White Label, with honey. The result was Jim Beam Honey. We were invited to the UK launch, which saw a London square turned into a large beehive with bartenders serving cocktails while wearing beekeeping outfits. Jim Beam Honey has captured the attention of non-whisky drinkers and seems to go from strength to strength with its recent launch in the European travel retail sector.
The Beam family have a long whiskey heritage, with their first distillery dating back to 1795. This was founded in Washington County, Kentucky by a German immigrant called Jacob Boehm (his surname was later to became Americanised to Beam). The current distillery was founded in 1933 at the end of Prohibition in the USA and is located in the town of Clermont in the famous whiskey producing state of Kentucky. It is currently run by the seventh generation of his family - the Master Distiller is Fred Noe, who is the great grandson of Colonel James B. Beam (or Jim Beam as he is famously known).
The Beam empire has grown massively and Beam Global are now one of the biggest drinks companies in the world and hold a vast array of worldwide brands in their portfolio, including the Scotch whisky distilleries of Ardmore and Laphroaig plus the recently acquired Cooley distillery in Ireland. The Jim Beam Honey is bottled at 30% ABV and should cost between £20-25 from both supermarkets and specialist retailers.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a pale gold and the nose is deliciously sweet and packed with instant aromas of vanilla, cereals and potent wood spices (think of cinnamon and freshly sawn oak especially). Naturally there is plenty of honey also, which is reminiscent of some fresh honeycomb mixed with cold and flu lozenges. The aromas from the bourbon are stronger than expected. It feels warming and quite luxurious.
On the palate, this liqueur is thick and mouth coating. In a switch from the nose, it is now the honey that makes the first impression and this is intense and very sweet. The honey flavour is much more reminiscent of honey cold and flu throat lozenges now - this may not sound particularly appetising but it works well when complimented by the flavour coming from the Jim Beam bourbon. This aspect is lead by good notes of intense oak and wood spice, especially the freshly sawn oak from the nose and some warming ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. These woody spices take the edge off the initial sweetness and makes for an enjoyable experience.
The finish is quite long with the honeyed sweetness lingering and becoming drier, oakier and spicier. The warm spices really come through towards the end, as does a previously undetected citrus note which made us think of candied orange peel. However, that rich sweet honey flavour is never far away ...
What's the verdict?
The Jim Beam Honey is a fun product that is very enjoyable when sampled on its own (we also thought it was particularly nice when served neat with some ice). However, it has really been designed to be used creatively with mixers or within cocktails and has proved popular with bartenders. One very nice cocktail that we sampled at the launch (and have made a couple of times since!) combined it with apple juice and a splash of ginger beer.
This new liqueur has now been joined by a string of similar products from Beam's American contemporaries. It is easy to see why others have subsequently decided to follow suit - Jim Beam Honey is a simple and well executed idea that is bringing new consumers to the whisky/whisky liqueur category, in a similar way that Jim Beam's Red Stag has done previously.