I spoke to Adam Graber today, who is on Beam's innovation team, and I have quite a bit more information about Jim Beam Signature Six Grains. As I reported yesterday the six grains are corn, rye, malt, wheat, brown rice, and triticale.
The folks at Beam were nice enough to get me a bottle too so, first, tasting notes.
At six to seven years old, this should be similar to Jim Beam Black, which it just so happens I was drinking liberally last night during the hockey match. It isn't. It is very different. It reminds me a little of Bernheim wheat. It has a nuttiness to it, brazil nut, hazelnut, that sort of thing. I'm also reminded of granola. It has a big mouth feel and is a little drier than most bourbons. I'm getting, of all things, intense notes of root beer on the nose.
It's quite good, well-balanced. It's not just interesting, it's good.
Now, the backstory. Every year in the fall, before they start up again for the winter season, they have a few days when then can try some things, a week to ten days typically. R&D always comes in with a 'wish list' of experiments they want to try.
They have been doing this for years. This particular project started under Jerry Dalton, when he was Master Distiller, with Fred Noe and the other distillers participating. (Dalton retired in 2007.) As Graber put it, "with Jerry being scientifically-minded, he was always interested in trying different small grains, more for basic learning than with the idea of developing new products." They carefully document the conversion rates and yields of the different combinations.
They experiment with different mash bills, yeasts, distillation proofs, entry proofs, woods, everything.
They do use the regular set up at Clermont to make these, not a pilot distillery, although they do have one. "We're not set up for really small scale production but we can do it," said Graber. A typical experimental batch is about 40 barrels.
The Six Grains product is actually a combination of several different whiskeys, melded together, some of which were seven years old. Everything is bourbon but with a very high percentage of small grains, about 30%, so about twice the usual amount.
They never made a six grain mash. They made a bourbon mash using wheat instead of rye. Then another one using brown rice instead of rye, that sort of thing. Graber said the brown rice white dog especially had an unusual flavor.
They all used the standard Jim Beam yeast.
It came to about 4,000 cases.
So that's why Travel Retail. "If we went into domestic distribution," said Graber, "we'd sell all of it just in Kentucky. We thought travel retail would be a good showcase for it."
My friend Lief in Sweden, who called it to my attention, caught it quick as it only just started to ship. They're putting about 2,000 cases into Europe, the rest will go to Australia and other markets, all in Duty Free/Travel Retail. The rest of the roll-out is still a few months away.
Most of the experiments they do never become products. After they have researched them for all of the learning they can gain, they're just blended away into other products. But there are a lot of these experiments in the pipeline, though that's all they would tell me.
They hinted, however, that the next thing to hit the market will be for the Knob Creek brand.
I applaud Jim Beam for doing this and for being so open in talking about it. I wish they had made it more available for enthusiasts here in the USA, but the strategy for limited distribution products is always tricky.
Despite the inconvenience, I have no doubt that many clever enthusiasts will find a way to get their hands on a bottle.