In early 2015, Jim Beam launched a reformation of their straight rye whiskey. But, as far as anyone can tell, the only difference between the old Jim Beam Rye (with a yellow label) and the new Pre-Prohibition Style Rye is that the label is now green and the whiskey is bottled at 45% ABV rather than 40% ABV. However, we do know that because there is no age statement on the bottle the whiskey inside must be at least 4 years old. This is one of the odd quirks of US labeling laws in that any whiskey aged less than four years must say how old it is but, no age statement is required at 4 or more years. We also know that since this is a straight rye whiskey it was aged in new charred oak barrels and that it has at least 51% rye grain in its mash bill. The rest of the mash bill isn't public but a reasonable guess puts it at 51% rye, 44-39% corn and 5-10% malted barley.
Jim Beam Rye has been around for decades and it is likely that this so-called reformulation, upping the proof to 90, is an attempt to say relevant in the booming rye whiskey category. Rye whiskey has enjoyed renewed popularity these past few years, in part due to MGP and Whistle Pig. MGP based in Lawrenceburg, Indiana was once owned by Seagrams and made their easily identifiable 95% rye, 5% barley mash bill to blend into Seagrams 7 and other whiskeys. However, MGP now sells their spirits (rye whiskey, bourbon and even gin) to other companies that bottle it and sell it. Some of the most well know customers of MGP Rye are Bulleit, George Dickel, Templeton and High West. Whistle Pig on the other hand is buying a 100% rye whiskey from Alberta, Canada and bottling it in Vermont. Both of these whiskeys demonstrated the boldness and potential of rye whiskey and as a result, bartenders and whiskey drinkers were inspired to re-embrace a type of whiskey that mostly fallen out of favor.
Nose: Immediately notes of vanilla and oak are carried up on a blast of alcohol, followed by baked apple, cinnamon and nutmeg. Once the whiskey has had some time to breathe a little, light fruity notes like blueberries or black currants comes through.
Palate: The palate is sweet with a medium to full body and very harsh. After your palate adjusts to the alcohol, slightly spicy grain notes come through with strong oak flavor.
Finish: The finish is short, slightly sweet and slightly spicy. Pleasant flavors of iced black tea are overshadowed by an odd note of raw dough.
Conclusion: This is not a whiskey to drink neat. Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye has lots of oak flavor and lots of heat from the alcohol, underlaid with only the faintest hints of rye spice. It makes an OK Manhattan that seems to plays up more of the herbal character of the Vermouth. All in all, I will not be buying another bottle.