Bourbon fans get a taste and lesson in Jim Beam line

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 177 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — The Walton Arts Center’s annual Art of Wine festival kicked off early again this year.  However, on this opening night, the beverages on display imparted a thick, sweet aroma and a distinct caramel coloring, and there wasn’t a corkscrew in sight.

Kentucky bourbon was the name of the game, and Jim Beam’s seventh-generation master distiller Fred Noe hosted over 80 whiskey fans Thursday night  (April 26) in the Starr Theater for a tasting and master class.

Jim Beam, Glazer’s Distributors and Liquor World provided patrons with samples of eight different bourbons from the Jim Beam line. Attendees sipped both large- and small-batch whiskey samples from champagne glasses while Noe informed and entertained with a gregarious nature that is belied by his slow, Kentucky drawl.

Noe is the great-great nephew of Jim Beam. While Jim Beam’s name adorns the label, it was actually Jacob Beam, Jim’s great grandfather, who first started distilling whiskey in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1795.  The faces of the seven master distillers from the Beam/Noe family lineage are depicted on every bottle of Jim Beam.

“I never dreamed this dumb, old boy from Kentucky would have his face on that bottle,” Noe said, displaying what is clearly his trademark self-deprecating sense of humor. “It’s truly an honor.”

Bourbon is distinguished from other varieties of whiskey in that it must be produced in the United States, the majority grain must be corn, it must be distilled to no more than 160 proof, entered into new, charred oak barrels at no more than 125 proof and bottled at 80 proof or more. In addition, to be labeled as “straight” bourbon whiskey, it must be aged for a minimum of two years and have no added coloring, flavoring or other spirits.

While each patron seemed to favor a different sample, the main picks of the night were clearly the small batch bourbons: Knob Creek, Booker’s, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden’s. Fred Noe’s father, Booker, was the first distiller to introduce high-end, small-batch bourbons to the whiskey market.

“He figured if people would pay so much for small-batch Scotch, they would do the same with bourbon,” Noe said. “He was right.”

Knob Creek is the highest-selling premium bourbon in the world, and the whiskey-loving crowd was clearly quite familiar with it. Many commented on it being a favorite, and knowing glances accompanying each sip. On the other hand, it was the Booker’s variety that drew the most jarring reaction. One sip of the 128 proof, straight-from-the-barrel bourbon had most in the crowd sitting at quick attention, cheeks and mouth drawn.

Another favorite for many in the crowd was a new addition for the brand, Jim Beam Red Stag, which is a black cherry-infused bourbon. Noe called it a “dessert whiskey”.

“I really liked the Red Stag,” said Carla Williams.  “It was sweet, almost like a port wine.”

After the tasting was finished, patrons lined up to get autographs or shake hands with Noe. He greeted each one like an old friend, and they returned the favor, no doubt with bellies and heads warmed by the bourbons the Beam/Noe family has worked for over 215 years to create.

All Art of Wine events benefit Walton Arts Center’s education programs, which help more than 30,000 children experience the arts each year. The 12th annual festival will run in earnest from June 7-9. Click here for more information on the festival.