It’s remarkable to think about the sheer depth of resources you must have access to, when you’re a master distiller at a company like Beam Suntory. All those barrels at the various Beam rickhouses, spread out across numerous sub-brands and companies. All of those barrels being used for complex blends of whiskies in Japan. The permutation of all the combinations one could produce must be in the millions.
To that end, it’s not surprising that the whiskey sphere got a little excited when Beam announced the release of its new Legent Bourbon, described as “a unique bourbon that brings together the best of the East and West in a way no other whiskey producer can.” In doing so, they’re claiming to have harnessed those resources that only they have access to. In execution, however, we’re not so sure they’ve succeeded—at least on a conceptual level.
The makeup of Legent is this: It starts with a non-age-stated Kentucky bourbon from the Beam stock. Portions of this starter bourbon are aged in red wine casks and sherry casks. The three threads are then blended by Shinji Fukuyo, the Chief Blender of Suntory, and bottled at 94 proof, for what is ultimately a Kentucky bourbon with wine and sherry influences.
My first thought, reading this process: If you’re going to bill a bottle as a special project and an equal collaboration between American and Japanese distillers, then shouldn’t it actually feel like an equal collaboration? Would it not have made far more sense for Legent to involve the blending of American whiskey and Japanese whisky? What was there to stop them from using some lovely single malt from the Suntory stock to make a bottle that would truly have been the product of two nations? I’m not trying to downplay the importance of the art of blending, but simply making Shinji Fukuyo the blender feels like outsourcing a job to the Japanese guy, rather than making him an equal partner in the creative process. Would he not have preferred to have a chance to blend some of his own stock into the proceedings? Perhaps they even could have used some of the rare, sought-after “Mizunara oak” that has been making waves in Japanese whiskey? Any way I look at it, the way Legent was created feels like a missed opportunity for a more equal collaboration. Maybe I’m alone in this.
Now, with all that said, I can report that the whiskey itself is actually pretty good. So let’s taste some.
On the nose, this absolutely smells like a classic Beam bourbon that has seen some time inside a variety of wine barrels. Heavy, malty and red fruity in equal measure, it has notes of dusty corn, cereal grains, buttery toffee and orange peel, along with stewed dark fruit and roasted nuts. The sherry barrels make themselves felt, although the red fruitiness almost gives them more of a port-like character. If you told me that this was port barrel finished, I would have believed you.
On the palate, we get more classic Beam notes: Roasted peanuts, toasted bread, cracked black pepper and then plenty of black cherry/raspberry fruitiness, with mild-to-moderate residual sweetness. The wine barrel character is present, without being overbearing or becoming completely dominant, which is nice. Heat is fairly subdued on the palate, but leaves a lingering prickle on the back of the throat that I rather enjoyed.
All in all, the subtlety here is nice, although there will probably be some consumers who want to be walloped with the wine barrel character more strongly. Regardless, this is a solid drinker that will no doubt please fans of the Beam house style, who are interested in seeing that style tweaked in various ways to make it more unique. I would still like to have seen a blend that would have brought together American and Japanese whiskey on a deeper or more literal level, but the company has still brought together a bottle that is worthy of attention. And at $35-40, this represents a pretty solid value for a uniquely finished bourbon as well.
Distillery: Beam Suntory
Style: Bourbon finished in wine barrels
ABV: 46% (92 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $35-40 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.