Jim Beam is the latest Kentucky distillery to release an American single malt with the introduction of their Clermont Steep line. The company’s press release states that “With little to no definition in the American Single Malt category, [Freddie] Noe developed his own defining guidelines, making intentional production choices to celebrate the flavor of this single grain at every step of development. Clermont Steep is a five-year-old liquid distilled and aged in Clermont, Kentucky, and matured in bespoke barrels to deliver warm toffee sweetness on the palate without overshadowing the unique, bready taste of American barley."
While there is no legal definition of American single malt (yet), the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission was established in 2016 and is leading the way in trying to have the category formally recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Beam Suntory is not counted as one of the group’s members, but it should be noted that Clermont Steep meets the definition of what the group is proposing to the TTB in terms of category rules. In particular, this includes:
An intriguing yet inviting bouquet of scents opens up the sip. Immediately, a roasted malted barley base props up faint burnt caramel, toasted oats, hints of fresh coffee beans, dried tobacco leaf, and dry baking chocolate. Inhaling deeper pulls out a Cotton Candy grape scent which seems like it shouldn’t be at this party, yet blends in very well in this instance, providing an intriguing hint of fruity sweetness to an otherwise earthy nose. It’s an interesting combination of scents and opens the sip nicely.
The palate further expands on the nose's earthy and sweet side, but also adds in a welcomed dash of spice. Immediately noticeable is an earthy combination of fresh nuts, malted barley, dried tobacco leaf, charred oak, and light toffee and caramel. Pushing against these earthy notes are dashes of honey, and light brown sugar with freshly pressed sugar cane. As mentioned, a noticeable dash of white peppercorn spice adds a light spice element that helps provide an enjoyable dimension to the sip. It’s a flavorful combination, especially for the proof, and as such, is a palate that bourbon drinkers who are exploring American single malts for the first time should really enjoy.
The spice note from the palate bursts forward in the form of green peppercorn spice. Following is a mixture of lightly charred oak, malted barley, a hint of vanilla bean, and caramel. A quick dash of sugarcane sweetness pops in before quickly receding, leaving behind a malty, lightly spiced mix in its wake. These two flavor notes dance around each other for an extended period of time, affording you plenty of time in between sips to reflect on what you just drank. It’s hard to understate just how long this finish lasts, which will please those who love the taste of malted barley or be quite the shock for those looking for the finish to finally recede.
The American single malt category has really come into its own over the last several years. What started as a small group of distilleries focused on the category in the early 2000s, has blossomed into a category that’s very close to the finish line of being officially defined. What’s more, while smaller craft brands may have built the American single malt movement, we’re finally seeing traction from larger more established distilleries.
Heaven Hill tipped their hat with their 2015 Parker’s Heritage Collection followed by Woodford Reserve releasing their Woodford Malt back in 2018. While the latter is still being produced today, neither malt aligns with the proposed definition of American single malt. Instead, Clermont Steep aligns more closely with craft distillers who are releasing American single malt products such as Westward Whiskey, Westland Whiskey, and Balcones. Being founding members of the American Single Malt Commission, it should come as no surprise that these distilleries all align with the standards being proposed.
Regarding the actual whiskey, Clermont is a typical malt that brings with it its own flair. The grape note and sweetness found in the nose and palate reminded me of a tempered-down Charbay R5 Lot 5, while its earthy notes brought forth memories of a Lost Lantern 2023 Single Cask #1: Westland Distillery 7 Year Single Malt. Clermont plays into its grain notes well, with malt-driven flavors providing a strong supporting base, but its sweeter notes provide a nice change of pace from your more classic American single malt. Clermont Steep may not win any American single malt of the Year awards, however, it delivers a really well-rounded sip that’s unique in its own right.
Clermont Steep is priced fairly among many other American single malts in the marketplace. This is both in price, with a reasonable $60 price tag being in line if not a few dollars cheaper than a vast majority of readily accessible American single malt whiskeys, but also in flavor profile. For the price, Clermont affords the consumer an easy sipping malt that will be appreciated by those American whiskey drinkers who are trying American single malt for the first time. It may not elicit repeat buyers who are looking for a bold single malt flavor profile that others in the market deliver, however, it also won’t elicit any buyer's remorse either.
Jim Beam comes out swinging with Clermont Steep, the company’s first mass-produced American single malt.
For many, Clermont Steep very well could be a whiskey drinker’s first foray into American single malts. That mainly can be credited to the fact that this release is coming from Jim Beam, who consumers know and trust, versus a craft distillery that they may have never tried before and are worried they might be wasting their money.
Credit should be given to Freddie Noe on the release of Clermont Steep. Clermont Steep is a great “bridge whiskey” into the world of American single malts for those individuals who are used to drinking only bourbons or ryes. While it highlights its malt grain prominently, it never does so in a way that other American single malts are known to do. If you’ve never tried an American single malt before, Clermont Steep is a great whiskey to start with. The whiskey not only delivers a well-rounded sip that is full of classic malt flavors, but it does so in a really approachable manner for consumers.