Jim Beam White and Black are Kentucky straight whiskey bourbons. In the late 1700s,t o appease rioting farmers, Thomas Jefferson offered “sixty acres in Kentucky County to any settler who constructs a permanent structure and raises native corn.” This offer resulted in the first distilleries in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Before there was a distinction, Jim Beam bourbon was labeled “Old Bourbon” as it left the northern Kentucky port of Bourbon County in the 1700s.
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The main ingredients in bourbon are distilled grain and water. All bourbons must be at least 51 percent corn and include barley, malt and rye grains. All Jim Beam bourbons are made with a special strain of yeast used since Prohibition ended, making it over a 75-year-old recipe. The grain mixture requires a sour mash called a “set back” portion. This starter mash is 25 percent of the mash produced in the previous batch of bourbon. This process maintains the consistent trademark flavor of the bourbon from one batch to the next.
Same Distillation, Different Aging Times
Every batch of Jim Beam bourbon is distilled twice before barreling. Jim Beam and all other straight whiskey bourbons must age a minimum of two years to meet FDA standards. The unique mellow flavor bourbon distillers strive for is a result of charring reused barrels to sanitize them prior to shipping bourbon down the Ohio River in the 1700s. This accidental step is now incorporated into the distillation process and is what gives Jim Beam bourbon its mellow flavor and caramel color.
Jim Beam White Label
Jim Beam White Label (Jim Beam Original) ages for four years (two years longer than the FDA requires). This label is 40 percent alcohol per volume and 80 proof. The sweet, mellow taste of Jim Beam White makes this bourbon a good mixer, especially with cola. This label is a particular favorite among bourbon drinkers because of its economical price and versatility. As of 2011, the average price of a 750-ml bottle of Jim Beam White Label is less than $20.
Jim Beam Black Label
Jim Beam Black Label ages for eight years rather than four years. This spirit is 43 percent alcohol per volume and 86 proof. The same distillation process is used as with Jim Beam White, so the flavor change is more of an enhancement rather than a difference. The extended aging process results in a more refined flavor than Jim Beam White. Marketed as a sip and savor bourbon, many bourbon drinkers enjoy Jim Beam Black Label on ice or neat (without ice or water). It is more expensive than Jim Beam White.