19 May 2007

A Tale of Two Bourbons

Whiskey is the "water of life" according to the Celts. "Uisce beatha" is a rough version of the Scots Gaelic and Irish words that are the antecedents of our English name for this lovely spirit. Bourbon is a subset of American whiskey--it must be made from a mash of at least 51% corn and aged in charred oak. Jim Beam is the most popular bourbon in the world, its familiar white label is a feature of every bar. Aficionados of premium bourbons know that Jim Beam makes a quartet of delicious "small batch" bourbons, and M.C. spent a Saturday diving in to two of them. The first was BASIL HAYDEN'S, a golden drink with a minty nose and peppery flavor. At 80 proof, it was easy on the tongue, with a delicate, smooth, spicy character. The second was KNOB CREEK, a 9-year-old, 100 proof, amber dram of thick, chewy spirit. It had a grainy sweetness and a distinct oakiness. Two dangerously drinkable brews! The KNOB came alive with a healthy splash of "branch water" while the BASIL only needed a drop to release some of the aromatics. Both whiskeys had their own character, one mild and approachable, one robust and intimidating, but both were tasty and satisfying. A light-bodied whiskey does not have to lack flavor, and a full-bodied whiskey does not have to be overwhelming. These bourbons are both complex and balanced--obviously the product of master distillers. The Beam Family knows what it is doing, but after more than 200 years you'd expect that. Unfortunately, the Small Batch website is not very exciting, but we can live with that. The bourbon is too damn good to quibble over the small stuff!
a.d. XIV Kal. Iun.

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