Whiskey fans the world round know about the angel’s share, that percentage of alcohol that escapes through evaporation while the spirit is aging in casks. Now Jim Beam introduces us to a new term: the devil’s cut, the amount of Bourbon that was hitherto trapped in the wood even after the barrels were dumped.
Except that in this case the distiller has rescued that previously lost liquid through a proprietary extraction process and put it in a bottle that is also called the Devil’s Cut. The recovered spirit has also been mingled with other normally prepared Bourbon to reach a strength of 90 proof (45 percent alcohol by volume). The result is a dark whiskey with barrels of flavor to go with its pronounced woodiness.
Fred Noe, the Jim Beam master distiller, says that when a cask is filled with new-make spirit about two gallons of it immediately seeps into the grainy burrows of its charred oak staves. Until now, that liquid was lost during aging. While hesitating to be specific about the process for releasing the spirit, he says, involves water, agitation and heat.
All three of these are common to a time-honored method of whiskey recovery that inspired the new whiskey. During one of the company’s idea meetings Noe, the great-grandson of Jim Beam, described a practice common during his youth in Kentucky. “I told the story about sweating whiskey out of a barrel,” he says. “If you could get yourself a used barrel—they’re getting pretty expensive and hard to come by these days—you could sweat something out of it by putting water and rolling it around the yard on a hot day.”
Because of the increased demand for used barrels in other parts of the spirits-making industry (including other whiskies, rum and Tequila) the availability of such barrels has lessened. Noe recalls an enthusiast from Pennsylvania who used to make an annual trip to Kentucky to pick up five or six barrels and would crow about getting “free whiskey.” “That wasn’t any free whiskey,” Noe observes, pointing out that his costs in travel to obtain them alone would offset any saving, “but that was his hobby and he liked the idea of not paying taxes on it.”
Noe explains that the recaptured spirit must be mixed with standard Jim Beam Bourbon, as the company wouldn’t otherwise have enough to market on a large scale. The admixture also probably takes the edge off of what otherwise might be an overly tannic whiskey. The wood is definitely in attendance, but is softened and improved by sweeter, fruity flavors.
The distiller says that Devil’s Cut is the production of a ramping up of the innovative process that has been going on recently with Jim Beam. He points to the debuts of Red Stag and Knob Creek Single Barrel as other examples of that trend. We hope it continues.
Jim Beam Devil’s Cut (90 proof, 45 percent by volume) $23.99
A very full-flavored, tasty whiskey that manages to belie its origin and coloration by being smooth and approachable as well.
APPEARANCE: Extremely dark amber, fat quick legs.
NOSE: Molasses, maple syrup, slight olive oil.
PALATE: Hits the tip of tongue with a slight burst of tannin and then spreads out across the palate like a fruity hard candy, In the roof of the mouth, it gets very spicy and rooty with a certain nutty and toasty quality and some more of that olive oil.
FINISH: The toast lingers into the after taste with wood and then a finishing bit of fruit.