You know what I love about readily available and affordable whiskey? It’s easy to return to. That may sound silly and blatant, but when you’re more of an exploratory hobbyist, having familiar options you can readily come back to is comforting. All fans start somewhere, and when all is said and done, the cheap stuff found at every liquor store is the cornerstone of every journey. Some may grow to appreciate elevated pours and never look back, but the more commonplace options remain a significant part of the process. And for many drinkers, Jim Beam is among the first.
Although the Jim Beam name originated shortly after Prohibition ended as a nod to James B. Beam, the brand’s history can be traced to the 18th century. This is when the Beam family went by the German name Boehm, prior to changing it to “Beam.” Their first bourbon release would be under the direction of Jacob Beam, with the expression in question being Old Jake Beam Sour Mash. Fast-forward to today and Jim Beam’s entry-level White Label is the top-selling Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Ostensibly this makes sense; the brand is long-standing with an agreeable price point (under $20), approachable bottling proof (80), and a bottle design that’s equally simple and recognizable. Yet the question remains: How does it stand up to a quick revisit?
Nose: Banana chips and almond. A young but discernible oak presence with a touch of cornbread. Bit of light brown sugar, cherry, and a sweet smoke layer too, but it’s incredibly mild. Not unlike a craft bourbon when put out at a young age.
Palate: Overripe banana, vanilla, an air of nuttiness, and a slight astringent bite on the back. Probably goes without saying that this is incredibly thin.
Finish: Banana lingers while an approximation of clove or licorice builds with the astringent bite. Has a mulch-like essence that reminds me of county fairs in other, similarly aged pours.
What caught me off-guard with this revisit was the dried banana note. Ever since my first exposure to Jim Beam, I’ve sworn by the nutty profile that many others speak of. I got more almond at the time, but was quickly receptive to the oft-cited peanut note. This made the bourbon feel less sweet than one might expect, but upon revisit, the sweetness is far more striking. I’d go so far as to say it gives Jim Beam White more personality than I’d have previously given it credit for.
I returned to Jim Beam White Label after taking a short break from drinking. After all, what better way to warm back up than with a popular, low-proof bourbon I haven’t had in a while? I’ll admit that Jim Beam White is easy to act snobby towards; moving on from it feels akin to moving on from regular Hershey’s. Yet when all pretenses are set aside in favor of enjoyment in its simplest form, both examples can hold up. The only question is how enjoyable. I wouldn’t say a new leaf has been turned over in favor of Jim Beam White, but I will say it’s more competent than the lowly substandard some might hold it to. As Gustavo Fring begrudgingly said in Better Call Saul, “it is acceptable.”