No expenses were spared in the launching of Beam Suntory’s latest premium bourbon, Jim Beam Double Oak. It could easily have been called Double-Barrelled, but that would have been crazy, right?
“OK so take the glass and move the liquid around,” the girl with the Madonna headset is saying to us. “Smell the liquid but keep your mouth open. I know you’re going to look silly but it allows the aromas to circulate. Come on… taste the liquid.”
A group of us are sat in a darkened pop-up speakeasy in Village Underground, Shoreditch. The bare brick has been converted with no lack of expense into a replica bourbon distillery.
Just then a jet of hickory-scented steam sprays down all over me. Or was that before? Hard to tell. I have a cocktail in one hand and a glass of neat Double Oak, the new Jim Beam flavour, in the other. Is flavour the right word? Category extension perhaps?
Hang on, more steam. Aaah, I can’t see a thing. Now some electric fans are blowing really, really hard to replicate how cold Kentucky winters are.
Welcome to ‘Bourbon Launch’, what could be a new theme park ride for grown ups.
In this ride, we are taken on a journey where Jim Beam’s seventh generation Master Distiller, Fred Noe explains through the medium of film (budget: more than your average British rom-com) how Double Oak has spent four years in new American oak barrels (like Jim Bean white has) and then just when it was hoping to be drunk, it gets whisked into another heavily-toasted barrel where it gets even more oaky vanilla flavours. This second barrelling is for an unspecified time period, they just say “When it’s ready.”
It’s the latest in a line of new products that are taking the Suntory-owned brand into the premium market.
Did you know by the way that James B Beam (who the company is named after) managed to rebuild the company after Prohibition ended and get the new bourbon onto the market just 120 days later. Now I’m no mathematician but I bet that didn’t spend four+ years in a barrel 😉 And lucky we are not drinking that hooch. No sir, we get the refined stuff.
Talking of barrels, our niftily-dressed compere is now telling us that there are more barrels in Kentucky than people. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere.
To be fair Double Oak is genuinely delicious. I try it neat, with Gingerella (the cross between Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer), as a Double Oak Fashioned (see what they did there?), as a Blue Julep and as a Ward 8 (shaken with citrus juice and grenadine and served in a coupette). I then need to go for a curry. Or two.
To be serious*, I would drink or serve this bourbon neat or on the rocks. Maybe it was because the barman at the press launch was heavy-handed with the sweet stuff but I liked it less as a cocktail ingredient. A bit of experimentation could be in order.
Neat, I think the maturation in the oak really works and the flavour is there – vanilla, toasted wood, caramel – it’s a nice alternative to white label and a premium product without the premium price point.
Back to our compere. “So take the Double-Barrelled. Sorry I’ve said that more than once today. Double Oak…” Someone, somewhere in a marketing department has those discarded concepts in a trash can and we want to hear from you.
(*I am. That’s exactly what I did)