Jim Beam, the best selling bourbon brand in the world (if you don't count Jack Daniels, which, though called "Tennessee Whisky" meets the requirements of bourbon, but that's a debate for another day), were trendsetters in the game of premium whiskies; their small batch collection has been around for years and features some great bourbons, e.g. Knob Creek. But those bottlings didn't feature the Jim Beam name, most commonly associated with the white label "shot and a beer" 4 year bourbon. Jim Beam Black has been around awhile, it's "double aged" meaning it's an 8 year, and in my view it's the best of the Beam bourbons which are actually called "Beam." Beam Black has been favored heavily in my rotation of late, similar to Buffalo Trace in that it's at the perfect intersection of cost and quality. Beam Black is a fine bourbon, but doesn't seek to be trendsetting or super creative. Enter the Jim Beam Signature Craft line extension.
In a seeming answer to the "craft" movement that has a full head of steam across the country (beer, spirits, cheese, etc), Beam recently debuted two new whiskies under the label "Jim Beam Signature Craft." Chuck Cowdery has a great post about what it means for a huge multinational business to use the word "craft." In a nutshell, Cowdery explains that the claim of craft in this case is referring to barrel selection and management, and finishing. The line extension includes two whiskies, a 12 year that will be available indefinitely, and a one-off that is a bourbon finished with Spanish brandy. They don't finish it in brandy barrels, rather they actually add a bit of brandy to the whisky itself. I've had the pleasure of trying both of these products. The 12 year is in line with all Jim Beam products. If you've drank any of the Beam namesake products, you'll find the flavor profile very familiar, that yeasty whisky that hits you in the back of the mouth. For me this one may be a bit too old (read: oaky and dry). But it's a nice boundary pusher and worth trying for sub $40 a bottle. As far as the brandy finish, I was very skeptical but have been enjoying the hell out of it. The brandy seems to marry the Beam flavor profile with this amazing fruitiness, for a fresh, refined pour. It goes to show the limitless possibilities if you go beyond the typical definition of what makes a certain thing a certain thing. It's no longer bourbon as we know it. The brandy one off will be available this year, when they will debut a new one off.
Another interesting whisky I have on my shelf right now is Quinoa whisky made by Corsair, a small craft distillery (here goes that word again) that pushes the envelop in it's on ways. In this case, they use quinoa as a flavoring grain in addition to barley in the mash. They claim it produces a nuttiness in the taste, and I'd agree. For me, this one is not worth the $55 price tag. It is fun to try, and a creative idea. But a more interesting craft whisky worth that price for me is Balcone's Brimstone, made in Texas using Hopi Blue Corn and smoked with Texas scrub oak. It tastes like BBQ in a glass.