Last week the UPS driver brought me something that put me in a pleasant frame of mind. It was a bottle of the new Jim Beam Single Barrel, available for sale in March. The company says it is “full-bodied with sweet, rich, well-balanced attributes of oak, vanilla and caramel.” It also has a kick. After all, it’s 95 proof. After a few sips, I was inspired to get in touch with Fred Noe, Jim Beam’s great-grandson, who currently serves as “Bourbon Ambassador” for the company. I wanted to know why the company waited so long to make a single-barrel version of its flagship brand, why the alcohol content is so generous, and what the firm’s celebrity spokesman Kid Rock makes of this addition to the Beam product line.
Explain to me why you didn’t make Jim Beam Single Barrel sooner.
My father [the legendary Booker Noe, who died in 2004] was never a fan of single barrel. He always believed in mingling the barrels together for consistency. In a true single-barrel product, there is a lot of inconsistency. So we never really considered it while he was alive. Then, when I started traveling around for the company, people would say, “Why don’t you do a single barrel? Why don’t you do a single barrel? Why don’t you do a single barrel?”
You guys at Beam already make some of the best small-batch bourbons in the world, such as Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s, Booker’s, and Knob Creek. Why bother with a smaller-batch version of Jim Beam?
We thought it would be a great way to give our loyal Jim Beam followers something a little more premium. Bourbon is very popular. People are using it in cocktails and enjoying it on the rocks. We thought we would just give people another expression of Jim Beam.
I would never pour this stuff into a cocktail. It’s too tasty.
Well, a good Old Fashioned or a good Manhattan? I can see it being used in drinks like that.
No argument there. I retract that statement.
It’s gotta be a good mixology person, though, not just any Tom, Dick, or Harry.
Talk about the significance of 95 proof.
Well, old Jacob Beam, my great-great-great-great-grandfather—I guess that’s enough greats—started the family business in 1795. We thought we would kinda give him a little honor. Why not do 95 proof?
Is any of Jacob’s stuff still around?
No, no, when he was making the whiskey, they pretty much sold it straight off the still. Them guys didn’t live long enough to do much aging of whiskey. You know, they were too busy fighting Indians and bears and everything else in the old primitive Kentucky back in them days.
So how should we drink Jim Beam single barrel? How do you drink it?
I like a rock or two. But I can see people drinking it neat.
Has Kid Rock tried it yet?
He liked it. He likes about anything I send him, though. He always says, “That’s great, cuz, that’s great.” But I know he liked this one. He likes a little more proof.
Some people I’ve talked to say bourbon distilleries are expanding too fast, and sooner or later, there’s going to be an oversupply that could hurt the industry. What do you think?
We’re having a hard time keeping up. Bourbon’s growing all over the world, not just here in the U.S. There’s a lot of untapped markets outside the U.S. that’ll keep the bourbon industry strong for a good while, I think.
What’s your recommendation for people who can’t track down Pappy Van Winkle this Christmas for gifts?
We’ve got several. Our Jim Beam Signature Series, it’s a 12-year-old bourbon. Booker’s, which is bottled uncut, unfiltered; it’s very unique. You can’t go wrong with those. Or Jim Beam Black, if you’re looking for value. It’s eight years of age, 86 proof, at a very moderate price. You can get several bottles of Jim Beam Black for what you’d pay for a bottle of Pappy, if you can even find one.