Jim Beam Original is a classic Kentucky bourbon that helped define the category. It contains no additives or coloring and is as great to sip on its own as it is to mix into cocktails.
Classification Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Company Beam Suntory
Distillery James B. Beam Distilling (Clermont, Kentucky)
Cask new American oak
Still Type 65-foot column
Mash Bill sour mash (corn, rye, barley), not revealed
Released 1795; 1943
Proof 80 (40% ABV)
Aged 4 years
Easy to drink and mix into cocktails
Contains no additives or coloring
Might not be complex enough for more experienced bourbon fans
Its 80 proof means you’re not experiencing what you might with more complex bourbons.
Color: Deep copper gold
Nose: Toasted oak, with just a hint of caramel, cinnamon and candied apple
Palate: It has spice on entry with vanilla right behind. Midpalate, it’s light-to-medium-bodied but with big taste elements. From the midpalate to the throat, there’s almond, toast, a hint of dark chocolate, and almost a cola bite, which is perfect since many people mix it with cola.
Finish: Medium to short finish built largely of oak and pepper/spice
For many drinkers, Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s were the first American whiskeys they ever tasted. For many, they’re still the only whiskeys of any note. Jim Beam’s core product (now dubbed Original) has its roots in Jacob Beam’s original corn whiskey, which was first commercially distilled in 1795. James B. Beam, his grandson, launched the James B. Beam Distilling in 1933 and changed the name of the family product from Old Tub to Colonel James B. Beam in 1935 and to Jim Beam in 1943. And though the company has changed hands over the years, there are still Beam descendants intricately involved in distilling and producing Beam products. Fred Noe and his son Freddie Noe are the seventh and eighth generation of Beam distillers and are still going strong.
The beauty of straight bourbon whiskey is you can’t really monkey with it too much. By law, it has to be aged in new oak, must be at least 51% corn and can’t have any additives (except water to cut it to proof) or coloring. It must be aged for at least two years (Jim Beam Original is aged for four). The company claims the same proprietary yeast strain has been used since 1933, ensuring a consistency in the product that’s hard to come by when relying on wild or random commercially sourced yeasts. All of this is to say that with Jim Beam Original, you know what you’re getting: an honest, straightforward bourbon. On the palate, it’s not terribly complex, but that’s perfectly all right. The oak-and-spice combo hits you right away and is what you’re left with in the finish. In between, you pick up more notes of toasted nuts, chocolate and cocoa. It’s one reason it pairs so perfectly with Coke or other colas.
If you’ve ventured away from the basics, into more complex or inventive bourbons and other American whiskeys, it may seem like there’s no real purpose for Beam Original except to secure a buzz. An aficionado may find it overly simplistic in terms of flavor and character or too low-proof to really take seriously. But often it takes just a sip or two for them to remember where they (and bourbon) started.
During Prohibition (when he couldn’t make alcohol legally), James Beam worked briefly as a coal miner and citrus farmer.
The Bottom Line
Jim Beam Original Kentucky straight bourbon is a core bourbon at many bars for good reason: It is flavorful and consistent and possesses legitimate heritage, all at a very friendly price.