July 2011

Putting Bourbon on Top

By: David Gadd

BEAM GLOBAL SETS ITS PRIORITIES ON AMERICA'S NATIVE SPIRIT

The angels above Kentucky must be pretty happy. After all, for as long as bourbon has been made in the Bluegrass State (and elsewhere) they've been getting the "angels' share"-or all the whiskey that evaporates during the aging process. But Beam Global recently decided that if the angels were getting their portion of America's most distinctive spirit, then the devil deserved his cut as well.

   
Jim Beam's Fred Noe, seventh in a lineage of Beam bourbon distillers, with the new Devils' Cut Bourbon and other new Beam bourbon products, Red Stag and Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve. Photographed at Bourbons Bistro in Louisville, KY.
Enter Beam's new Devil's Cut Bourbon. To create this fiendishly tasty whiskey, Beam uses a proprietary process to extract the liquid trapped inside the wood of barrels that have held extra-aged, six-year-old Jim Beam bourbon. (The process involves "agitation," but we signed a pact not to disclose any more than that.) After this rare extracted elixir is mellowed and balanced, it is re-added to extra-aged Jim Beam to create 90-proof Devil's Cut.

Devil's Cut is the latest in a series of recent innovations that has put Beam at the top of the bourbon industry and is keeping it there. In fact, while the bourbon market was up 4.3 percent in the past 12 months, Beam outpaced the industry with sales gains well over 11 percent. This success in part can be attributed to some of the company's new, cutting-edge bourbon products-Red Stag, Maker's 46 and Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve-and the recently launched Devil's Cut is designed as yet another strategic path forward in Beam's bourbon juggernaut.  

Setting Priorities

"Bourbon is the number-one priority at Beam," states Kevin George, the company's Global CMO, who is charged with keeping his finger on the pulse of fluctuating consumer preferences, ever-shifting worldwide drinking trends and endlessly branching marketing avenues. With a roster of bourbons that spans the range from front-porch traditional to downtown avant-garde, "Our ability to talk to consumers end-to-end in bourbon is unique," says George.

Just as restaurant-goers are looking for more spice on their plates, today's consumers are looking for more full-flavored products when it comes to spirits, George notes. Devil's Cut, with its higher proof and dose of wood-extracted elixir, is answering this call. And, George notes, the audience for bourbon has begun to swing from the "silver-haired demographic" toward younger 20-somethings coupled with today's cocktail culture.

Thanks to flavor innovations like Red Stag, women, too, are now making up a swelling percentage of bourbon drinkers. These factors help explain why Beam's bourbons are growing by leaps and bounds; Maker's Mark is up 16 percent and Basil Hayden's is up "in the high double digits," according to George. The new Devil's Cut will only add fuel to this growing trend.
 
New 90-proof Devil's Cut is the latest bourbon innovation from Beam, made by a unique proprietary process.
PHOTO: FRED MINNICK

Marketing Innovation

Experience has taught George something about the average bourbon buyer: "Consumers don't want to talk about your brand; they want to talk about experiences they've had with your brand." As George explains, both the unique process involved in creating Devil's Cut and the memorable product name referencing the angels' share give consumers a succinct way to share their knowledge and appreciation of the brand with their peers. Beam calls this "simple connoisseurship"-another way of saying that a customer who feels smart about the product is a happy customer.

 
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve is superb sipped alone or as a base for classic cocktails such as this Manhattan being mixed at Bourbons Bistro in Louisville.
PHOTO: FRED MINNICK

"People are interested in heritage and story and authenticity," continues George, and Beam is prepared to deliver on all three fronts. Like Beam products in other categories-Cruzan Rum, Thatcher's Organic Liqueurs and Skinnygirl Margarita, for example-the company's bourbons are closely tied to real people, not fictional personalities.

In the case of Devil's Cut, the face behind the brand is Fred Noe, seventh in a lineage of Beam bourbon distillers (see Kentucky sidebar below).

While Beam's bourbons can be as quaint as Old Grand-Dad, as iconic as Jim Beam, as sophisticated as Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve or as daring as black cherry-infused Red Stag, the company is taking full advantage of today's technology not only to develop new products but to market them. Social media provide "a listening tool" for George and his marketing team, as well as a virally-active network through which to disseminate information about Beam's brands. "What's happening in the marketplace," George says, "is that we're using our assets to reach consumers in ways that we've never done before."

With avant-garde products such as Devil's Cut, Red Stag, Maker's 46 and Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve adding a spirited new energy to its collection of more traditional bourbons, Beam has a brand for everyone these days. "Each brand has its own personality," George says, and Beam's award-winning global "Bold Choice" ad campaign stresses this diversity of offerings. George promises that even more innovations are in the works. Meanwhile, the bottom line for him: "We're focused on driving the bourbon portfolio in every way we can."

The Kentucky Story Behind Devil's Cut

Any bourbon lover within a good hour's drive of a distillery has likely enjoyed a nice taste of barrel sweat. Barrel sweat is the Kentucky term for taking a freshly-dumped bourbon barrel, adding some water, rolling it around the yard for a bit, allowing it to soak in the sunshine and letting it sit bung-side down.
 
"When you knock the bung out, you'll catch some barrel whiskey," says Jim Beam's Fred Noe, the great grandson of Jim Beam and son of legendary Booker Noe. "Everybody around here in Kentucky has enjoyed barrel whiskey," Fred admits.

At a Beam ideation meeting one day, Noe explained this to his team, and light bulbs went off. "What's that called?" somebody asked. "Well, the angels' share is the evaporation in the warehouse, and barrel sweat is the devil's cut," Noe explained. And so Jim Beam's Devil's Cut was born.

 

 
Kentucky treat: Jim Beam's Fred Noe (center) introduces Devil's Cut to Bourbons Bistro co-owners John Morrison (left) and Jason Brauner in Louisville.
PHOTO: FRED MINNICK
Beam's process for creating Devil's Cut is more sophisticated than rolling barrels around in the yard, which means that the bourbon is higher-quality and more full-bodied than standard bourbons.

One of the first people to taste Devil's Cut was Kid Rock, the celebrity sponsor for its sister product in the Beam portfolio, Red Stag. According to Noe, the rocker tilted the new bourbon back, uttered a few expletives and said, "I love that, brother."

Rock's not the only person being seduced by the Devil. At Bourbons Bistro, an internationally-renowned whiskey restaurant in Louisville, owners Jason Brauner and John Morrison find themselves intrigued with its story.

"I support any new bourbon niche," Brauner says. "Bourbon by itself is a great product, but all of these great spinoffs are getting other people involved and opening the market to people who wouldn't normally try bourbon. I consider myself a purist and think there is something to Devil's Cut. If you look at where the bourbon barrels go-they're used for scotch, beer, tequila and even soy sauce now." Brauner says Beam deserves a lot of credit for seeing this obvious opportunity to use their barrels to make a new, high-quality product for a growing bourbon fan base.

Thanks to Jim Beam's Devil's Cut, the rest of the world can now get a taste of an insider Kentucky treat.
-Fred Minnick

 
Bourbon enthusiast Justin Anderson offers patrons a neat shot of Red Stag at Chicago's Branch 27.
PHOTO: LEIGH CASTELLI
A Chicago Local

At Branch 27 in Chicago (the name refers to Branch 27 of the Chicago Public Library, which formerly occupied the space), bartender Justin Anderson is a bourbon fanatic. The happening two-year-old gastropub in the trendy West Town district is what Chicagoans call a "local"—a warm neighborhood hang-out where a diverse group of regulars gather to eat, drink and make merry.

Having hosted dinners with Fred Noe and other bourbon luminaries, the restaurant has a connection with this all-American category, and Anderson is an enthusiast for the Beam portfolio. "I'm a firm believer in value-added bartending," he says. "People want good, honest drinks and things they can understand or be educated on." Anderson admits his personal favorite is Basil Hayden's, "with its herbaceous flavors," but he's equally at home pouring Branch 27's clientele a straight-up shot of Red Stag, or making them a West Town Manhattan using Maker's 46.

Running the front of the house at his own establishment is Anderson's eventual goal, but no matter where he works, "I always find myself behind the bar." —D. G.
  West Town Manhattan

2¼ oz. Maker's 46
¾ oz. Antica Carpano sweet vermouth
7 drops BitterCube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters
3 Flagel Family Farm sour cherries soaked in Red Stag
Orange peel

Stir in a mixing glass and pour into a double (8 oz.) Old Fashioned glass over ice. Garnish with Red Stag-soaked sour cherries and orange zest (zest about 6 inches above the cocktail). Enjoy!

Inspiration for Homemade Ingredients

Richie Moe hands us a small snifter-but it's upside down. On the concave top of the bottom of this glass is a pool of dark brown liquid. "Take a whiff and tell me what you smell," Moe encourages us to guess.

It's a deep and brooding aroma-reminiscent of my grandfather's pipe tobacco. And I am not far off course. Moe, a talented mixologist and partner in what is now Scottsdale's most talked-about upscale gastro pub—Citizen Public House—has concocted his own tobacco and leather infused bitters.

The formula is part of his swarthy drink, the Black Manhattan. He has used Maker's Mark with it, but tonight he chooses Jim Beam White Label. "I made a Tahitian vanilla bean-infused maple syrup to tone down the sweet vermouth," he explains. This takes the cocktail to a sweet tone with a density that transitions from piquant to penetrating and back to sweet. The drink is garnished with toasted orange peel and a skewer of Marasca cherries.

"Since Jim Beam is a sour mash, it contains less sugar than some other bourbons; so when I add my sweet vermouth, the maple syrup balances out the drink a bit more." — Meridith May
 
Richie Moe of Scottsdale's Citizen Public House.
PHOTO: MERIDITH MAY

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