Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Beam Listens, Responds, Creates New Products.

Back in October I gave it to Beam Global for their lack of new enthusiast products. I was not alone. Since then we have had Old Crow Reserve, a small step but one in the right direction. In a few weeks we will have Maker's Mark 46, a very much bigger deal.

But the flagship product of Beam Global Spirits & Wine continues to be Jim Beam Bourbon, the world's number one bourbon, which does lots of nice commemorative bottles but hasn't had a new product targeted at whiskey enthusiasts in a very long time. Note the caveat. Whatever you may think of Red Stag by Jim Beam, you have to agree it was not created for whiskey enthusiasts.

Then rumors reached me about a new Jim Beam product spotted in Europe, in Travel Retail (what used to be called Duty Free) outlets. It was called Jim Beam Signature. Normally a Travel Retail bottling is nothing special, maybe an age or proof not normally available, usually in a fancy package with a fancy price to match. This one was six years old and 89° proof (44.5% ABV).

But the label included two very provocative words: "six grains." That's not a claim you can easily brush away as fluff. That's specific. It also means true "small batch" production. Normally what's "small" about small batch bourbons is the bottling batch, a small number of (one hopes) exceptional barrels specially selected. That's true of virtually every small batch whiskey on the market, not just those from Beam.

But to make a special mash bill in an ordinary distillery takes a commitment. More often that sort of thing is piloted first, in a smaller distillery. Not every producer has one. It figures that Beam would, but I've never seen it nor heard anybody talk about it. I'm still looking for details but Beam does have such a distillery and that is where this product was made.

So, what are the six grains?

First, of course, is corn (maize), which is more than 51% of the mash. It is a bourbon.

Second and Third, as you would expect, it contains the other two standard Jim Beam Bourbon grains, rye and malted barley.

Fourth, the other obvious choice: wheat.

Fifth and Sixth, now it gets interesting. Number 5 is triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye created about a century ago. Number 6 is brown rice.

Fred Noe is credited with the product's creation and it is the first in a series.

I expect to have more information shortly, including perhaps a sample to taste, but couldn't wait to share what I've already learned. This is exciting.

It does strike me that this sort of thing, more than being a response to me and other critics, is a response to the growing craft distilling movement. You can be cynical about that, I suppose, but count me as someone who wants to taste what the distillers at Jim Beam can do when they get a chance to cut loose.

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