Jim Beam is pretty big, it’s true, but he is not a real, live person. Instead, Jim Beam is a very popular brand of Kentucky straight bourbon, made in some form or another since 1795. Jim Beam was officially named after Colonel James Beauregard Beam in 1933, following Prohibition.
Jim Beam bourbon is one of the most popular brands of Kentucky bourbon, and there are a few different labels bearing the Jim Beam moniker. This includes the original Jim Beam with the white label, as well as Jim Beam Seven Year, Jim Beam Black, Jim Beam Choice, Red Stag by Jim Beam, and Jim Beam Devil’s Cut.
What is Kentucky straight bourbon?
As the name implies, Kentucky straight bourbon can only be made in the state of Kentucky. Bourbon is a mix of water and distilled grain, and to meet strict federal guidelines governing the recipe for “straight” bourbon, it must be made with at least 51% corn as its grain. The more corn in the recipe, the sweeter the bourbon, and many distillers use anywhere from 65% to 75%. And here you thought all of the Midwest’s feed corn was going toward the livestock!!
Jim Beam uses barley, malt, and rye in addition to the corn, as well as yeast. Straight bourbon whiskey must also contain no additives except water, which can be used to lower the bourbon’s alcohol level. If you’re not a whiskey drinker, its high alcohol content might throw you for a loop or two: The original Jim Beam white-label contains 80% alcohol, or 160 proof. That’s about six times the alcoholic content of most wines.
Addition rules for Kentucky bourbon are that it must be aged for at least two years in new, white oak barrels that have been charred. It may seem obvious, but just in case we’ll point out that any whiskey calling itself bourbon must be made in the U.S., and straight bourbons can be made in other states beside Kentucky. According to KentuckyBarrels.com, Kentucky produces more than 95% of all of the bourbon in the world.
How is Kentucky straight bourbon different than Tennessee whiskey?
Everybody’s got their favorite whiskey, whether Irish or Scotch, Kentucky or Tennessee. Stateside, Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey really only differ in the fact that Tennessee whiskey is filtered through sugar-maple charcoal before it’s finished and aged in barrels. This extra step in the process gives Tennessee whiskeys such as Jack Daniels a sweeter, sootier, mellower flavor, and a darker look.
Bourbon lovers tout the fact that bourbon is the purest whiskey: It contains water, grain, and yeast, and whatever it gets from the barrel’s wood while it’s aging. The new white oak barrels impart flavors from the charring process, which caramelizes the sugar in the wood. Tennessee whiskey lovers prefer the smokier taste that occurs from the charcoal filtration.
While there are several Kentucky bourbon distilleries, there are only two Tennessee whiskey distilleries–the popular Jack Daniels and the lesser-known George Dickel.
Why are all of these spirits named after men?
It does seem that so many of these American whiskeys are named after men–usually the founders of the label or original “chefs” of the mash recipe. We’re mentioned a few of them, such as Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and George Dickel, and let’s not forget Johnnie Walker. However, most are named after their location or the name of their distillery, as so many of the Scotch whiskeys are.
Do you have to drink whiskey straight?
As with any spirit, the question of whether to drink it straight, whether near or on the rocks, or mixed is one that only the drinker can answer. Purists will always faint dead away at the sight of you putting so much as a drink stirrer into your whiskey, but there are widely accepted and widely ordered mixed drinks involving whiskey. Perhaps the most popular one is Jack & Coke, which is one part Jack Daniels Old No. 7 mixed with 3 parts of Coke, garnished with a lime slice.
Another popular whiskey drink is the Old Fashioned. This involves a sugar cube muddled with bitters until it dissolves, and then covered with ice and blended whiskey. Garnishes include a cherry, orange slice, and lemon slice. A Whiskey Sour contains 2 ounces of blended whiskey, powdered sugar, juice of a lemon, and a lemon slice, shaken with ice.
Don’t forget the stereotypical drink of the Southern horse-racing set, the mint julep. This uses bourbon, and not just any whiskey. To make a mint julep, put four sprigs of mint and one teaspoon of powdered sugar in the bottom of the glass with a small amount of bourbon. Muddle them together and let sit until the bourbon absorbs the mint flavor, then fill with ice and the rest of the bourbon.
Whiskey has been enjoying a renaissance of sorts, thanks to television shows such as Mad Men. So pour one of your own mad men–whether Jim or Jack–and enjoy!