Friday, July 15, 2022

Jacob's Well Is a Mistake. Again


The original Jacob's Well Bourbon (c. 1997)

In their promotion for Hardin’s Creek, a new brand from Beam Suntory, they write this: “There’s a mantra in the Beam family: True legacy is never finished.”

That statement may be truer than its writer intended.

A real watercourse in Central Kentucky, Hardin’s Creek starts in Marion County, on the east side of Lebanon, then flows west and north, over to Loretto right by Maker’s Mark and up into Washington County where it joins the Beech Fork. Just south of that confluence is where, according to Beam family lore, founding patriarch Jacob Beam dug a well and set up a water-powered grist mill on the creek, to grind corn he grew on his farm there, corn he used to make whiskey. Jacob and his wife, Mary, were among the first settlers to the area toward the end of the 18th century. 

The Beams would eventually move their operations further west, into Nelson and Bullitt, and down through the generations Beam family distillers would make whiskey all over North America.

Beam has been to this well before.

Jacob’s Well is one of two releases under the new Hardin’s Creek banner. It is described, obliquely, as “aged 184 months” and “a limited release blend of two ultra-aged expressions – traditional bourbon mashbill and high-rye bourbon – hand-selected from over 3 million barrels.”

That sounds like some very old (15 1/3 years?) Jim Beam mixed with some equally old Old Grand-Dad, which is potentially interesting. So far, Freddie Noe has done a fine job digging around in that well for his Little Book releases. This appears to be more of the same under a different name. Good idea, bad name. The marketers are clearly struggling with the unhappy confluence of 'heritage' and 'innovation,' and the heritage of Jacob's Well is definitely not innovation.

The original Jacob’s Well (pictured above) was a short-lived, badly-conceived product that debuted in 1997. It was inspired by the success of the Small Batch Bourbons Collection (Booker’s, Baker’s, Basil Hayden, Knob Creek) Beam had launched a few years before. The bourbon boom was aborning. Jacob’s Well was intended to herald a new line of what Beam called ‘micro-bourbons.’

The label boasted, "For over 200 years, Jacob’s Well has never run dry." The crudely-drawn label illustration showed a farmer prospecting for water with a forked stick.

Then as now, they claimed the location of the actual well is known and some of its remains are visible, but it’s a metaphor. There is no water from said well in the product and you can't make a pilgrimage to visit the site. It's just a name.

Although they dubbed it 'micro-bourbon,' there was nothing ‘micro’ about Jacob’s Well, except maybe how many bottles they eventually sold. It was just 7-year-old Jim Beam at 84° proof (42% ABV) that was "twice-barreled for smoothness." That was the only product innovation, and they never quite got around to explaining what it meant. The rest was smoke and mirrors, empty marketing gobbledygook. They got angry at one of their suppliers who told them it was a bad idea and banned him from the building.

Freddie has been finding and blending some excellent liquid, so both Hardin’s Creek releases probably are worth drinking, but the way Hardin’s Creek is being presented is precious, pompous, and tone-deaf, just like the original Jacob’s Well. It's unworthy of the good work the company does with the whiskey itself.

(See for yourself. The website is here. A Men’s Journal Advertorial is here.)


Ben D said...

No amount of corporate speak can justify nearly $70 for a 2 year age stated bourbon that is also part of this "brand".

Rob K said...

That's a weird website. Very non-intuitive navigation.

Tony M. said...

Seems like a total bait-and-switch. They'll drop the 15-year to get hype, and then all the special release chasers will pay top dollar for a two-year when they see it on the shelf. Premium prices for two-year beam?!

Sam Komlenic said...

Look for the review in the next issue of Whisky Advocate.