A review of the Weinstock Petite Sirah 2010 and Jim Beam White Label Bourbon Whiskey
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week January 11, 2012
There is nothing tiny about Petite Sirah. It is a bruiser of a grape that requires a deft hand to make it approachable. Now grown primarily in California, Australia and Israel, Petite Sirah was developed in France by crossing Sirah with the lesser known Peloursin. The grapes are smaller than other varietals which led to its name and a considerable amount of vineyard confusion when it eventually made its way to the U.S. Also known as “Durif,” it was primarily utilized as a blending grape until talented winemakers demonstrated that the grape could also stand on its own.
The earliest Petite Sirahs were nearly undrinkable due to their high tannins and dense flavors. Two California wineries, Concannon and Foppiano, led the rescue of this flavorful varietal in the U,S. and now hundreds of wineries around the world create deliciously dark Petite Sirah wines. A kosher example is the Weinstock Petite Sirah 2010 ($18), a deeply garnet, medium-bodied delight that displays opulent red berry, floral and earthy aromas along with layers of complex spicy flavors including plum, blackberry, olive, tobacco and pepper. The tannins are healthy but not dense, giving it the structure to pair with roasts and other similar fare. Consider pouring it into glasses or a decanter a half hour before dinner so you can sniff it every few minutes to appreciate its development.
On the spirits front, we thought we’d stay domestic and turn again to Bourbon whiskey. The best-selling and most ubiquitous whiskey in the world is, of course, Jack Daniels – which we’ve already reviewed at length. So the next logical choice is Jim Beam.
For those not in the know, Jim Beam White Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($15) is one of the world’s best-selling Bourbon whiskies. It is the flagship of the Jim Beam brand of bourbon, and the primary product of the Jim Beam Distillery, which is actually two distilleries in Kentucky, one in Clermont and the other in Boston. The white label sells around 5 million cases a year.
The Beam name is legendary in bourbon, and not just because of its heritage. The Beam family has dominated the world of Bourbon whiskey, mostly as distillers and whiskey craftsmen rather than as businessmen or distillery owners, throughout its history.
Johannes “Jacob” Beam (1770-1834) of Pennsylvania (the family name Boehm was changed to Beam soon after emigrating from Germany) started the Beam Bourbon story in 1795. He had moved to the wilderness that was to become Kentucky in the late 1780s, and by 1795 was said to have begun selling his own whiskey. Jacob brought one of his 12 children into the family business: David Beam (1802-1854). Two of David’s 11 children, Joseph B. Beam (1825-1912) and David M. Beam (1833-1913), also went into the whiskey trade, as did many of their progeny. Two of David M. Beam’s sons, Colonel James Beauregard “Jim” Beam (1864-1947) and William Parker “Park” Beam (1868-1949), went into the trade and, post-prohibition, it was they who established the modern Beam dynasty. Then Col. Jim Beam – that is, the Jim Beam – had one son who entered the trade: T. Jeremiah “Jere” (pronounced “Jerry”), and then one of his daughters, Margaret, married Frederick Booker Noe, and their son, Fredrick Booker Noe II (1929-2004), entered the trade. He, in turn, was succeeded by his son, Frederick Booker Noe III, who still produces whiskey at Jim Beam. All of which is a long-way round to saying that the Beam family has been making Bourbon whiskey from the beginning, and continues today at various, even competing, distilleries. All are known for producing excellent Bourbon.
Yet because of its popularity and ubiquity, Jim Beam White Label, the flagship brand of the Beam whiskey-making dynasty, is sometimes given short shrift by those who enjoy spending more money on their tipple. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” goes the adage, though it should really be more difficult to argue with such global sales. Besides which, it is actually very nice Bourbon.
Jim Beam White Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a medium bodied, young whiskey, probably around 4 years old (this is hinted at by the pale amber color). Yet it lacks the harsh edge and fiery burn that is usually associated with young whiskey. A bit dry and orange-fruit-like on the nose with maybe a hint of vanilla and caramel, the whiskey has a slightly syrupy mouth-feel, with lovely notes of buttered toast, hints of brown sugar, subtle cinnamon and whispers of vanilla. The Jim Beam wild yeast strain gives this whiskey an odd, though enjoyable, sour funky or gamey sort of finish. White Label is straightforward and uncomplicated yet versatile, as enjoyable straight as it is as a mixer. Delivers well above its weight!
For those wanting an older expression of Jim Beam, look no further than the great 9-year-old Knob Creek Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($30). Named after a little creek that runs just south of the distillery, and past what is claimed to be Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home, the whiskey was introduced a couple of decades ago to showcase aged Beam whiskey. At 100 proof, Knob Creek is not to be trifled with. Chunky, firm, earthy, sweet and brilliant, Knob Creek exhibits floral aromas with a touch of charred oak, a hint of spicy rye, honey, roasted nuts, vanilla, and an odd, yet not unpleasant, touch of mustiness. These are followed on the palate with sweet, creamy flavors of vanilla pound cake, maple sugar, and (slightly burnt) caramel, hot cinnamon candy, white pepper, walnuts, and something like apricot chutney. Rich and complex, with a slightly jarring yet absorbing hot and heavy finish. L’chaim!