Jim Beam's Newest Release Won't Be a Bourbon
In this exclusive interview, Fred and Freddie Noe talk whisky, family tradition, and their "golden age of growth."
BY Jonah Flicker | Jul 17, 2017 | Food & Drink
Jim Beam is gearing up to release a new whisky this October called Little Book, spearheaded by eighth-generation family member Freddie Noe, son of the esteemed Fred Noe and grandson of the legendary Booker Noe. A barrel-proof blended whisky instead of a bourbon, it's the first expression to be created by Freddie for the world's best-selling bourbon brand. Freddie's official title at Jim Beam is fermentation manager, but he's had his hands in almost every department at the distillery since starting work there in 2013. Of course, he's been around bourbon his entire life.
Little Book (which is also Freddie's childhood nickname) clocks in strong at around 120 proof and will cost $79.99, putting it into premium whisky territory. It's smooth and flavorful and has the characteristic nutty Jim Beam undertones without tasting like any other Beam product. Kentucky boys Freddie and Fred Noe sat down for this exclusive interview to talk about the process of creating a new whisky, their bourbon family legacy, and the enduring popularity of brown spirits.
Little Book will be a first for Freddie and Jim Beam.
Freddie: Little Book is my premiere. It's an annual release that features a new and unique blend each year that will be uncut and unfiltered to honour my granddaddy Booker and how he created Booker's. Little Book was a nickname that he gave me as I was growing up, and it kinda stuck. My grandmother, up until the day she died, she'd look at me and go, "You act just like your granddaddy."
It's a blended whisky because I took some Kentucky straight bourbon and blended it with the typical components of a bourbon mash bill: corn whisky, rye whisky, and malt whisky. I played with those liquids and came up with this blend. It's a straight whisky because all the liquid is at least two years old. This is uncut, straight from the barrel.
The right way to drink whisky is however you choose to drink whisky.
Freddie: Just drink it any way you want. I like it either neat or with a couple of cubes of ice; as the ice melts it dilutes it and changes the flavour as you sip.
A good nose is important in the whisky business.
Fred: Freddie has always had a great nose. Even when his grandfather was still alive, he would let him smell stuff. He always said, "That boy's gonna do good if he decides to go into the liquor business. He's got a good smeller on him." He never would let him taste the liquor, but as far as smelling, he said, "That boy's got a good nose." Freddie's got a lot of his grandfather in him as far as innovation, where he's trying different things. So when he said he was working on a blend, I said to go for it. It's not like I told him what to do. I'm very proud to see what he came up with all by himself. He's got a great future in the bourbon business.
Only release a whisky that you'd drink yourself.
Fred: On my travels, I hear what people want. For example, our single barrel. We never had a single barrel expression while Dad was alive; he was never a big single barrel fan. As I travelled, after Dad quit, people kept asking for a single barrel. So we had an innovation meeting, and I said, "Let's do it." But the big thing is to create products that you'd be proud to drink yourself, something you'd give to your family and friends. Freddie's got a pretty good focus group here in Bardstown with me and my friends, and Freddie and his friends. You get two generations of bourbon lovers and you can test drive it on them. Our buddies will tell you real quick if it's not worth a damn.
Freddie: Something an old-timer told me when I was just starting out was: "If you come into this distillery and you don't learn something every week, you're doing something wrong." And it's true. There's always something new to learn, something to tinker with. I think that blending has given me an opportunity to learn even more than we've done before.
HIS GRANDFATHER ALWAYS SAID, "HE'S GOT A GOOD SMELLER ON HIM."
Never rest on your laurels, even if you are one of the best-selling whiskys in the world.
Freddie: My mission is to carry on the tradition. I'm very proud of my family heritage and the seven generations before me, the stories that my dad and granddad have shared with me about Jim Beam and T. Jeremiah and everyone. It's an honour to carry on that tradition. It's about the education and learning what can you do when you blend this or tinker with the still or ageing something in a different portion of the rack house.
Fred: People want new and different things, even though we are the world's number-one selling bourbon. Freddie, with his blending, that's something that's gonna open up new doors for us. You've gotta come up with new stuff; you can't just sit on the old laurels of being the number-one bourbon. Dad came up with the small batch bourbons years ago, and it rekindled the fire of the bourbon category. My and Freddie's job is to nurture this business and pass it off to future generations. We didn't start it, and let's hope we don't end it.
Bourbon's popularity is rapidly increasing, with no signs of slowing.
Fred: We're riding a good wave right now. The popularity of bourbon is at an all-time high and people are trying new products. You went back 50 years ago, you wouldn't have any luck with new products because people were stuck on one particular brand. Nowadays, they look for new things.
Freddie: More people are trying new products, wanting different things to try. It's a great time in the industry, a golden age of growth. It's the perfect time to release something that's unique and different from anything we've done before.
Fred: Consumers are a lot more educated about the products. You go back years ago, there was very few women into bourbon. You came to tastings back when Dad was doing them, you would watch the women slide their glasses to the men who brought them there. Nowadays, you see groups of women on the Bourbon Trail, bachelorette parties. Girls are getting into bourbon. Classic cocktails are making a comeback with fresh ingredients. All this is fueling the fire under the bourbon category. The end is not in sight, at this point anyway. We're expanding our distilleries as we speak to make more. Everybody around here is ramping up production. We don't see it stopping anytime soon.