Jim Beam’s Freddie Noe has gone to the kitchen and the grill for the sixth edition of his yearly Little Book release. This time the whiskey’s innovation has been to obtain flavor from a range of woods more commonly found in a barbecue pit, rather than a distillery. The blend of five liquids also includes a predominance of barley, a grain associated with Scotland, not classic American whiskey.
The new Bourbon, Chapter 6: “To The Finish,” is the eighth-generation Jim Beam master distiller’s nod to his family’s cooking tradition. He employed the finishing technique by which alternate casks are used in a secondary aging. While the procedure is well known in whiskey maturation, it is normally done with oak casks that have previously held wines or spirits. In this case, Noe tapped woods that are used to smoke food, not to make barrels. Included are cherry, apple, hickory and maple woods.
Growing up around his grandfather Booker Noe (Jim Beam’s grandson) and father, Fred Noe (Beam’s great-grandson), the great-great-grandson developed an interest in smoking food with hardwoods in the eldest Noe’s backyard. As well as a huge grill, the property contained a stone smokehouse. The experience stoked Freddie’s recognition that different woods used in barbecuing food impart different flavors. This was the inspiration for Chapter 6.
Like Booker’s Bourbon, the innovative whiskey made famous by his grandfather and now overseen by his father (all three have served as Beam master distillers), Chapter 6 is bottled unfiltered and uncut, coming in at a fiery 117.45 proof. The difference with the Little Book collection has been that Freddie has experimented with a range of different whiskeys to create novel blends, whereas Booker’s is made from a collection of barrels aged in particular sections of the Jim Beam warehouses known for the quality Bourbon (and, in some cases, straight rye) they produce.
In the six blended editions of Little Book, Freddie has gone off the campus, so to speak, using whiskeys of different grain formulae, including rye, corn whiskey, Canadian whiskey and even a Bourbon containing rice. This latest case blends four separately treated malt whiskeys alongside Bourbon. While Bourbon typically contains malted barley, it is used sparingly, at a proportion of around 10 percent, alongside at least 51 percent corn and another grain. Pure-barley products are only recently gaining traction in the United States, even though the single malts of Scotland have been made that way for centuries. Malt whiskey is a relatively new addition to the Beam fold, starting in 2017.
Chapter 6 uses four different four-year-old malt whiskeys, each with separate finishes. One was treated with cherrywood staves added to the barrels. Another was finished in barrels that had been smoked with applewood. A third was rested in barrels smoked with hickory. The last had maple wood staves added the end. A five-year-old Kentucky straight Bourbon, untreated, was included in the blend.
To call this a blend, however, is a bit of a disservice. Under the law a whiskey can be labeled a blend when it contains as little as 51 percent whiskey. A blended Bourbon, for instance, could be made from just over half straight Bourbon with the rest being unaged neutral spirits (think of grain alcohol). It also could be flavored or colored, a no-no for straight Bourbon.
What Noe has constructed here is a melding of different types of straight whiskeys. It became a blend because two distinct mash bills were used as the components, not because it was diluted with unaged whiskeys or otherwise treated. (In this case, because it is bottled at barrel proof, not even water was added.) It can’t be Bourbon because it contains malt whiskey. It isn’t malt whiskey because it contains Bourbon.
What it is, however, is a tasty dram that is likely to change your notion of what whiskey can be.
Little Book Chapter 6: To The Finish, 117.45 proof, $124.99
Appearance: Burnt oranges, chunky legs.
Nose: Orange and cherry with a bit of cinnamon spice.
Palate: The smoke shows in the mouth, but not like a peaty Scotch. More of a grilled meatiness, and you might find yourself imagining a sweet barbecue sauce from its vanilla and caramel. Its savory barley notes easily outweigh the corn quotient. Through it all, it retains the fruit of the nose (notably orange peel). [I also find it has some zingy spiciness to it and some maple]
Finish: The finish is long, with notes of sweet hard candy, joined with roasty, toasty grain notes.