by Gavin D Smith
The Jim Beam Distillery is located at Clermont, in Bullit County, 25 miles south of Louisville in Kentucky and not far from the Bourbon 'capital' of Bardstown. The Jim Beam's American Outpost is a major tourist attraction, though the Clermont distillery itself is industrial in appearance and scale.
|Jim Beam is the best-selling Bourbon brand in the world, and the James B Beam Distilling Company has belonged to Fortune Brands Inc (formerly American Brands) since1967. Illinois-based Fortune Brands actually operates two Jim Beam distilleries, Clermont and nearby Boston distillery, which dates from 1953. Between them, the two plants have an annual capacity of some 40 million litres.
The origins of Jim Beam date back to the late 18th century, when farmer and miller Jacob Beam travelled west into Kentucky, subsequently setting up a corn mill and small-scale distillery. The first Bourbon whiskey flowed from his still in 1795.
During the 1850s, the operation moved to Nelson County, where the Clear Springs distillery was established, and the present Jim Beam Clermont distillery was constructed close by, soon after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.
Jim Beam himself died in 1947, aged 83, five years after the 'Jim Beam' name started to appear on the label. However, the family connection carries on to this day through Fred Noe, great-grandson of Jim and a seventh generation Beam family member. Fred's father was the late, legendary Booker Noe, a larger than life figure who is acknowledged as one of the true greats of bourbon distilling, and the man responsible for developing 'small batch Bourbon.'
In 1987, American Brands acquired Frankfort-based National Distillers, and with it the Old Crow, Old Taylor and Old Grand-Dad distilleries and brands. The three distilleries were subsequently closed, and their whiskeys are now distilled in the Clermont and Boston distilleries.
|Jim Beam, White Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon (USA) |
The 'house' style of Jim Beam is characterised by a significant proportion of rye in the mash bill, along with a high percentage of corn, the remainder of the mash bill being made up of malted barley. There are vanilla and delicate floral notes on the nose of this four-year-old Bourbon. Initially sweet, with restrained vanilla, then drier, oaky notes develop, fading into furniture polish and soft malt in the finish. Once described, with some justification, as "a mellow baritone of a spirit." 40.0% ABV, 70cl, £16.50, widely available.
|Jim Beam, Black Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon (USA) |
This eight-year-old expression possesses greater depth than White Label, with more complex fruit and vanilla notes, plus liquorice, vanilla and sweet rye. 45.0% ABV, 70cl, £21.95, specialist whisky merchants.
|Jim Beam, Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon (USA) |
In addition to its 'mainstream' offerings, Jim Beam has produced four 'small batch' Bourbon brands since the 1990s, namely Baker's, Basil Hayden's, Booker's and Knob Creek. These are produced from hand-picked barrels which are allocated to the best maturing warehouses and are allowed to mature for longer than the standard bottlings. Named after a pioneering Kentucky distiller, Basil Hayden's is an eight-year-old whiskey produced to a high-rye formula. The nose of Basil Hayden's is light, aromatic and spicy, with soft rye, wood polish, spices, pepper and vanilla on the palate. 40.0% ABV, 70cl, £34.99, specialist whisky merchants.
|Jim Beam, Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon (USA) |
Knob Creek is the Kentucky town where Abraham Lincolnís father, Thomas, owned a farm and worked at the local distillery. This nine-year-old Bourbon is made with the same high-rye formula as Basil Haydenís. It has a nutty nose of sweet, tangy fruit and rye, with malt, spice and nuts on the palate, drying in the finish with notes of vanilla. 50.0% ABV, 70cl, £26.99, specialist whisky merchants.