With all the boutique whiskeys flooding the market, from small-batch and single-barrel to white dog and marketed moonshine, you'd think the Jim Beams and Wild Turkeys of the spirits world would be content to sit back and enjoy the ride. You'd be wrong.
Both Beam Global and the Campari-owned Wild Turkey have introduced new Kentucky bourbon products this summer, giving whiskey enthusiasts two more reasons to fill their jiggers with something new.
According to Beam Global master distiller and bourbon ambassador Fred Noe, maintaining a competitive edge is important, even for a company that's more than 200 years old.
"We're always looking for new innovations to keep from just sitting back with Jim Beam being the No. 1 bourbon in the world," Noe said from the distillery in Clermont. "You still have to do new things to bring new customers into the bourbon category. That's what we're seeing: everyone in the industry doing innovative things to try to expand."
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Jim Beam's newest product, Devil's Cut, is a 90-proof bourbon enhanced by flavors resulting from "sweating the barrel:" the practice of agitating spent charred-oak bourbon barrels to extract any booze that might have seeped its way into the wood during aging.
It's a common enough trick, Noe said, likening the barrel-agitation process to the paint-shaking machines at Home Depot. Until now, though, no one has done it en masse.
Leave it to Jim Beam to give the "sweat" a catchy name — "devil's cut" plays off the "angel's share" of evaporated booze wafting around any warm distillery — and pair the barrel extract with 6-year-aged bourbon to round off the charred edge. With a bit of a spicy bite and woodsy notes, Devil's Cut is sippable and mixable.
The mixability factor is what drove Wild Turkey associate distiller Eddie Russell to develop Wild Turkey 81, named for its proof. There's currently an 80-proof, 4-year-old Wild Turkey bourbon on shelves, but it will be phased out to make room for Wild Turkey 81, which is made from a blend of 6-year and older bourbon and thus has a superior flavor, designed to withstand mixing.
"Wild Turkey has always been known for a big, bold finish," Russell said from the Lawrenceburg distillery. "Just offset of everything Wild Turkey has stood for, (81) has flavor but is really light and easy to drink."
Russell was quick to point out that Wild Turkey doesn't play into fads: In his mind, producing an older, low-proof bourbon makes it superior to current counterparts. Meanwhile, steadfast product Wild Turkey 101, aged 10 years, will remain unchanged.
"The American whiskey category is huge, ... and the bourbon industry is a lot smaller," Russell said, "so why don't we play in that bigger market? Let's get something out there and compete."