American whiskey has been undergoing a bit of a renaissance of late, with many microdistilleries popping up to meet the demand for craft liquor. The big labels, however, are certainly not to be counted out, and several have begun releasing new products to cater to their new customers. Jim Beam is one of these, and it has been aggressively marketing its new Devil’s Cut bourbon.
Devil’s Cut is, according to the company, rather unique. When whiskey is aged in barrels, a significant amount evaporates; this is traditionally referred to as the Angel’s Share and is also observed with wine and beer or just about any liquid you store in a breathable container. What Jim Beam claims to have done is developed a process (proprietary, of course) to remove the bourbon that soaks into the staves of the barrel. This extract is then mixed with a 6-year-old bourbon and bottled at 90 proof. The extract is also technically part of the Angel’s Share (being unrecoverable under normal means, it’s part of the liquid that just disappeared), but in a stroke of good marketing sense, Jim Beam decided to name it something more interesting. The Angel’s Share tends to evoke thoughts of a lighter liquor, but the extracted liquor is actually rather dark, containing more of the caramelized sugars that make bourbon what it is. So they went opposite and named it Devil’s Cut, and they have been playing up the dark connection with TV spots featuring a low-lit cocktail lounge at the bottom of a long flight of steps. Like I said, it was a slick marketing move for a whiskey company.
The whiskey is actually a bit darker than most bourbons, although not terribly so, and is quite clear. I wasn’t quite sure if it would be or not, given the extraction process, but it makes sense that Jim Beam would filter it. The aroma carries a strong oakiness but also has some hints of a medicinal cherry, which threw me. The body is actually moderately thin for a bourbon and overall is much drier than I expected. The oak is intense with quite a bit of vanilla, just like the tasting notes promised. I mixed two drinks with this bourbon, an Old Fashioned and a new concoction that I made up that drew from some recipes on the Jim Beam website.
The Old Fashioned is a classic cocktail dating back to at least 1806, when it was described in “The Balance, and Columbian Repository.” This drink is made by dissolving a small lump of sugar with an equal amount of water, or just using simple syrup and then adding a couple dashes of bitters (I prefer orange bitters, personally, though the official recipe calls for Angostura bitters). This is stirred together until dissolved, and then a shot of whiskey is poured in, some ice is added, and finally an orange slice and a cocktail cherry are used as the garnish. This is a nice, balanced drink, as the bitters tend to balance out the initial sweet hit from the sugar, and the cherry and orange add a beautiful depth to it.
The second drink consisted of a shot of Devil’s Cut, one ounce of pomegranate juice, half an ounce of lemon juice and a quarter-ounce of triple sec, served with ice and a cherry garnish. I liked this drink because it was not terribly sweet; the pomegranate juice actually made it a bit tart, with the lemon and triple sec adding a bit of bright counterpoint.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Devil’s Cut, and I’ll probably buy it again at some point, as the intense oakiness is useful in a lot of drinks. The Old Fashioned is a wonderful classic cocktail and actually serves as a good introduction to cocktails in general if you go light on the bitters. The fruit concoction was also tasty, but pomegranate juice is a bit expensive, so I’ll probably wait a bit to try that again, even though it was very enjoyable. So, bottom line? This bottle is worth the price and goes well in a variety of different drinks, especially because it’s not as sweet as a lot of bourbons.