We're off again to discover one of the largest whiskey producers in the world in Jim Beam and one of the coolest new'ish' player in the American whiskey game Angels Envy. Jump into the challenger and let's roll onto Part 3 of the American Whiskey Road Trip! We've got some km's to cover son.
As we hurtle down the road we see in the distance what appears to be the a large scale mining operation. Blackened buildings on a huge scale with all sorts of machinery whirring away in the midst of smoke bellowing from various chimneys. We’ve entered the Jim Beam property through the wrong gate. We jump back onto the main road and see the tourist Jim Beam sign and turn in. Manicured lawns, and a Jim Beam sign painted onto an old shed. Good job marketing people.
What we have before us is nothing short of whisky world for adults. A full size bust of Jim Beam out the front of tourist centre was just begging for us to take a photo. And we did with our own agenda ;) See the top image.
Liely and I are not ones for gift shops but this place was certainly worth a mention. As you can imagine at one of the biggest bourbon producers in the world there was all manner of Jim Beam madness to buy. Fake barrel heads, Jim Beam candles in all the bourbon flavours, bar towels, playing cards, sunglasses and every bourbon drinkers essential item. Over ear earphones. Haha.
“Tour begins in five minutes!” blurted out over the speaker. Thank God.
Our tour was a pretty funny bloke in a trucker hat and as we bordered the heavily branded tour bus to go 300m down the road to the front of the tourist version of the distillery. Turns out the mining operation we saw before was where the real production happens and a marketing teams nightmare. Back to Disneyland we go.
Jim Beam has been run by the Beam family since its “naming” inception post prohibition in 1933 with the latest man at the helm being Fred Noe. Ring a bell whiskey aficionados? Yup he’s the guy behind my favorite Beam product - Booker Noe’s whiskey.
The tour took us through a the standard process and a small tourist version of the distillery, then through the archive of the bottles. This was an absolute highlight. Never knew there was a such a depth of bottlings and versions of bottles. There was even bottles for Queensland and Australia! I know what i’ll be looking for in the garage sales back in Oz. I want.
Next up we got to try a single barrel Knob Creek from a single barrel of Knob Creek. (Nb. Yes I’m proud of the structure of that sentence). Cask strength goodness is all I can say and to be honest Knob creek was never on my radar til that day. To be specific the single barrel, although hit and miss, was pure magic. Questionable branding but great liquid.
The tour at the bottling plant where you could wax your own bottle and put your finger print on it. Yup great. Finally it came time to drink the whisky. Proper great. After a brief briefing on the range available to taste we were given a card with 3 credits and let loose on the whisky bottle machines scattered around the room. Amaze balls. As with all good commercial tours the whole thing ended at the gift shop. All in all Jim Beam really surprised both of us. Wonderful experience and highly recommended.
Next cab off the rank was a fair bit up the road. Louisville Kentucky to be precise. It was the brand spanking new joint of Angels Envy recently purchased by Bacardi. There was certainly no expense spared here. Impressive from the Vendome still featuring copper wings, to the incredible building itself with beautifully locally constructed timber roof. Even the light switches were incredible. If you haven’t got my drift here well maybe english isn’t your thing. Perfection.
We cruised through the facility with the super southern drawl of our tour guide - let’s just say his name was Billy Bob in the spirit of all things non PC. A charming character to a tee as we swanned through the pristine facility finishing at an epic bar. The rye whiskey finished in sherry barrels was the star here. Super well balanced, a great flavour profile and simply a gorgeous colour. Everything well rehearsed, dead spot on and there in lies the problem.
Whiskey is a spirit of tradition, the liquid of craft and there needs a little roughness around the edges. Improving technology will always have its place in the processing of spirits but what I remember is the little details like the distillery mice killer cat at Kings County distillery because the loose grain or how Willett leave their stills open for wild yeast to enter making each batch that slightly little bit different. It’s that little bit of magic that makes magic. Those rough edges. Whisky is not meant to be a homogeneous liquid from batch to batch, made in laboratory in controlled conditions. Angels Envy was not this but there were elements of this. Bring in that wonderful southern colour! Executed well but for me a touch too well. Nevertheless the whole range was great and we're absolutely sure this brand will be big. Stay tuned.
Stay tuned for Part 4 of the Whiskey Road Trip covering Weller/Bulleit and Chattanooga Whiskey Co and barely Michters (I promise to explain later). Ok time for a burger.