Today the internets are all abuzz with the news that Beam, Inc of Deerfield, IL was purchased by the Japanese company Suntory. On twitter there is shock, on Facebook there’s anger, racial slurs and xenophobia in general. Everyone has an opinion. Me? My thoughts on the matter are really boring. I’m generally apathetic as to which multinational conglomerate owns the distillery where the whiskey I’m drinking is produced. Or where they call home. Or where their stock is traded. I know bourbon jobs have to stay in the US, so ultimately I don’t really care.
But in the spirit of the news of one of America’s own moving to Japan (not really) I decided to do a head-to-head that I’d been thinking of for a while. Japan’s Jim Beam (not really) versus the local boy Jack Daniels.
I’d been thinking of this, not because either of these end up on my shelf at home very often, but because I travel a lot. And when I’m sitting in a hotel bar somewhere, I’ll as likely as not be faced with the choice between these two with maybe a Maker’s thrown in for good measure. When faced with this prospect, I’ve often made a run to the local liquor store to try to pick up a replacement or gone without. But maybe, just maybe there is something that I am missing. I mean these are the two biggest bourbons* in the world, there has to be something to them.
Jim Beam (White Label)
Nose: Initially it’s just like standing in the Jim Beam warehouse that they let you go in while visiting the distillery. Oak, alcohol and dust. After a bit of teasing, there is some wet rock, a floral note and a bit of crisp sour apple.
Mouth: Thin. Watered down tasting. Past that: corn, a little vanilla, pencil shavings and more sourness.
Finish: Gentle is the only word for this. Lingering Corn.
Thoughts: I’m not a fan of this one. The thin mouthfeel and sour flavor are off-putting to me. That said, I’ve had decent cocktails made with this so it has it’s place. It’s just not in my glass. Maybe it’s in yours?
Jack Daniels Old No. 7
Nose: The nose on this one is really quite nice. Cherry, vanilla, a hint of chocolate. It reminds me of the chocolate covered cherry cordials you can buy at Christmas.
Mouth: Dusty, dried corn and some vanilla
Finish: A gentle burn with more corn and a lingering dusty bitterness.
Thoughts: Disappointing. The palate does not live up to the nose. But unlike Jim Beam, I can see why it’s popular. This is gentle and sweet enough to appeal to the new or non-whiskey drinker. And since many people never move beyond the first thing they fall in love with, I can see it. Will it have a permanent home on my shelf? No. But that’s not because it’s bad, it’s just meh.
Overall: If forced to choose between Jack and Jim neat, I’d go Jack. But that said, I doubt I’ll ever be buying either of them for that reason (bars almost always have one halfway decent beer on tap). And as with all whiskey reviews, your milage may vary. Try it yourself. Maybe you’ll love them.
*Jack Daniel’s Sour Mash Tennessee Whiskey meets all the legal requirements of bourbon and could be called bourbon if they chose to. So for the sake of stirring the pot, for this post, I choose to call it bourbon. Because sometimes I like to see people who care way too much get upset.