Wednesday, September 24, 2014
NAS Jim Beam Black Label Should Be Okay
This is not the sort of thing producers announce but Beam Suntory has confirmed rumors that Jim Beam Black Label -- which the company has long touted as 'double-aged' because it is 8-years-old compared to white label's 4 -- will soon be NAS (no age statement). No word on exactly when the change will occur but the NAS product is probably in the pipeline now.
The website appears to be in transition. The copy reveals the new positioning even though the bottle cut still shows the age statement. No doubt that's deliberate. Beam leaves nothing to chance.
Obviously, a producer doesn't drop an age statement without intending to use whiskey that is younger than the abandoned age but what will this change really mean in the case of Jim Beam Black, which has long been the best value in the Beam lineup; a rich, flavorful, mature whiskey for a very good price?
The nature of Beam's production factors into this.
Beam has two big distilleries at Clermont and Boston. They make all of their whiskeys there except Maker's Mark. Boston (Booker Noe) pretty much makes white label exclusively while Clermont makes everything else, but white label is the biggest part of its production too. White label is so huge compared to everything else that for 50 minutes of every hour, that's what they make.
This is where the difference between age and maturity comes into play.
Although a little bit of older whiskey gets into white label batches to match the flavor profile, it is basically 4-years-old and a day. The flavored stuff and Devil's Cut comes out of that pool too. What's left? Old Crow is younger liquid that's also less mature. Although Booker's and Baker's are age-stated, they are very low volume. Knob, at 9-years, is much larger. That gives Beam a lot of whiskey to play with between 4 and 9 years old.
We all know some barrels mature faster than others, based on their warehouse location. These, presumably, are the barrels they'll use for black label. That's where NAS works. They can keep the flavor profile close (which is their top priority) by selecting these younger but more mature barrels. That way, they're putting that extra maturity to good use. Dropping the age statement won't hurt sales if they are successful at maintaining the flavor profile. Regular buyers of black label may not even notice the label change, but they'll definitely notice a flavor change if there is one. Avoiding that is the goal. Maintaining the flavor profile is more important than the age statement.
With the immense volume of whiskey Beam produces, they should be able to keep the black label as the rich and flavorful product it is now, and keep it a good value too. If they're successful, NAS won't be such a bad thing.