Hardin’s Creek is a new brand extension in the Beam Suntory family of products. It is being distilled at the new Fred B. Noe Distillery that is being led by master distiller Freddie Noe. According to the press release, “Hardin’s Creek is an ongoing series of annual releases, featuring some of James B. Beam Distilling Co.’s rarest and most unique liquids and grounded in the rich experience and distilling expertise of James B. Beam Distilling Co. Each set of releases will showcase the breadth and depth of the James B. Beam Distilling Co’s whiskey-making credentials inclusive of age, blending, mash bill, distillation, barrels, rackhouse locations, and more.”
The brand consists of two bottles for its inaugural release, one low aged and one high aged. Colonel James B. Beam is a 2 year old bourbon and billed as honoring the legacy of Colonel James B. Beam, also known as Jim Beam. The company states that “in making this whiskey, Freddie Noe was inspired by the style of bourbon the Colonel was making on day 121: low distillation proof for a fuller flavor, guaranteeing the rich complexity of the young whiskey stays intact.”
A mix of new and traditional Beam scents open up the sip. An undulating peanut brittle scent is ever present and is joined by candy corn and sweet cream. Lighter notes of new oak and spice weave their way in and out of these sweeter notes. While the scents surprisingly lack any youthfulness for such a young bourbon, they’re also far from being bold either. An adequate opening for the sip.
The intensity in the palate ramps up as bold sweet and spicy notes of peppercorn, toasted oak, gumdrops, and light red liquorice coalesce. Spicy peanut brittle and lightly roasted nuts join the mix adding a layer of depth. It's a solid combination and is pleasantly surprising considering the bourbon's age.
A mixture of earthy flavors ramps up starting with oak, green peppercorn, and light tobacco. As these earthy flavors fade, light peanut brittle makes a return along with a slow building of spice that lingers. The flavors work great together and provide for a finish that is surprisingly flavorful and the perfect capstone of the sip.
The goal of Hardin's Creek: Colonel James B. Beam was to show that a bourbon's age isn’t synonymous with how good it tastes. This release is in honor of Colonel James B. Beam who was able to get the Clermont Distillery up and running again just 120 days after the repeal of Prohibition. The company states that this is “proof that quality is not necessarily a function of time.” Though it is worth questioning if consumer expectations were different in the 1930s.
In order to create Hardin's Creek: Colonel James B. Beam, the bourbon is taken off the still at a lower distillation proof, which the company states allows for “imparting more flavor from the fermentation process and letting the barrel’s characteristics shine through at a younger age.” The end result works quite well in this whiskey's case. The sip has a nice mouthfeel and is much more flavorful than I’ve experienced with other 2 year old bourbons. It accomplishes exactly what the company set out to do with this release.
It’s rare to find such a young bourbon that tastes as developed as Hardin's Creek: Colonel James B. Beam does. It carries over traditional Beam notes you’ve come to expect, while adding a supporting cast of flavors that provide depth. Almost zero hints of youth are present, and sans the large 2 year age statement adorning the bottle, most would have a hard time deciphering the age of this whiskey drinking it blind. Add in a fun unique bottle that allows Hardin’s Creek to stand out on the shelves, and you have a bourbon that has more depth and uniqueness than its age statement would seem to convey.
This is a bourbon that is going to get a lot of people riled up when it comes to its price. For better or worse, people associate age with price, and a 2 year old bourbon for $80 will be a hard swallow for many no matter what the flavor profile is like. In Hardin's Creek: Colonel James B. Beam’s case, its price is truly a double edged sword.
Had a smaller distillery released a limited edition bourbon for $80 (even at 2 years old) it may get slightly less flak. However, this is coming from a Beam Suntory owned distillery and that is a whole different story. Mainly because the company offers so many incredible bourbons across its portfolio for $80 or less, one of which happened to be our #1 Whiskey of the Year in 2020. When you have other bourbons coming from a Beam Suntory owned distillery like Knob Creek 12 Year, the expectations ramp up significantly. While Colonel James B. Beam offers a really pleasing sip that most anyone will enjoy, its price should cause pause, and rightfully so. I understand that being a new limited release from a new distillery, Beam Suntory wanted to set an understanding that Hardin’s Creek will be a premium brand with a premium price. However, no matter how you cut it, $80 for Colonel James B. Beam seems like a cash grab considering the company’s deep pockets and offers significantly better everyday bourbons priced for less.
While its prominent 2 year age statement and high price will turn many away, those who are able to move past these facts will be rewarded with a pleasing bourbon.
Hardin's Creek: Colonel James B. Beam accomplishes what it sets out to do. It’s a 2 year old bourbon that is more flavorful than you normally expect from a bourbon of its age. It has the potential to change people’s minds that age is not synonymous with taste. However, it's a Catch-22. In order to accomplish this feat, consumers first need to get past the $80 price tag. It’s a bold strategy to take by a company launching a new brand.
I give Beam credit. When I first read the details about this Hardin’s Creek release, I had my doubts. Yet, Colonel James B. Beam Bourbon is a good reminder that a low age doesn’t equate to a bad bourbon. While I definitely have my qualms on the pricing strategy that was deployed for this bottle, the bourbon speaks for itself, and piques my interest as to what other whiskeys will come out of the Hardin’s Creek lineup in years to come. For now though, Hardin's Creek: Colonel James B. Beam is a good first step for the new brand.