Taste Test: Little Book Chapter 6, an Unexpected Blend from Jim Beam, Is Kind of a Happy Accident

·4 min read

The timing for the new Little Book Chapter 6: “To The Finish” release could not be better. The legal definition of the American single malt whiskey category recently came one step closer to being federally recognized, and the majority of this blend (produced at the home of Jim Beam, James B. Beam Distilling Co.) is actually, weirdly, malt whiskey. But the man behind Little Book, eighth generation master distiller Freddie Noe, insists that this is just a happy coincidence.

Little Book is Noe’s baby, a blend of whiskeys that changes every year and has included just about every type of domestic category, as well as some liquid from Canada, over the course of six releases. It’s always bottled at cask strength, a tribute to Noe’s grandfather Booker, a bourbon legend who created his namesake barrel-proof Booker’s along with the entire Jim Beam Small Batch Collection. I should start off by saying that while Chapter 6 is not my favorite Little Book release thus far, it’s interesting, innovative and entirely different from previous whiskeys in the series, and that is commendable. Also, it’s still a good whiskey.

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The blend consists of four malt components and one bourbon, and if you were unaware that Jim Beam was making American single malt you probably aren’t alone. Noe told Robb Report that the distillery has been producing it since 2017 and currently has about 10,000 barrels aging (as well as some experimental versions), along with copious amounts of bourbon and rye. The mash bill is what Noe calls their standard American single malt—80 percent malted barley, 20 percent special flavoring malted barley, aged just over four years. And for Little Book, each whiskey was given a special finish via stave or smoke. The final blend consists of: straight malt whiskey finished in hickory smoked barrels (12.5 percent), straight malt whiskey finished in applewood smoked barrels (25 percent), straight malt whiskey finished with cherrywood staves (28 percent), straight malt whiskey finished with maplewood staves (8 percent) and 5-year-old straight Kentucky bourbon (26.5 percent). The whiskey is bottled at cask strength of 117.45 proof.

There’s an interesting quirk regarding the bourbon component—”It was blended at distillate [stage] on accident,” said Noe. Years ago when he was a supervisor on third shift at the distillery, the team had finished making a tank of Jim Beam and was switching to Basil Hayden (which has a different high-rye mash bill). “We didn’t switch tanks, so it’s about 60 percent Jim Beam, 40 percent Basil, roughly. The guy who did it was kind of distraught about it, he thought he was gonna be reprimanded. But I was like, ‘Look, it’s still bourbon, even if it’s two separate recipes.’ As it has aged, I’ve become a big fan of it.” So there you go—flub a whiskey at Beam (within reason, of course), just send it to Freddie and he’ll find something to do with it.

Even though that bourbon component is the largest in the blend, this is decidedly un-bourbon in flavor. The palate jumps around with different notes popping up as you taste—sweet grain, coffee, vanilla, burnt orange peel, a touch of bitterness (not unpleasant) and of course the Beam signature nuttiness. A bit of the smoke comes through, but it’s subtle and more barbecue savory than smoldering fireplace. And that orange note again jumps out at you, probably the result of the fruitiness that malt whiskey can take on. The proof gives the liquid some bite, and a few drops of water are worth trying here.

Noe said that there are a few nostalgic reasons why he chose the whiskeys he did for this blend. The smoking and finishing process brings to mind the meats his family would smoke and cure over the years; the flavor coming off the still reminded him of his granddad’s sourdough bread baking in the kitchen; and the use of malted barley is key to Beam whiskeys for breaking down the starches in the grains because they don’t use enzymes. The thread of the story behind the whiskey is part of the package, but it all comes down to the whiskey itself. And once again, Noe has come up with something complex, tasty and worth trying (even if I’d still prefer to drink Chapter 1 or 3).

Score: 88

What Our Score Means

  • 100: Worth trading your first born for 

  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet 

  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram 

  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market 

  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable 

  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this 

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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