The Distillery Behind Jim Beam Is Releasing Its First American Single Malt Whiskey
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American single malt will be a legally defined American whiskey any day now. That’s perfect timing for one of the biggest bourbon distilleries in the world, the James B. Beam Distilling Co., to release its own version into this burgeoning category called Clermont Steep.
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James B. Beam Distilling Co. is, of course, the company behind Jim Beam which is one of the best-selling bourbons both here and abroad. In addition to that ubiquitous whiskey, eighth-generation master distiller Freddie Noe, along with his father Fred Noe and grandfather Booker Noe, have been responsible for some of the most influential American whiskeys of the past few decades. Booker was the creative force behind the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection, which includes Booker’s, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, and Baker’s. Fred has been the face of the distillery and overseen operations there for many years, and is a respected and familiar face in the world of Kentucky bourbon. And now Freddie has come into his own with his Little Book series of blended whiskeys, operating the new Fred B. Noe Distillery and now introducing Clermont Steep.
At a recent tasting, Noe talked about the development of this new American single malt. Beam isn’t the first major American whiskey brand to release a single malt—Jack Daniel’s launched its own last year. But that whiskey was an entirely different animal, having spent a full two years finishing in Oloroso sherry casks. Clermont Steep does not get a secondary maturation, just a full five years in new charred American oak barrels. Noe said that the project really got underway six years ago when the first barrels were laid down for this release. Previous iterations of malt whiskey have appeared as components of Little Book Chapter Six, but those were younger whiskeys that were finished with different barrel staves.
While the pending legal definition of American single malt will likely allow it to be matured in used barrels, Noe is firmly in the camp that thinks that new charred oak barrels are the way to go. This puts American single malt more in line with bourbon, but he says that’s the point—this should be a distinctly American whiskey, as opposed to single malts from other countries that can be aged in nearly any type of barrel. The mashbill is 100 percent malted barley, and the distillery’s heirloom “jug yeast” is used for fermentation. The whiskey was distilled in a column still—”I will argue this till the day I die,” said Noe, “What goes on in a pot still can happen in column still”—and bottled at a higher 47 percent ABV.
We had a chance to sample Clermont Steep, and it’s a very tasty whiskey. The nose immediately reads bourbon, with rich vanilla and caramel notes on the initial approach. However, the palate brings home the single malt character, with flavors of orange, malted chocolate, apple, pear, cherry, and roasted espresso beans. This is a whiskey that should be used for sipping or mixing up some cocktails.
“This American single malt whiskey is smooth, sweet, and incredibly balanced, and it deserves a spot on any whiskey lover’s bar cart, right alongside their bourbons and ryes,” said Noe in a statement. “I’m always looking toward the future of American whiskey, and the boundless runway in this category intrigued me. We don’t just want to participate in American single malt whiskey; we want to help define it for the future of the category.”
Clermont Steep (SRP $60) will be available starting in June from ReserveBar. In the meantime, you can find other Beam whiskeys, including Little Book, available from retailers like Wine.com.
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