Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review: Jim Beam "Devil's Cut" Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Devil's Cut was launched in 2011 by Beam Global and represents an interesting extension of their Jim Beam bourbon product line.

The Story
Virtually every whisky on the market has a story, gimmick or marketing sleight of hand, to attract your attention, the consumer, and this recent release is no exception.

As whiskey ages in the barrel, evaporation takes place, and this loss is commonly referred to as the "angel's share."  So, whiskey casks that age for many years can lose considerable volume.  This drives up costs, in addition to the other costs of storage, monitoring by the master distiller's team and lack of revenue with everyday that passes in the cask.

Besides evaporation, whisky is absorbed into the very wood of the barrel it occupies.  I do not think the volume is very great, but the marketing folks for Beam Global have cleverly labeled this loss of volume as the "Devil's Cut."

But, There's More!
The Jim Beam people claim to have developed a "proprietary process" which extracts the bourbon in the barrel wood, after the bourbon barrels have been emptied.  This extracted spirit is then blended with six year old Jim Beam bourbon, bottled at 90 proof, and Devil's Cut is thus created.

To say that a "proprietary process" is used may be technically accurate, but don't be overly impressed.  If you think about it, what the Jim Beam marketing crew describe is actually the process of how Scotch whisky is typically made.  Think about it.  Oak barrels that formerly held sherry (port, bourbon, etc.) are filled by distilleries with very young distilled whisky, and left to age for a minimum of three years.  During the passage of time, the sherry, port, etc, is drawn out of the wood, and becomes a part of the young whisky, deliciously seasoning the spirit.  Is that proprietary?  I suppose every distillery has a different period of aging, utilizing different recipes for white dog (whisky that has not been barrel aged), or maybe heats it to a certain temperature before adding it to the barrel, etc.

There is also the possibility that the Jim Beam people are doing little more that cutting/diluting 6 year old bourbon with "swish."

Swish
Swish is a term referring to the practice of taking an empty barrel that formerly held rum or another spirit, filling it with water, laying the barrel on its side, turning it a little every couple of months, and after a certain period of time, emptying it and drinking it.  The once pristine spring water that went into say a barrel that previously held rum, will now be pretty strong drink, as it has successfully extracted the rum or other spirit from the barrel wood.  A visit to the Devil's Cut website does not make the process any clearer:

"A proprietary process pulls the rich whiskey trapped inside the barrel wood after they're emptied.  This barrel-treated extract is blended with 6 year old Jim Beam bourbon at 90 proof."

Well, enough of my speculation.  It is now time for an exorcism, and as your high priest of all things whiskey, my augury is as follows:

Nose (undiluted)
Oak, burnt almond and charred wood.

Palate (undiluted)
I am greeted by sweet, root beer flavored rock candy, followed by big lashes of saddle leather, spiced cedar, pecan pie, cocoa and vanilla.

Finish (undiluted)
No longer sweet.  Now seriously mouth watering blast of brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fudge and oak.

General Impressions
I like this bourbon.

At $22 or so a bottle, the Devil's Cut offers up a great value for money proposition.  The ABV is 45%, but remarkably smooth and refined.  No raw, unadulterated alcohol taste.  I suspect the higher than standard ABV delivers the mouth watering sensations at mid-palate to finish stages of the drink experience.  In addition, the higher than average proof is probably responsible for the robust flavors.  The flavors are big, proud and demanding of attention, but in a good way.  This whiskey speaks to me.  Maybe not in tongues, but it does have something to say, and it is good.

Criticisms?  Some may find it a little too sweet initially, and a tad bit perfume-like.  At this price point, I can overlook that slight imperfection.

This bourbon is dominated by oak notes.  I do not have a problem with it as I do not consider it unbalanced.  If you don't like a lot of oak in your bourbon, you probably will not be a fan of the Devil's Cut.

Peer Review

  • I still prefer Jim Beam Black, an 8 year old, bourbon for maybe $5 more.  
  • For those seeking a punchy, robust American whiskey that will not break the bank, Devil's Cut beats out the far more expensive Jack Daniel's Single Barrel (Tennessee whiskey).
  • If you are looking for lots of spicy rye in your bourbon, you will probably prefer Wild Turkey 101 over Devil's Cut.
  • If you place a premium on refinement, gentle, smooth bourbon taste, Maker's Mark, Blanton's and Four Roses would be preferred by you.
  • Looking for maximum robustness of flavors and complexity at the same time, you need Knob Creek (mind you it is a lot more expensive).
  • Looking for a rich corn taste, Devil's Cut has none.  You need a Tennessee whiskey: Jack Daniel's Old No. 7.


Suggested Serving
Mix Devil's Cut with Coca-Cola, slice of lemon, ice cubes and you have a very nice poolside drink for those dog days of summer.  The oak notes become more pronounced with the addition of the Coke, yet there is a nice tart nip on the tongue that tells you rum is not the only spirit to add to Coke in the summer.  A nice change.

I think the Devil's Cut has some beatific qualities that may redeem it from a smoldering fate.  Besides, the keeper of the hell fires is busy with his latest visitor, who coincidentally is also from the Jim Beam fold: Red Stag Black Cherry

Cheers!


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.

39 comments:

  1. Jason,

    Thanks for a one of the best blogs out there. Based on many of your past reviews, I think you and I have very similar palates.

    I recently went to a bourbon tasting at my local Irish pub run by a Beam rep which included Maker's Mark 46, Knob Creek Single Barrel, Basil Hayden's, Devil's Cut, and Red Stag.

    My personal ranking was Maker's 46 with Devil's Cut not too far behind.

    If you like the Devil's Cut, I highly recommend the 46. Very nice spice and caramel up front, with slight burnt oak and deepening vanilla / caramel leading to a long (for bourbon) spice and vanilla finish.

    Then a pretty significant gap to the Basil Hayden's, then the Knob Creek. The Basil Hayden was thin and uninteresting. The Knob Creek Single Barrel was on the opposite end of the spectrum. It was just too powerful, the high alcohol content (120 proof) and spice overwhelmed any of the flavors for me. The host suggested that adding some some water or ice would open it up to reveal nicer spice and cinnamon flavors, but the damage already inflicted on my taste buds prevented me from recognizing these. Not unlike giving someone Laphroig and then suggesting Lagavulin might not seem so smoky.

    The Red Stag is a poor quality, artificially flavored cough syrup. Awful, pure swill. I can't think of any good use for it.

    Of course, nothing even close to HP 18 or Lagavulin...it was a bourbon tasting event after all, but I think Maker's 46 will find a permanent place in my cabinet.

    Thanks again for a great blog.

    Dave

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    1. Hello Dave!

      Sounds like quite an interesting bourbon night you had with the Beam line-up.

      I must say that Knob Creek impresses me greatly, but I can easily understand how it may come off as over-the-top if tasting other bourbons before hand.

      Whisky tastings can stimulate interest to explore more of these on your own, which is a good thing.

      As for Red Stag, yeah, there is a fiery place for it.

      Glad you like the blog.

      Cheers!

      Jason

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    2. Must be the ECOLI of whiskey

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    3. Devils cut is pooly named as it is only 45 abv.. should be at leat 55 or more. as for taste.. nothing special.. but is very nice . It is ridiculously over priced in Australia.. over 50 Australian dollars for 75 cl.. thanks to tax greedy government.. but surprisingly..also due to greedy purveryors.. ..there is a sa monopoly in Australian shops.. I hope Tesco opens up there soon ! lol

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  2. I just love JB black! What would be a real short comparison?

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    1. I find the Devil's Cut a little sweeter, more robust flavor-wise and less complex. Still very nice but Jim Beam Black is more complex.

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  3. Hi Jason, this is tangential, but do you have any recommendations for a good fairly comprehensive book to help a recent whisky enthusiast take his understanding and appreciation of the spirit to the next level?

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    1. "The World's Best Whiskies" by Dominic Roskrow is a recent book that I think sums up all things whisky very well. I would give that a go.

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  4. Can you drink Devil's Cut by itself without coke or other things?

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    1. Absolutely, and I think it was intended to be enjoyed neat. I prefer it by itself, but in the post just point out that it works well with Coke.

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    2. For what it's worth, Devils Cut is a good base for a dirty Dry Manhattan. 5-to-one ratio of bourbon to a good dry vermouth (Noilly Prat) and a couple dashes Angostura bitters. The "dirty" comes from a bot of olive juice thrown in.....BTW, I prefer a good olive over the recipe's cherry!

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    3. Olive instead of a cherry? Now that is different in a Manhattan. Thanks!

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  5. Jason, Love to see you feature another tasting "face off", around Bourbon this time. How about presenting offerings from (three ?) different distillers at once, in a compare and contrast of sorts, maybe something from: old reliable Jim Beam Black, Buffalo Trace (9 year old), George Dickel #12 or Evan Williams BIB ? All are nominally priced here at just under $20, very popular and very different presentations of "Bourbon-styled", easy drinking whiskey. Keep up the great work. JK

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    1. I will see what I can do. May take some time for me to find the bourbons.

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  6. From Chuck Cowdrey's blog, on the topic of "proprietary processes". Steamed and shaken, it seems:

    "Yesterday was goodie day at the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA), where several well-known small-government conservative Republican distillery owners and wanna-bees lined up with their hands out. [...]

    Among them was Maker’s Mark, which got $100,000 in incentives to support its $8.2 million plan to “extract additional gallons” from its barrels by introducing “a state-of-the-art rinse process” in a new facility at the distillery, according to the Courier-Journal.
    [...]

    Maker's Mark has not given details about its 'new process,' beyond the KEDFA filing, but parent company Beam Inc. has been squeezing Jim Beam barrels for a few years now to produce its Devil's Cut bourbon.

    Distillers have always rinsed barrels to get a little more whiskey out. Jack Daniel's was the first to take it further. Several years ago, they built a facility where they take freshly dumped barrels, fill them about 1/3 full with water, then store them for about two weeks before dumping them again. Beam took it a little further by heating the water and using a device like a paint mixer to shake the barrels. This probably accomplishes the same thing storing does for Daniel's, without the huge warehouse Daniel's had to build just for its 'super rinse' operation.

    Obviously, the amount of additional alcohol extracted more than justifies the expense."

    http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2013/05/squeezing-barrel-and-public-purse.html

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    1. Thanks for the further details. Basically Devil's Cut may indeed be swish. Nevertheless, it is a pretty good product. Just not really as inventive, new or cutting edge as they would have you believe.

      Just once, I would like to see a straight talkin' distillery tell it like it is about their product. I bet such an unblemished product with release info would be a darling of the media. Would be a nice change from the smoke and mirrors put out by the marketing firms out there.

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    2. A lot of "new" stuff takes something old, and then tweaks the process. If by heat and shaking they can take a few weeks off the length of the process of letting the water leach the residual alcohol out of the bottle, that is kinda new. But it isn't radical, and less smoke is good (except in Islay).

      I'm pretty sure it's also a *BLENDING* process, which is one of my go-to knitpicks on the world of whisky. What they do is mix the swish, which isn't nearly 45% abv with the ordinary, 4yo or older bourbon (probably coming out of the barrel close to 60% abv), and add some water in too.

      To that end, that is part of what Chuck's speculation would be about any Makers Mark swish would do--get shipped over to a less-established, more budget brand Beam owns to increase the wood profile.

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  7. Thanks for the explanation of the process. For my taste Devil's Cut is in the second tier of bourbons: decent quality and a good price value but not exceptional. I am looking forward to trying it in a mint julep for some summer sippin'.

    As a bit of serendipity, I got some Elijah Craig 12 bourbon along with the Devil's Cut. This is excellent stuff and only costs a couple of dollars more than the Devil's Cut. This goes to the top of my list of non-scotch whiskeys along with Wild Turkey 101/Rare Breed and George Dickel No. 12. If you get a chance to try it, I would be interested in your opinion.

    Looking forward, as always, to your next post.

    Jeff The Bear

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    1. George Dickel is outstanding bourbon!

      Yeah, you summed up Devil's Cut best by saying it is not exceptional. Unlike scotch, as you noted, in the bourbon market place, $5 more or $10 and you are into a high quality, complex bourbon.

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    2. Jason,

      Dickel is actually a "Tennessee Whiskey" - which is not a Bourbon - well, technically it IS a Bourbon - or maybe not, depending on how you interpret the rules regarding what is and what is not Bourbon, and whether or not the "Lincoln County Process" is an additive process.

      Ah, never mind, no one is really sure...

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    3. Jeff,

      Elijah Craig 12 yr is also one of my favorites, as well as Rare Breed. Old weller antique 107 and Old Grand Dad 114 are my other favorites, and in the same price range.

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    4. Scott, thanks for correcting me. Tennessee whisky is different from bourbon, at least in terms of the process as you pointed out.

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  8. Been to Scotland and JB Devils cut is a knock off Scotch style Whiskey. Tastes a lot like a Talisker to the untrained whiskey drinker. Very smoky, slightly sweet without the medicinal punch of an Oban. Bitter finish though.

    W.H.

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  9. I for one drink my bourbon straight, or over the rocks or if in a very mellow mood and want to taste a good whiskey as long as I can. This one delivers. Plain and simple. It is a very good bourbon at a price point. As a side note, my dad used to make swish and my brothers enjoyed it probably more than he did. I for one, detest Rye whiskey but it seems to have the points they were talking about. The 45% ABV seems incidental as it seems likely that this whiskey was made with flavour in mind and does not seem to hold to the standards set by either standard Beams or Wild turkey. On the other end is the sickeningly sweet Red Stag. I was very disappointed in this as I expected hints of cherry, not the extract poured wily-nilly into a bottle. The nay-sayers may sound off about it being $5 more expensive (in the US of A) but here in Canada we have to pay $45 for a bottle of Maker's Mark or Cane Creek. I was spoiled by a gift bottle of Evan William's 10 year which I recollect with great fondness. The Devil's cut is not as fine, but still a very good whiskey.

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  10. Working on my first bottle of Devils Cut. My first taste was neat and I enjoyed it. I tried it with an ice cube tonight. The dilution ruined it for me. I definitely would keep a bottle in rotation for sipping. Neat it has a slight syrupy maple quality which is fine on a cold winter night.

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    1. Glad you liked it. I think it is a nice addition to the Jim Beam product line up.

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  11. Great blog; I learned a lot. Keep up the great work.

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  12. Recently, I was in our local dark paneled speak-easy cigar bar, Nicky Blaine's, just off the Circle here in Indianapolis. I had a taste of bourbon on my mind all day, a relaxer and appetizer before heading over to St. Elmo's for the shrimp cocktail and filet, on the last night of Devour Indianapolis. Hammered by all the snow, with a touch of cabin fever, I anticipated a bourbon, neat, from just a hundred miles or so over the Kentucky state line. It was a simple order, a Maker's Mark, neat, ice water back. Sold out!? Woodford Reserve? Sold out. Grr. Jack Daniels, then? Tennessee is ok, just a bit south of the set of my taste and nose for the evening. Server hesitated, and suggested this Devil's Cut. I'm in no mood to be suspicious of marketing tricks, and the longer I have to wait for a bourbon, the closer the time to walk up to the steaks and wine, next on my imagination's palate. Devil's Cut, ok, I'll try it. Still wanted my Maker's, but why waste time whining? The server didn't know to couch the pitch in relation to a mildly peaty single malt Islay scotch. I had to make that discovery on my own. I'm thinking now, I think I need to get another at Nicky's and weigh the possibility of buying a bottle for sipping. Nothing can displace my Lagavulin for marking some deeply satisfying accomplishment, and Bowmore as a more frequent treat. But if the price is right, I might reach for this Jim Beam product before paying too much for a Glenfiddich or Glenlivet or Isle of Jura before retiring for the night. I think it's the peat, smoldering under the banked ashes where I keep the thoughts of casting a fly onto the surface of a high loch. I never thought an American bourbon whiskey would raise a faint glow of a Highlands and Islands ember. Cigars optional.

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    1. Hi! I gotta say I have never detected any peat notes in Devil's Cut. There certainly is some smoke, char, oak and spiced cinnamon. Technically, a spirit is peated when peat from the bogs is burnt underneath the barley to dry it out. The smoke from the peat imparts the phenolic notes. No such process with Devil's Cut. Of course, none of the facts has anything to do with your enjoyment of this good American whisky.

      Thanks for relating your experience!

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  13. You're right, Jason -- smoky, not the same as peat. I have the two tangled up. But I know better. At the Lagavulin distillery, I accepted with my two cupped hands, a tablespoon or so of newly distilled liquor, the raw clear stuff that maybe long after I'm gone, will become someone's wedding present, or coming of age dram. I went around the rest of the day with the smoky aroma of peat-roasted malt, holding my cupped palms over my nose, eyes closed, inhaling deeply, and feeling the nerve endings wake up to the bath of whatever neurotransmitters provide the feeling of being with friends by a low peat fire in an inglenook, while the wind grabs fists full of mist and brine and hurls them against a warehouse of barrels just out of reach of the tides.

    Now, that's more accurate, I think.

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  14. Good useful blog without being too pretentious. I've always been a value guy - I was buying Canon when everyone else was buying Nikon, smoking Fuentes and American la Gloria Cubana when everyone else was smoking Avo, and playing Yamaha and Guild guitars when everyone else was overpaying for Martin.
    My Dad introduced me to bourbon and corn whisky but i've never been a big spirits guy - mostly beer - but because i'm seriously dieting and losing weight now beer is a killer, and I can spring for an ounce of bourbon and it's only one WW point....I've been exploring small batch and single barrel stuff. THere's some great artisan stuff out there; Balcones Blue, 6 & 20 from South Carolina, i bought a bottle of New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon recently and think very well of it. Sadly, locally in York ME is a small distillery named Wiggly Bridge...I was pretty excited about this but after springing for a 750ml bottle of their baby bourbon for $60+ and 3 375ml for gifts I brought it home and just couldn't get it to taste decent. Almost smells like bread flour. It's a taste I can't quite appreciate. Gonna probably use it for mixers for young drinkers at THanksgiving....sadly had to trash it on Trip advisor, which I don't like to do, seeing as to how it's local...we're having a small batch/single barrel tasting at Thanksgiving and i'll be putting a bottle of Devils Cut in the mix. Cheers.

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    1. You were smoking Fuentes and La Gloria Cubana when everyone else was smoking AVO! I read that and thought this is a guy who knows quality and can see past the marketing crap! Arturo Fuentes makes one great cigar. I live in Canada with access to Cuban cigars and frankly there are serious quality assurance problems with Cubans. Out of a box easily one third have major draw and wrapper problems. Certainly there are great Cubans but from a value for money proposition I will always take an Arturo Fuentes Hemingway line or sungrown for $10 or less rather than pay $25 for a Montecristo that might be so flawed in terms of draw that I give up on it after ten minutes of constantly relighting.

      On bourbon, you can certainly manage your weight with it far better than beer. Beer is huge calories and triggers appetite. Whisky doesnt.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  15. Devil's Cut = No good. The only decent Jim Beam product is their Rye. The Devil's Cut is not a good drink for those who like it neat. It's best to mix it with a bourbon you like, if you encounter this stuff. Also, someone mentioned Red Stag, which has a terrible cough medicine taste. I agree on Wild Turkey 101, good stuff. I prefer Dickell's #8 and Old Grand Dad 80 proof bourbon. They're in my price range (NYC).

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  16. For many years, I was a Senior Copywriter at Revlon, so I know how sneaky -- and irresistibly appealing --marketing and copy spin can be, Devil's Cut was making me fall for it, and your blog provided a nice reality check. Will I buy a bottle for my nephew at Christmas. Yeah, probably. I mean, that story is hard to resist. (Shame on me.)

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    1. Your nephew is lucky to have your for an uncle!

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  17. Newfy Screech?

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  18. I had a shot of 'devils cut' and got drunk from only one shot, I'll stick to cigars and rolling rock

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    1. Oh, you sweet, sweet child. Respect your whiskey. Use a snifter and don't shoot.

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  19. Particularly pleasing those seasoned whiskey drinkers who prefer a refined liquor, the versatility of Gaur Spice Whiskey is sure to satisfy any way it is savored. Gaur Spice Whiskey infused with Cinnamon, Ginger, Clove and Nutmeg.
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