Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: Jim Beam Black








Bourbon
Bourbon is a classic American whisky. A spirit with a poorly recorded past, but the general consensus is that it was originally distilled in and around the county of Bourbon, in the state of Kentucky, during the 18th century. The Jim Beam brand can trace its existence back to the earliest beginnings of bourbon.

Composition
Barley malt, corn and rye grains, in varying proportions, are mixed together with Kentucky water to produce a “mash.” You will note on many bourbon bottles, “sour mash” and this refers to the the mash of a previously distilled batch being added to a new one. The distillation process is fairly complicated, and I will stop at this point because I do not pretend to fully understand it, nor do I want to lose you, the reader.






Charred Oak Barrels
Bourbon is aged in charred oak barrels. When I say “charred” I mean these barrels were subjected to flames! The spirit is clear when it goes in the barrels, but during the aging process acquires its amber color from the barrels and more importantly that wonderful charcoal flavor.

In any event, that’s enough chit-chat, let’s turn to the matter at hand. What does the widely available Jim Beam Black taste like?

Nose
Delicate, slightly floral, more oak and lots of vanilla. Maybe a little charcoal too. Impressive. Not what I expected from a bourbon.

Palate (undiluted)
The palate fulfils the promise made by the nose. Initial mild sweetness that I had difficulty putting my finger on. Eventually, I figured it might be corn or rye flavor, but still not sure. What I am sure of is that it’s damn nice. Anyhow, following entry to the palate, the flavor moves to big, soaring oak, followed by, at the mid-palate point, wonderful, tremendous cleansing wafts of charcoal. The charcoal flavor is fantastic! Very cleansing! Last but not least, tsunami waves of vanilla wash across the palate.

Finish
Short to medium finish begins with a sweet burn of cinnamon and candy cane, after which it moves onto a grand finale of charcoal and vanilla, fading like embers of a late night campfire. It’s nice.

What is such a pleasure about drinking bourbon is that sweet charcoal flavor that you will never find in scotch. No nasty bite, heat or aftertaste. Lingering vanilla, oak and charcoal woven carefully like a hand rolled cigar. Very, very nice!




General Impressions
I like this! It’s pleasant, easy-going, not pretentious. I keep thinking about the charcoal flavor. It’s perfect. I really enjoy drinking this straight. I tried it with ice, but did not notice any improvement. If anything, the addition of ice degraded the flavors.

This is so easy-going that people who generally take a little ice or water with their whisky should consider trying this one ‘neat.’ If I were salmon fishing, overlooking a brook in an Adirondack chair with a friend, I would be sipping Jim Beam Black. An unpretentious whisky that compliments a memorable moment of kicking back.

This is a "premium" bourbon due to the lengthy (8 yrs is a lot for bourbon!) aging process. Accordingly, it is not surprising that this is superior to the entry level bourbon offered by Jim Beam, the "White" label. The difference in price is a mere $8 to $10, but what a world of difference. Well worth the few extra dollars. Don't be cheap! Spend a few extra dollars and get a drink that you will still be thinking about days later.

I guess the only criticism that could be voiced (not by me) is that it is not very complex. The presentation of the principal flavors (oak, charcoal and vanilla) is rather straight forward. I can understand how one might raise this criticism, but we are not sipping scotch, we tasting bourbon. Bourbon, by its nature is does not need to have a complex flavor profile in the same tradition of scotch. Why? Because it is bourbon. Bourbon can get a way without such a requirement, but if it is not complex, it better be damn pleasing to the palate. Jim Beam Black is very pleasing. I am not saying bourbon cannot have a complex flavor profile. There are some high end bourbons (ie. Woodford Reserve), but the fact that Jim Beam Black is not, cannot be regarded as a flaw, especially given its reasonable price point.

While I might concede the presentation of flavors is “straight forward” as mentioned above, I would add that the presentation is very elegant and sophisticated, without being over the top (ie. Woodford Reserve).

Jim Beam Black is aged for eight years and I think that makes a big difference. Bourbon aged less than that amount of time tends to have excessive heat, bite and roughness. Jim Beam Black is a classy bourbon that is sure to impress your whisky fan friends!  However, Jim Beam Black exported outside the United States is not aged 8 years, but rather 6 years.  I notice some difference in the quality of the bourbon.  While it is good, it is not as good as the 8 year old bottling only available in the United States.  This will explain why Jim Black bottles outside the US do not have any age statement on the label.

Recommendation: Buy it!

Cheers!


Jason Debly

© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.

56 comments:

  1. Only 22ys old here and not too much of a fan on spirits but I got a bottle of Jim Beam Black this Christmas and let me tell you it was bloody good stuff! Good value for money.

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  2. Hello Anonymous! Glad to hear you enjoyed the Jim Beam Black. Great stuff! It is indeed an incredible value: 8 yr old bourbon for around $20!

    There is nothing wrong with being 22 years old. Your judgment is just as valuable as then next guy at 40yrs. I envy you in the sense that you have discovered bourbon at such a young age. Most guys wallow in beer through their 20's before developing an appreciation for spirits in their thirties.

    Cheers!

    Jason

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  3. Went to pick up some whiskey tonight and they were out of Maker's Mark, but had the JB Black on sale for $13. Had a couple bits neat and I'm very impressed. Tasty stuff for the price.

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  4. $13! What a great price! And of course people think at that price it can't as at that price point there is plenty of disappointment to be had, but Black is an exception.

    I'm glad you took a chance on it.

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  5. Hi Jason!

    I stumbled upon your blog by chance; I was looking for opinions of Jim Beam Black bourbon, and I found yours the best.

    I am Spanish and I am very surprised that here in the U.S. this bottle cost only $ 13! Here it is 17 Euro cheap!

    I'm glad there are others across the world as I enjoy these small tastes of life. A hug and greetings!

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  6. Hello Io,

    Yes, Jim Beam is a fine American whisky. Since you like the version available in Europe, you would definitely enjoy the bottlings in the United States. This is due to the fact that Jim Beam Black made for export outside the US is aged 6yrs whereas Jim Beam Black sold in the United States is aged for 8 yrs. The 8yr bottling is superior. Try to get it if you can. You can taste the difference.

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  7. You are so spot on here! This is amazing value! I place this above all other bourbons. It is one of my favorites!

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  8. Pipp, Jim Beam Black is in my opinion the best money for value whisky available period! However, that is provided you can get it in the US. If you are buying Jim Beam Black outside the US, it will be only aged 6yrs (as mentioned in my post) and so is not as good.

    Thanks for commenting!

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  9. Jason,

    I was parusing my local selection for American whiskey lately, and found myself admiring the newely designed bottle of this fine whiskey. Yes, nice, pretty, a bit more distinguished looking from the entry-white label, and...uh oh...the steadfast "8 yr" expression is now "a minimum of 6 yrs" in it's statement. I havn't tasted JWB in probably over a year...shortly before this new packaging...and can't help but feel assured this whisky has finally been cheapened. The carrot of increased profits has been flashed in front of the eyes of the corporation and they have begun increasing supply...and in the process, at least somewhat, cheapning the product. Call me jaded, but I don't think the new look of the bottle was done for shits and giggles...rather...to mask the cheapening.

    This is sad news. Not simply for the sake of a GREAT value for money bourbon...but for what is to come. In the realm of blended scotch, I can't help but think the likes of Black Bottle will see the same.

    -Yochanan "The Sad" S.

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  10. Yochanan, I too noticed the 'new' bottle proudly declaring aged 6yrs. It is definitely inferior to the 8 year old that is only available in the US market place. I do not know where you are located, but I am in Canada and as I mentioned in the post, 6yr old Jim Beam Black is for the export market, and the good stuff, 8yrs, is sold only in the US.

    Beam Global, take note! Your consumers are not amused!

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  11. Right up there with Knob Creek for me actually. I enjoyed this more then I thought I would. I thought this had better balance and was less hot then Woodford Reserve.

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  12. Mortalscoil, Jim Beam Black is defintely better than Woodford Reserve. As you have noted, Woodford can be 'hot' and actually acrid and burning at times. In the past there seemed to be some quality assurance issues, meaning one batch might be a helluva lot better than the next. Nevertheless, even when it is good, it's not as good as Jim Beam Black. I just prefer Black. And when you consider the huge difference in price point, Jim Beam is a no brainer. A steal of a deal in my opinion.

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  13. I enjoyed my first bottle of JB Black Christmas of 2010. A friend of mine got it as a gift during a gift exchange at a party I was attending. Being in good spirits for the holiday we all gathered around and took a celebration shot. My friends along with myself immediately noticed how smooth this bourbon went down. It was love at first taste for me so I purchased a bottle for myself on the way home. Since then I have always stayed stocked up on JB Black. I dont drink a whole lot, but do enjoy a small glass to relax. Its smooth oak flavor now always takes me back to the holidays. It is definetely a fine bourban and my new favorite of that category.
    Georgia, USA

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  14. Hi Jason, glad to hear you like Jim Beam Black. I continue to be astounded at the very reasonable, low price of this bourbon. There are no flaws to this bourbon, and Beam Global could easily charge more and I would pay it.

    A lot of so called 'premium' bourbons are inferior to JB Black.

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  15. Hi Jason,

    Got a bottle of Jim Beam Black from my father in law today. I'm really looking forward tasting it after your very positive review.
    Saude
    Jan

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  16. Jan, the best Jim Beam Black is the bottles only sold in the United States. Those are aged 8 yrs and are outstanding.

    If your father-in-law bought the bottle outside the US, then it will be aged 6 years. While the Jim Beam Black for the export market is good, the 6 yrs instead of 8 yrs makes a fairly big difference. So, if you have a bottle that does not specify 8yrs, you are not getting the great flavor that I wrote about above. You will just have to visit the US to pick up a bottle!

    Cheers!

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  17. I've really enjoyed this lately. A great premium for a great price - and I agree about not adding water. The four extra years tones the whole thing down (a bummer one can't get the 8 year bottling outside the US). It's subtle - and adding water only drowns out anything you would want to find in it. I think the best thing Jim Beam could do with Black would be to raise the abv and allow us to use water to pull some more complex profiles out.

    Nice review!

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  18. Interesting idea to raise the abv. I agree, then water would be useful. You should let Beam Global know your thoughts. They would actually appreciate it, I suspect.

    By the way, I like your blog.

    Cheers!

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  19. I love beer, but this is great!

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    Replies
    1. You know . . . you're starting a life-long love affair with bourbon!

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  20. After reading this review and these comments I feel that I must try this bourbon again. I had it about a month ago and I was not terribly impressed. I did not think it was bad but at the same time I thought it could have been better.

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    1. Anonymous, it all depends where you live. If you are in the United States, absolutely, by all means try it again. IF you are in Canada or anywhere else in the world, the exported Jim Beam Black is only aged 6yrs, and I could understand how you or others would find it unremarkable. I find the export bottling a shadow of the great domestic bottling at 8yrs aging.

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  21. Allan Boyd (Aus)May 11, 2012 at 12:50 AM

    Allan Boyd (Aus)
    Hi Jason,
    That being said...(only 6 years) Would I be better off going for something like Makers Mark,Blanton's or Buffalo Trace ?
    JB black is around $35 here in Aus.and the spread is up to $48 for the B.T.
    I've only tried the Blantons which is nice enough but...

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    Replies
    1. Allan, I would buy Maker's or Blanton's over Jim Beam Black in light of it being only 6 yrs old.

      Maker's is great by the way.

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  22. Hi, here in Europe the recent label says: 6 yrs (Triple aged), and it is now about 18 EUR per bottle (0,7 liter).

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    1. Yes, 6yrs is just not as good as 8 yrs for this particular bourbon. That said, it is still preferable over a lot of others on the market. thanks for the info.

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  23. I am in love with this. Neat, ice, cola, coffee.. its all good!

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    Replies
    1. If you are in the United States, the price is outrageously affordable! You can get a bottle for as little as $19! Crazy and crazy good!

      Glad you like it.

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  24. In Latvia it's ~50$ for the 6y version. :(

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  25. I cant find the 6 year old jim beam in the untied states. Jason do you no where i can get it in the us

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  26. Beam Black is the exact flavor profile I like in Bourbon. i'm not into the cidery/acidic Bourbons. I love the vanilla/oak/maple Bourbons and this is the standard for that, with Evan Williams black label being the budget version of this.

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    1. I agree with you on that. By the way, another bourbon to consider is Knob Creek. A great bourbon with a lot of punch! If you can find it on sale it is well worth trying. I still like Jim Beam Black better, but Knob Creek is a close second.

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    2. I like Knob Creek. It's well rounded and tastes "professional" if that makes sense. No real flaws...but like you I prefer JIm Beam black. Another sweet bourbon I enjoy is Old Grandad. It's nothing special but has a nice corn sweetness and full, thick body, though lacking in vanilla and oak. Have you reviewed Woodford reserve? I just had some given to me as a gift, and I am sad to say that I'm kind of hating the stuff. Way too heavy on the rye, way to light everywhere else. I really want to like it too.

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  27. Jason, whats up with the "7 year red cap" JB? Any thoughts (as in comparison to Black)?

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  28. Jason, We drink Bourbon here regularly, of many styles and prices. I finally got around to trying JBB 8y a few times over the past month. I'm a little surprised. It's very plain, simple stuff, and I'm not real fond of it. It's got such low intensity on everything: nose, arrival, development, finish. Easy drinking for sure in terms of no burn on the finish, and I guess that's its strongest suit. I call it a beginner's Bourbon, because it lacks the sort of adequate complexity of many (better) light intensity style Bourbons. It doesn't make me want another sip. Dollars to donuts this is a beverage produced by aging in #1 charred white oak, the lightest toast of most barrel makers' offerings. I am using the remainders of our bottle today for BBQ marinade and sauce for our Super Bowl party, and perhaps for mixed drinks for guests who want it. For $18 US, it's not enough of a drink to call me back for repurchase. JD

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    1. Well, I am surprised, but I found it to be complex. Yes, it is quite smooth and I guess in bourbon I tend lean towards the more gentler flavor profiles.

      Interesting observations. Thanks for chiming in!

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  29. Hi Jason. I am a student, writing you from Austria.We have here in 'Lidl Market' shops one kind of Bourbon: 'Western Gold' 6 years old, for cca 10 EUR, 0,7 L. It has black sticker, and I think it's made for Lidl. Have you tried it maybe, what do you think? On forums people say that it's like Jim Beam, but with another name because it's produced for Lidl. Do you know something about this? Very good price, in my opinion...

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  30. I don't know anything about Western Gold. The bottle and label look to be a complete copy of Jim Beam Black.

    Reviews online indicate it is decent.

    If I were you, I would invest in a real bottle of bourbon. Jim Beam, Four Roses, etc. Get the real thing from an established brand.

    I suspect that the owners of Western Gold has bought bourbon from one of the major distilleries who do not think it was acceptable for their own established bottling.

    If you like a gentle flavor profile, then look to buy Four Roses, Forrester and Jim Beam Black and Basil Hayden's.

    Nice to hear from you and look forward to more of your comments and observations in the future.

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  31. Jason, The new Beam "Craft" whiskey releases (in both 12y and Brandy-added forms) are trickling into market here in SoCal. Our tastings this month suggest that fans of Jim Beam Black 8y will not be disappointed by the stylings, but may be a little put off by the price (retail $40, discounted here to $32). Cheers ! JK

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    Replies
    1. I better add this to my Christmas wish list!

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  32. I have been looking for the right bourbon to use for making a whiskey+chocolate steak sauce for thanksgiving, and I think I'm going to go with this one. Thanks for the review.

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  33. Jason, There a new Beam "sheriff" in town, and he's called "Single Barrel." Priced here at $29 large and bottled at 95proof with no age statement, the bottling we tried makes one wonder about the sourcing. Are the barrel groups used that were otherwise earmarked for Jim B Black or Knob Creek (or for White Label) ? Maybe it's something you'll want to sample. JK

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    1. I am intrigued! I will have to source a bottle.

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    2. I'm so glad i went and found this blog! I'm a new bourbon stinker..and a woman to boot so I'm lost.. I read some reviews and i can't device between Jim beam black and devils cut. What would you suggest?

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    3. Jim Beam Black and Devil's Cut are both good bourbons.

      Nevertheless, I prefer Black in a heads up challenge between the two. So, I would suggest starting with Jim Beam Black. The good news is that these are widely available and reasonably priced.

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  34. Jim Beam is my favourite brand, thank you for such a usefull post

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  35. Jason, Here's a heads-up I just read regarding JBB 8y from Chuck Cowdery, via Sku's Recent Eats. "Chuck Cowdery reports that he received official confirmation from Beam that this NAS label will replace the current 8 year old Beam Black." Buyers be-aware !

    https://www.ttbonline.gov/colasonline/publicViewAttachment.do?filename=FA104-X100.jpg&filetype=l

    Strong fans of the 8y may want to pick up a bit of the product while it is plentiful,

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    1. This is terrible news! JBB 8yr was one of the last great bargains! I will start hoarding immediately. Thanks!

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  36. I need to know where to get it in Amarillo texas

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    Replies
    1. Any liquor store should carry it. It is widely available. Happy Holidays!

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  37. Jason,
    The price is slashed to $9.99/750ml for the last of the 8Y JBB in grocery stores in L.A.. Our club responded by buying a case of that and of the Knob Creek 100 ($29.99), then pouring nice drams of one part each, for make a Jim Beam 92 proof for $20. Try it; the two combine to improve each other for me. Cheers ! JK

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    1. Hi I just by bottle of JB 8 years it cost me 20$? Bottle is from 2003. I heard that they no longer produces. Is it true? Because if is I by another for ShelF

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  38. Jason, Six months on now, and we still see the JBB 8Y bottling continue to appear periodically in local grocery chains and liquor outlets. The inventory of this stuff was substantial apparently, unless bottling has continued. Cheers ! JK

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    Replies
    1. I keep buying it up whenever I see it. I do think it is being discontinued judging by a visit to the Jim Beam website which now displays Jim Beam Black without any age statement:

      http://www.jimbeam.com/en-int/bourbons/black

      I always thought the 8yr age statement was too good to be true.

      However, as you indicate, with such a massive production of the 8yr statement, it will be a while before it is out of the retail supply chain.

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