stats: Jim Beam Original (white label), Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 80 proof, $15
Jim Beam Black, Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 86 proof, $20
The standard Jim Beam Original makes the bold claim of being “The world’s finest Bourbon” on the label of every bottle. I’m willing to give any whiskey a fair shake, but I’ll have to disagree with that statement right off the bat. I guess I can’t call them liars though; it’s not really a quantifiable statement, more like one man’s opinion. It also seems to create a marketing conundrum - where does that leave the more expensive, higher proof, longer aged Black label? Not quite as good as the everyday stuff? Jim Beam is, however, the best selling brand of Bourbon in the world. That statement is true and quantifiable, and that makes me think it is worthwhile to compare these two examples and see what makes the 800 lb gorilla tick.
The White label has a fairly pleasant, thought slightly medicinal nose. On the palate, it’s a little hot – not a huge burn at 80 proof, but there’s not quite enough flavor there to back up the alcohol. There are some decent flavors hiding inside (along the caramel-vanilla-spice range), but the unimpressive medicinal note that I picked up in the nose becomes more predominant on the palate. The finish is reasonably long, but it’s hard to get excited about that when the flavor profile is nothing to write home about. Overall, I don’t hate it, nor do I love it. The word mediocrity keeps popping into my head. I’d use it for mixed drinks, but I think there are better Bourbons for drinking straight in the same price range.
The Jim Beam Black is aged twice as long and bottled at a slightly higher proof (86 vs. 80). On the nose it comes across a little more woody with notes of leather, and with a bit more intensity. On the palate it is more flavorful up front, fading into a pleasant tingle on the tongue as it drifts into the finish. I pick up subtle floral notes, but they could be the flavors that came across as medicinal in the White label, only suppressed a bit by the stronger oak and spice flavors present in the Black label. Overall this is more well-rounded and civilized than the White label. While it is a step up in quality and worthy of drinking neat, there are definitely other Bourbons in its price range that I would reach for first.