Every now and then a liquor store will surprise you with what they have on-hand. Even stores as bursting with choice as Total Wine can have an obscure treasure or two. This was the case last year when I browsed my nearby Total Wine, checking their small bottles section to see if anything would catch my eye for a reasonable price. Turns out they did. Three of them, in fact. I’ve already looked at two, both from the Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest line (released in 2014): Triticale and Six Row Barley. As interesting as those bourbons were, it was the front bottle that I was most excited to try and ultimately review.
This particular expression (“Brown Rice”) is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey made…you guessed it, with brown rice in the mash bill. Those who follow other Jim Beam lines will undoubtedly recognize the ostensible similarity between this and Little Book Chapter 4, which used a 4-year brown rice bourbon in its mash bill. The actual amount used for Brown Rice is undisclosed, with the bottle itself providing little to no specifics other than some simple tasting notes. Let’s see if the amount they did include ends up leaving an impression.
Nose: Vanilla, rose water, and a combination of sweet, toasted grain and oak. More oak slowly builds up with a vanilla-caramel syrup and light brown sugar. Roasted peanuts and whole grain bread also come and go in the background. Some salted toffee, a touch of lemon, and perhaps an air of maple.
Palate: Flaky vanilla cereal, oak, and that slight floral essence from the nose. Orange/lemon citrus, brown sugar, and salted toffee. Has a bright sweetness on the back that’s vaguely reminiscent of sweet potato.
Finish: Short-medium. Brown sugar, vanilla, and dried caramel. Residuals of oak and a dusting of classic Jim Beam nuttiness close things out.
So yes, there are some striking and even bizarre characteristics to this bourbon. Between this line and some of the Little Book expressions, Jim Beam deserve some credit for the experimentations they conduct and let us partake in. We normally only see projects like this come out of craft distilleries such as High West or New Riff, so the fact a player as big as Jim Beam is willing to take these chances is, in my eyes, appreciable.
As for the whiskey itself, Brown Rice impressed me right out the gate and became an immediate favorite. Yet as time went on and I slowly killed my bottle, it began to feel less enjoyable and cohesive. The experience isn’t entirely unlike a high-rye bourbon, but even a Four Roses pick can feel less peculiar than this. I want to call this a “mood pour,” except I’m not entirely sure what mood I’d need to be in to fully enjoy it. Brown Rice is an expression that bucks the trend of being a long-term grower, turning into a bottle that challenges what you may want or expect. I didn’t finish mine with the same enthusiasm I had when opening it, but I still enjoyed it more than Triticale and Six Row Barley. Combine that with how it offered something a little different on each pour, challenging my palate and letting my mind wander, and I’ve got nothing but respect for this little nugget. If you see one and the price isn’t too steep, grab it.