The American Single Malt category is booming. And though the movement was largely spearheaded by craft producers, major distillers — including the bourbon world’s biggest producers — are hopping on the train. Actually, it’s more accurate to say they did so years ago, because that distillate has now come of age.
A prime example is Jim Beam’s new single malt, dubbed Clermont Steep. Clermont Steep is the first American Single Malt released by Beam, though it is worth noting Beam has been using some of their malt liquid stream in Little Book releases for a number of years.
Named for the brand’s Clermont production facility — a 15 mile drive from Bardstown, Kentucky — the whiskey is distilled from 100% American malted barley. It’s then aged for five years in casks that were toasted prior to being charred to level one. (For context, most Beam whiskeys use char four.)
Clermont Steep is bottled at 47% abv. Let’s dive in.
The nose begins with buttered toast on (perhaps a bit surprisingly) pumpernickel rye bread. That gives way to pronounced sweetness: some brown sugar, and a little bit of burnt caramel, bordering on praline. One doesn’t have to nose too hard to notice the malt’s presence, but it develops a few sniffs after the aforementioned toasted and sweet notes. I’m already sensing this is a single malt built for bourbon fans. It’s frankly very enjoyable, with surprisingly little ethanol and a warmth that crescendos nicely in a tasting glass.
On the palate, there’s immediate caramel and honey; though aged in a low-level char barrel, the toasting (and likely Kentucky aging conditions) has certainly made an impact, and these flavors aren’t subdued. There’s vanilla extract (leaning toward medicinal) up front, which melts away to French Vanilla ice cream as the sweetness subdues and melds with other flavors across the tongue. There’s also grain present, but it’s hand-in-hand with the sweeter notes, and if anything reminiscent of Honey Nut Cheerios rather than the classic rendition. A thick mouthfeel coats the tongue fully, again emphasizing the sweeter notes and setting up a relatively lengthy finish.
About that finish: It’s a long, syrupy, once again sweet experience, like the final sip of tea with a teaspoon of honey lingering on the bottom of the mug. There’s certainly cereal, and ultimately a small amount of fruit, with both pear and baked apples & cinnamon. But that small pop is really the peak of fruity and more delicate flavors that I was searching for throughout.
Sweet but not notably fruity or herbaceous, Beam’s first entry into the single malt category is clearly designed for the bourbon drinking masses. And at that, they’ve succeeded in creating a bridge to their core customer base. Clermont Steep is an enjoyable pour with potential mass appeal, and it left me curious about the depths this distillate could hit with greater age.
B+ / $60 / clermontsteep.com