Beam’s limited release “Little Book” series is one of the more interesting corners of the whiskey giant’s portfolio, representing the more experimental and youthful influence of eighth generation distillery Freddie Noe. His father, Fred Noe, is Beam’s current master distiller, while Freddie clearly represents the next generation. Little Book seemed to be conceived as a project to let him stretch the boundaries of Beam’s whiskeys, which is exactly what he did for the first few batches, referred to as “Chapters.” The last couple, on the other hand, have been more of an overture to the company’s history. In particular, the new-ish Chapter 4 (it hit shelves a few months ago, but it took me a while to get to this sample) is subtitled “Lessons Honored,” and refers specifically to the lessons that Freddie Noe picked up from his father over the years at Beam.
“This year’s release is an ode to my dad and the lessons he has passed down to me about bourbon and life, all of which I hope to pass down to my own children,” Freddie Noe said. “A lot of them go back to honesty and integrity. He taught me to be true to myself, which is something that’s very important in our family, and to know when to slow down and be patient. Dad’s values carry over into our whiskey brands, and I’m proud to honor him with this special blend.”
What Freddie Noe has created here in Little Book Chapter 4 is an interesting blend of three very different whiskeys: A 4-year-old Kentucky straight brown rice bourbon, an 8-year-old Kentucky straight “high rye” rye whiskey, and a 7-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey.
There’s a few obviously unusual elements there, starting with “brown rice bourbon”—not the kind of thing you see every day, and something Beam has only made on very rare occasions. The “high rye” rye whiskey is also different from other Beam ryes, which are standard, “barely legal” Kentucky ryes made with 51% rye. Instead, the Beam press releases compare this rye to the high-rye distillate that went into Booker’s Rye, which is certainly something that will entice whiskey collectors. And of course, there’s some standard bourbon in there, because there’s gotta be, right? The whole thing is bottled at cask strength, 122.8 proof, at a rather pricey MSRP of $125.
With all that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, I initially am getting toffee and hints of that classic Beam nuttiness, a combination of peanut/almond butter as well as some slight buttered popcorn. There’s freshly sawn lumber and some earthier notes as well—maybe that rye in the background—along with substantial ethanol presence. All in all, it’s definitely a recognizably “Beam” nose. I expect that some reviewers will want to try to note the presence of the brown rice here by saying that it “smells like rice,” but I doubt anyone would make that claim if they didn’t know about the presence of the rice bourbon.
On the palate, this one initially took me aback with an intense rush of spice and heat—we are not playing around here. This feels every bit the 122.8 proof and more; I would have believed it if it was labeled as higher than 130. There’s a ton of cinnamon and red chile spiciness, combined with brown sugar and old oak, but it was difficult at first for me to get past the long-lasting spice of the finish, which is very heavy on pepper and cinnamon. I do wonder if this is even spicier and hotter than was intended, though I expect barrel proof bourbon geeks will love that.
With more time, the whiskey began to open up as my palate acclimated to the spice and proof point, revealing more richness—toffee and nut butter, along with some red fruity jamminess. Slight vinous qualities are even present as well, but the spice remains intense. I don’t typically add water, but I thought this particular dram might benefit from a little bit, and I ultimately found that this is where Little Book Chapter 4 really seemed to shine—with a splash of water. With that dilution, more of the sweet flavors come to the forefront, bringing out much more citrus (lemon, orange), caramel and vanilla to counter the intensity of the spice. I do feel like this small addition of water helps bring Little Book Chapter 4 to a greater sense of balance, so I’ll likely be adding water to this one in the future.
All in all, it’s difficult to say what quality exactly is contributed by the brown rice bourbon in this one, but it’s an extremely flavorful (and quite spicy) dram. Be aware that the flavor intensity here is quite high—this is a whiskey to seek out if you want something very bold indeed.
Distillery: Jim Beam (Beam Suntory)
City: Clermont, KY
Style: Blended Kentucky straight whiskey
ABV: 61.4% (122.8 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $125 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.