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Recently, The Bourbon Guys engaged in a lively discussion regarding the claims of many distilleries that, “Age doesn’t matter, Flavor matters!” Well, you would never hear us argue against that wisdom, but we found ourselves questioning whether the non-age stated replacements were truly as good as the originals. Kentucky Bourbon Trail wrote an article about one whiskey that is flying in the face of this latest convention, but there are so many examples of labels changing from “10 Years” to just “10″ (or “10 Half Moons”) that it was hard to decide which to try. We finally settled on Jim Beam Black 8 Year and it’s new replacement, Jim Beam Black Extra Aged. Both were bottles we found on the shelf at our local package store, so we felt this would be the most fair comparison that could be made. Opening both bottles at the same time removed any (dis)advantage that oxidation may have granted one bottle over the other.

We begimagean by setting up “blind” pours, each for the other. I left the room as Tim poured a tasting of each for me in glasses with differing logos. When he had finished, he left the room as I returned the favor. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil (No School like Old School!), while Tim broke out a Notes app on his phone. There was nothing for it but to dive right in.

I don’t want to give away too much so early in the review, but it will suffice to say there were no surprises.

Larry’s Pour #1 – The color is a very light amber, almost a shiny brass. The nose is faint and difficult to extract. What did come through was the underlying grain. The mouthfeel was fairly thin. Flavors improved from the beginning to the end of the experience: Front – Minimal flavor. Some mellow sweetness, but left me searching. Mid – Savory spices rise to fill the void left by the front palate. Finish – More spice and now heat traveling to the core. The end of the finish brought along some tannin that overshadowed the other elements as it progressed.

Larry’s Pour #2 – The color is nearly identical to Pour #1, a very light amber, almost a shiny brass. The nose is more pronounced than Pour #1 with a combination of clove and floral elements coming through. The mouthfeel was also thin, but a fuller flavor met the front palate. Flavors progressed nicely from beginning to end: Front – Satisfying savory notes with a backdrop of vanilla & caramel sweetness. Mid – Savory rye continues to build as the barrel makes its presence known. Finish – Spice carries through to the back-palate with heat in the back of the throat, but no burn running to the core. A mild tannic note accompanied the finish, but not to an unpleasant degree.

Tim’s Pour #1 – The color was very light. The nose was mild and youthful with subtle flavors of vanilla and caramel. The burn was minimal which is typical of an 86 proof whiskey. The initial mouth feel was very thin not unlike straight water. The overall taste was very mild with less sweetness compared to some other Beam products. Most of the flavors were isolated to the mid to back palate and the back roof of the mouth. There was vanilla and very little caramel along with a very subtle youthful peppery flavor. The finish was short to medium with very little burn and some mild bitterness that wasn’t bad.

Tim’s Pour #2 -  The color of pour #2 is pretty much identical to the first pour which was very light. The nose on pour #2 was much more inviting than the nose of pour #1. The vanilla and caramel flavors were also there along with a very well balanced woody essence. The mouth feel like pour #1 was still very thin and watery but when pour #2 hit the palate the overall flavors were more balanced. The flavors hit the palate in pretty much the same area as pour #1 but there was was less tannin and bitterness on the finish of pour #2. Both pours were similar, as they should be, but pour #2 just seemed a little more developed and balanced.

We don’t believe it will surprise anyone to learn that the more satisfying of the two for both of us was revealed to be the Jim Beam Black 8 Year. More fully developed, the 8 year bourbon offered a more satisfying olfactory experience and created a far more complex flavor profile than its substitute. More full-flavored from the start, the longer finish does not present significant heat to the core like its more youthful cousin. All in all, were the Jim Beam Black 8 year a daily staple, we would scour the countryside to stock up before they’ve gone the way of the dodo. Our final Ratings?  Jim Beam Black Extra Aged – Rating: 86   Jim Beam Black 8 Year – Rating: 88

We look forward to continuing this series with offerings from other distilleries that have chosen to remove the age statements from their labels. What trends do you suppose we will uncover? What are your thoughts regarding this relatively new practice? We look forward to your thoughts.

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