS member, had requested a bottle so the one I purchased was on her behalf. Those of us buying bottles then had the opportunity to apply the wax seal to the bottles ourselves! Waxing is a multi-step process. The following four pictures were taken by S. Ivancic.
The whole experience was wonderful and far exceeded my expectations. Some of the participants thought it was all a little too long but I loved every minute of it. We picked a damned good barrel too. I can’t wait until I get my bottles!
If you have an opportunity to select a barrel from Beam, I highly recommend it.
Style: Blended Canadian Rye
Michigan State Minimum: $27
Appearance: Dark (not surprisingly), ruddy copper.
Nose: Big, high-toned rye. Lemongrass, tarragon, alcohol, coriander seed, ginger, butterscotch, toffee.
Palate: Full bodied and creamy. Toffee, caramel, coffee grounds. A bit of bite on the back end.
Finish: Big herbaceous finish. Cilantro, curry.
Parting words: This whisky is essentially a rebranding of the Canada-only Albert Rye Dark Horse whisky. Why they thought “batch” would sell better in the US than “horse” is anybody’s guess, especially since horses are all over many high end bourbon labels.
At any rate, it’s a blend of Alberta-distilled rye with high-rye bourbon (Old Grand Dad) and a little sherry. Many palates I respect have been able to taste the bourbon in the mix, but I confess that I cannot. Perhaps some of the butterscotch and toffee flavors are from the OGD, but it seems more likely that they hail from the sherry than the bourbon.
Whatever is coming from wherever, this is a wonderful whisky, one of the best Canadians readily available. It’s a great value at this proof and price. It mixes surprisingly well too, at least in the Manhattan I just finished! Alberta Rye Dark Batch is highly recommended.