Cigar Pairing: Jim Beam Signature Harvest Bourbon Collection
- October 2, 2015 |
- By Jack Bettridge
The fifth and sixth shoes have dropped on the long-in-coming (12 years) Jim Beam experiments with varied secondary grains in Bourbon. These last two (available now) of the Jim Beam Signature Harvest Bourbon Collection are among the most interesting of the trials, using a barley variety most often found in beer and a hybrid grain previously not found in whiskey.
The trials are old enough that the distiller who devised them is no longer around to have enjoyed the fruits of his labor. Jerry Dalton, a man of varied interests, retired after laying down these 11-year-old Bourbons, but not before training the present master distiller of Jim Beam, Fred Noe. Noe, the seventh generation distiller of the Beam family and son of the illustrious Booker Noe, was there when the whiskies were first conceived.
He recalls that Dalton, who spoke of "thinking outside of the barrel," conceived of six different whiskies that altered the minor grains of Jim Beam (a Bourbon typically made with corn, rye and barley) while retaining—for the most part—the original proportions of each. Previous releases from the Harvest Collection substituted red winter wheat, brown rice and rolled oats for the secondary component rye. One other used rye, but at an unusually high proportion.
Of of the latest releases, Six Row Barley plays with the tertiary and smallest component of Bourbon. Most whiskies use a two-row variety of barley (each type is named for the way the kernels grow on the stalk). The six-row type is more common in beer as Scotch whisky makers eschew its high-protein-low-sugar quality. In Bourbon, with its corn content, obtaining sugar is not an issue.
The other recent release—Triticale—is made with that grain in place of rye. Triticale was developed as a feed grain for livestock and is a hybrid of rye and wheat (the most common secondary grains used in Bourbon). Noe says the best way to describe its effect on Bourbon is to imagine a sandwich made with rye bread on one side and wheat on the other.
While the six whiskeys of the collection were developed with a view toward revisiting them as possible members of the Jim Beam range in the future, Dalton's retirement effectively stalled that, according to Noe. "These Bourbons kind of got forgotten." However, he believes that the earlier released Brown Rice version has the best chance of being revisited. In fact, his son recently visited Georgia to oversee a rice harvest.
Noe admits that when the Triticale was first distilled "I didn't know what the hell it was." Furthermore, when it came off the still it was the least promising of the group, but developed nicely in its 11 years of aging. He also jokes that the Brown Rice version was a sign of Dalton's prescience concerning future Beam's merger with the Japanese distiller Suntory, which happened years later.
While the prices for all the Harvest Bourbon Collection examples are quite high, they are worthy of a sampling if you can find them in their limited distribution.
In other Jim Beam news, the Kentucky distiller has just opened its Urban Stillhouse on downtown Louisville's Fourth Street. Noe describes it as more of "an experience" than a tour. Visitors have the opportunity to bottle their own unfiltered whiskey and watch as the second distillation is performed on-sight with unaged whiskey.
Jim Beam Signature Craft Six Row Barley (90 proof, or 45 percent alcohol by volume; no age; $49.99 a 375-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Coppery amber with a patina of green and some dustiness. Strong, quick legs.
NOSE: Rich aromas of vanilla, caramel, maple candy, with mild hints of oak and sawdust.
PALATE: Lands very sweet, with honey and fruity, hard candy, on the tip of the tongue. But when chewed out, the whiskey coats with spicy rye notes that develop into caramel and toffee, leaving the impression of a sort of toasty Heath Bar.
FINISH: The ending is fairly long and evolves from the toast and toffee to a curtain call of minty, spiciness.
Jim Beam Signature Craft Triticale (90 proof, or 45 percent alcohol by volume; age; $49.99 a 375-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Rich amber and gold color with strong, quick legs.
NOSE: Elegant aroma with honey sweetness, some oat as well as caramel and vanilla
PALATE: Comes off silky smooth at first blush as it rolls through vanilla and caramel tones. Then a blast of rye spice hits and it turns, oddly enough, a bit fruity with the tanginess. A range of flavors going on here with barrel notes, toffee, honey, spice and bits of mint and eucalyptus.
FINISH: The long finish is a compelling part of this quaff as there seems to be a bit of tug-of-war between the wheat and rye elements, each taking over the palate until coming to a rapprochement as it finally fades out.
CIGAR PAIRING: Montecristo Edmundo (Cuba, 5 3/8 inches by 52 ring gauge, £19.40, 93 Points, Cigar Aficionado June 2015) A rich combination of cocoa powder, nutmeg and salty earth all harmonize on the palate with each puff. The draw is full and luxurious. The pairing strategy here was to bring in elements (especially chocolate) that weren't previously evident in these complex whiskeys.
With Six Row version: The caramel sweetness of the whiskey emerges predominantly with the cigar and gives like flavors of toffee and vanilla back to the Edmundo. The cigar also takes on marked leather notes, while its chocolate makes the Six Row smoother and heartier.
With Triticale version: The leather in the cigar is even more in play with this whiskey. Spiciness from the Triticale is more obvious when enjoyed with the Edmundo, while the whiskey's quotient backs off a bit. The earthiness of the cigar brings out some tartness as well as nuts and toast on the Triticale.