Friday, January 29, 2010

Blame Jack.

A correspondent in Finland wrote to ask about Beam's Choice Green Label. I thought the answer was interesting enough to post here.

Beam’s Choice has always been an oddball. It is Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, not a blend (that's Beam's Eight Star). They now call it Jim Beam's Choice (pictured above), but that's a recent change.

In 1987, Beam bought National Distillers and got a large portfolio of spirits brands. Before that, Beam was essentially a one brand company. Jim Beam white label was their primary and only significant product. It and Jim Beam Rye were the only products that used the “Jim Beam” name, but “Beam” or “Beam’s” was used on many others. They even bottled a tequila called Beamero.

What is now Jim Beam Black Label was then called Beam’s Black Label, and looked similar to Beam’s Choice. Beam’s Black was 8-years-old, Beam’s Choice was 5-years-old. When Beam got heavily into decanters in the 1960s and 70s, those were sold under the Beam's Choice brand too.

But forgetting the decanters and just looking at the Beam's Black and Beam's Choice bottles, notice the words “charcoal filtered” on both labels and you can figure out why those two expressions were created. They were intended to appeal to Jack Daniel’s drinkers. In those days before Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel, JD’s two expressions were the black and green labels.

Beam wasn't alone in going directly after Jack Daniel's drinkers. Evan Williams, Ezra Brooks, and several other brands were created for the same purpose, to serve as Jack Daniel’s knock-offs during a period when Jack Daniel’s was in short supply.

Continuing with their imitation of Jack, Beam put the words “Old No. 8 Family Formula” on the label which, like JD’s Old No. 7, many people confused as an age statement. If Jack was going to be 7, Jim was going to be 8, one better, just like the amplifier volumes in "Spinal Tap." The actual age statement of 5 years was in small type on the side of the label. (Now it's on the front.)

It’s hard to explain why Beam’s Choice has hung on for all these years, especially since it’s a very small brand. It apparently sells just enough to justify its existence. I assume some people like to feel they’ve discovered something exclusive and special. It’s not particularly special, though at five years it is slightly older than white label.

There is nothing wrong with it, but if you want Beam whiskey with more age on it, Booker’s, Baker’s, Black Label, and Knob Creek are all better choices than 'Choice.'

9 comments:

Rob K said...

I've always wondered if that was made with the Lincoln county process.

Chuck Cowdery said...

There's charcoal involved. I don't know how much, but it's nothing like what Daniel's does.

sam k said...

Chuck, where does the Beam's Choice fall pricewise within the range of their other bottlings?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Hard to say, in part because you don't see it that often. It should be slightly more than white label and less than black, but your results may vary.

sam k said...

Then good enough reason as any just to stick with the black!

T Comp said...

Chuck, Just as you said.... On a recent dusty hunt I found a ONE PINT tax stripped bottle of a Black Label, BEAM'S SOUR MASH, aged 101 months and 90 proof.I'd say this is a pre 1980 bottling with no UPC or metric and the glass engraved with words (BEAM, ONE PINT and SINCE 1795)at the top and bottom on both sides. In addition to CHARCOAL FILTERED at the bottom of the front label, the back label has the further information that "BEAM'S SOUR MASH IS DISTINCTIVE OF FLAVOR; LIGHT AND MELLOW OF CHARACTER. A RESULT OF BEAM'S EXCLUSIVE CHARCOAL FILTERING AFTER AGING" with "AFTER AGING" underlined.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Most bourbon is chill-filtered, which occurs just before bottling and usually involves charcoal. The words 'charcoal filtered' on a bourbon label refer to that process.

Anonymous said...

The other day, my eyes caught an unfamiliar bottle that it appears you mention in this post. It was "Beam's Black 8 year 90 proof" and stated "Charcoal Filtered". The bottle looked brand new like it just came off the line yesterday. Has Jim Beam done a throwback bottle/label recently for this product? If not, what years would if have been produced? I have seen several other references to this bottling, but instead of 8 years, states 101 months on the front label. When I saw "charcoal filtered" on the label, it got me thinking what this product would taste like, JB or JD...

Thanks
J

Chuck Cowdery said...

First, it will taste like Jim Beam.

Second, if it says "Jim Beam" then it's recent. If it just says "Beam's" then it's old. They started to transition away from the "Beam's" about 20 years ago.