A whisky shop owner invited Geek Choc and me to a tasting session that he hosted with his wife during our short stay in Kaohsiung. It was an eye-opening session for us, and one which we will not be forgetting anytime soon. It happened totally at random as we went to the shop because a friend told me that the shop has a lot of Bruichladdich bottles, including one which I was looking for.
We arrived with a high expectation, and the shop did not disappoint us at all. It started out a little awkward, but as we got to know the boss and lady boss, we began to chit chat about whisky and all things Taiwan vs. Singapore. The boss then invited us to a tasting session of Jim Beam, which took place one day before we left Kaohsiung. We accepted the invitation readily as we were very curious about how Taiwanese ran their whisky tasting sessions. We were glad that we did because it was indeed different and entirely out of our expectations.
Brief Information about the tasting session
The boss told us that the tasting session was for Jim Beam. While we lamented that it was not a Scotch whisky tasting, we thought that Jim Beam should still be interesting to us, as we never drank it before. The line up was four different drams with significant differences.
They are Jim Beam Black, Jim Beam Double Oak, Jim Beam Signature Craft and finally, Maker’s Mark. Out of the four, we tried Maker’s Mark before and enjoyed it with ice.
The Event Proper
The organiser held the event at a new hotel in Kaohsiung, named Lin Hotel. It is a luxurious and lavish hotel completed with much opulence. We were stunned when our taxi drove us up to the lobby, and we breathed a sigh of relief that we dressed up for the event. The hotel had arranged the tasting session in a private room within their seafood restaurant, and it was a small, cosy place. It sat about thirty people comfortably and had a small area for displaying the four whiskeys.
The setting looked like a small intimate Chinese wedding dinner, with three tables for ten pax each placed at strategic locations. Everyone seated could see the big screen in the middle. Once 90% of the participants turned up, the event started promptly. The organiser did not wait for latecomers – which was interesting for us.
Speaker of the Event
The speaker for the event is none other than the brand ambassador of Beam Suntory in Taiwan. I need to apologise that I completely missed his name as I am bad with names. He is a knowledgeable man and explained much about American whiskey. The only thing that I feel that he could do better is to slow down. The speed of the presentation and tasting session was too fast, which was not ideal considering that most of the participants were avid drinkers who wanted to taste the whiskeys properly.
Nonetheless, he shared the history of Jim Beam and how it came about with the audience and what proved to be of interest to me was the history of Jim Beam. It was the oldest Kenturkey bourbon ever – sold for the first time by founder Jacob Beam in 1795. It was a short but insightful session. I loved it when brand ambassador waxed lyrical about the history of the brand and the distillery because it helped me to understand the whiskey better.
The brand ambassador also shared the history of how charred barrels came from as Jim Beam charred their barrels to level 4 to get the most of the butterscotch, vanilla, coconut and caramel flavours. History has it that charring had a very different purpose in the past. One theory said that it was to kill germs – burning the wood was the best way. Another argument, which was popular, said that a greedy merchant tried to cheat the system by using secondhand barrels. To remove the smell and taste of the previous liquid, he burnt the insides of the barrel badly. By accident, the charred barrels produced excellent results, and hence the idea took off.
Besides barrels, the brand ambassador also explained the rules of making bourbon. It must be at least 51% corn, and the remaining 49% can be made up of rye and barley. While he did not tell us the exact make-up of Jim Beam, he did mention that Jim Beam is a proper Bourbon. Due to the temperature at Kenturkey, Jim Beam’s angel share is about 4%, and the first-fill bourbon barrels influence the liquid up to about 60%.
After the presentation (which was too fast for me), we tasted the whiskeys. These were the four glasses that we had.
Besides the four glasses, two pitchers of Jim Beam Black sat on the table, for anyone who wanted a top up. We found the session to be completely generous as it was also free.
The Four Whiskeys
Jim Beam Black
We started out with Jim Beam Black. We understood that the black label is supposed to be better than the white label.
Jim Beam Black is 43% abv with a bright gold colour. It has a strong coconut and caramel nose with butterscotch and spice in the background. A creamy mouthfeel with coconut, caramel, vanilla and gentle spice follows in the palate. The finish is short to medium with sweet caramel all the way.
It is a simple whiskey and one which can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail. Personally, this is one of my favourites among the three Jim Beam bottles.
Jim Beam Double Oak
The next whiskey up for tasting is the Jim Beam Double Oak. It is an excellent whiskey to showcase the influence of wood. Again at 43% abv, it gives a beautiful bright gold colour too. The nose promises a fuller flavour with coconut and caramel complementing the spice. The palate has a sharper bite to it, and the oak influence creates sandalwood notes in addition to the expected coconut, caramel, and vanilla. The mouthfeel is less creamy but oilier. It is also oakier. The finish is longer than Jim Beam Black with the sandalwood notes lingering all the way.
The Jim Beam Double Oak is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of whiskey. The stronger flavours may appeal to some but not others. Geek Choc likes this expression best out of the three Jim Beam, but I find it harder to accept.
Jim Beam Signature Craft
The Jim Beam Signature Craft is unique because it aged for 12 years before bottling. For those who know about bourbon, you know that bourbon does not age for more than five to six years typically. For an expression to reach 12 years of age is not an easy feat. The Signature Craft is also 43% abv and spot a gold colour that is slightly brighter than the above two expressions.
The aromas from the nose are more mellow than the other two expressions. Coconut and caramel couple with vanilla waft up the nose with no sharpness. There is also no spice detected. The palate is oily and creamy, with beautiful notes of coconut, caramel, vanilla ice cream and hints of spice. It feels mellow, smooth and more aged. The finish is long with sweet coconut and gentle spice. Slightly oaky in the end too, but nothing unpleasant.
Finally, we had Maker’s Mark. While it is not from the Jim Beam family, it is produced together in the distillery. I like Maker’s Mark as I find the notes of honey, vanilla, and coconut to be perfect as a whiskey on the rocks.
The nose is full of honey, coconut and caramel in the forefront and vanilla hiding in the background. The palate speaks with spiced coconut, caramel, and honey at first before vanilla cream appears to give another layer of complexity. The finish is short with spiced coconut lingering all the way.
I must admit that the dinner which followed the whiskey tasting was the best surprise of the night. We expected a series of finger food and snacks, but a 10-course Chinese meal came instead. When course after course arrived at the table, we were stunned beyond words. The food served was lip-smacking good – drunken prawns, smoked duck, steamed fish, and the list went on.
The whole event ended after dinner. The organisers offered up bottles for sales at a reasonable price and many of the participants bought by the cartons. For us, we only bought two bottles as we still have a long trip ahead of us in Taipei.
We had a great time and indeed, opened our eyes to how a tasting event can be done. It is as different as it can be in Singapore and I think the same scale will be hard to replicate here due to cost. While this tasting is not representing every tasting session in Taiwan, we believe that it is a great way to get people together to enjoy good food and whisky.