Let us now praise standard bourbons.
Bourbon whiskey is a broad platform. It admits many wonderful variations. But standard bourbon is what most people drink most of the time. It is a distillate of corn, flavored with rye, aged four to six years in new, charred oak. It holds grain, yeast, and wood in gracious balance. It is suitable for all purposes. It is silky sweet with just enough bitterness to be adult. It is the benchmark, measure, model, and touchstone. It is classic and definitive. It is where all knowledge of America's whiskey tradition and heritage begins.
All standard bourbons on the market today are made by major distilleries. That is not to say a micro-distillery cannot make a standard bourbon, they just haven't.
Standard bourbons typically do not carry an age statement. They are usually a good value. They dominate the American whiskey market. For all of these reasons they are generally taken for granted.
Standard bourbons are not all the same. Most are perfectly okay. A few are less than they should be. Another few are wonderful.
The 'wonderful' category is about to get a new member.
It would be very disappointing if Jim Beam Single Barrel Bourbon was not wonderful. A successful single barrel program is all about selection, so having more barrels from which to choose than just about anyone else should be a huge advantage. Beam estimates that only one barrel out of 150 will make the cut.
Technically, single barrel just means that the contents of a given bottle all came from the same barrel, but the point of a single barrel program is selectivity. You're not picking to a standard so much as looking for the best liquid you have. According to Fred Noe, Jim Beam Single Barrel "represents our highest standards" and is "some of the very best liquid Beam's distillers have produced."
He's not kidding.
Much like the 12-year-old Jim Beam released last year, Jim Beam Single Barrel is exactly what it should be, an exemplar of standard bourbon. From now on, this should be Jim Beam's calling card. That's not to take anything away from any of the other whiskeys that bear the Jim Beam name, but they are all made by producing the best bourbon they can day-to-day, then combining barrels with different characteristics to match a standard. This is a slightly different paradigm. Here they are plucking the subjectively best barrels from the warehouses and bottling them as-is.
With single barrel, there's no place to hide.
Distillers have always done this, of course, prowled the racks to look for honey barrels. Who wouldn't, given the chance? That was the whiskey they kept for themselves and shared with their closest friends, like what German winemakers called their 'kabinett' (cabinet) wines. Elmer T. Lee adapted that paradigm for Blanton's, so did Parker Beam for Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage, and Jim Rutledge for Four Roses Single Barrel. It's inevitably a reflection of the maker's personal taste, a small bit of individuality in a homogenized corporate world.
Although not part of the Signature Series, Jim Beam Single Barrel uses the same bottle, but with a cork instead of the sensible screw top. It is 47.5% ABV (95° proof). Suggested retail is $34.99/750ml.
Look for it everywhere in March.