- - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

An occasional series

Bourbon whiskey has a long and storied history. One of the better tales comes from the Beam (as in Jim Beam) and the Dant families, both distillers during the 1800s, when the Dants’ Yellowstone bourbon was the largest-selling brand in Kentucky. 

The prodigies of these families, seventh-generation distillers Steve and Paul Beam, are reaching back into their father’s (Beam) and mother’s (Dant) combined history to reinvent Yellowstone Straight Kentucky Bourbon for a modern generation of drinkers.

And they are not missing a step keeping this heritage bourbon true to the spirit that helped build the company and that paid homage to Yellowstone National Park, which was founded in the same year that the first barrel of Yellowstone bourbon was bottled, 1872.

Synergy abounds in the brothers picking up the families’ distilling history.

While Yellowstone was a popular and highly regarded brand for decades, bourbons’ popularity suffered a decline in the 1970s, and Yellowstone, now owned by the Glenmore Distillery Co. was sold to the Guinness Distilleries before it was purchased by Luxco Spirited Brands, a bottler and rectifier but not a distiller in 1993.

While at Luxco, the bourbon suffered from shorter barrel times, as little as three years, reducing the flavors of toffee and caramel, smoke and leather bourbon drinkers look for. 

The historic brand, as is not uncommon when brands are sold and resold, moved from a glass bottle to plastic, relegating it the lowers shelves — a bottle of Yellowstone, once one of the most popular brands, could be had for $12 in most liquor stores.

Enter the Beam brothers, Limestone Branch Distillery, of Lebanon, Kentucky. The brothers and Luxco reached a 50-50 partnership agreement, and Yellowstone is back on quality bourbon drinkers’ list.

“It’s been a dream for my brother Paul and I to return the Yellowstone brand back to our family,” says Steve Beam, president and distiller of Limestone Branch Distillery. “With this bourbon, both sides of our family — the Beams and the Dants — and their distilling heritage, come together.

“It was one of the main reasons we partnered with Luxco, to bring Yellowstone back home and begin distilling and bottling it right here at Limestone Branch.”

Using recipes from great, great-grandfather Guy Beam’s notebook and the knowledge that comes from being the latest generation of master distillers in the family, the brothers have begun distilling Yellowstone Straight Kentucky Bourbon in much the same way their ancestors did. They use 150-gallon hand-hammered copper potstills to produce small one-barrel batches of a truly fine spirit, reinvigorating the Yellowstone brand.

“It was important to me to use the same grains and corn first used in the distillation of Yellowstone, and we were able to find heirloom white corn seed that a farmer is now growing for us,” Steve Beam says.

“More importantly, we were able to cultivate the DNA from the original yeast from great-grandfather’s yeast jug that was in the Bardstown Museum. With the original yeast, we were able to create a new mother that is a direct descendant from the original yeast used to create the Yellowstone mash,” he said.

While the Beams are now aging their own distilled spirits for future release, they did blend the limited-edition, blended 2015 Yellowstone Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, aged seven years and finished at 105 proof ($105+ if you can find it). 

Three barrels of spirits — a seven-year rye, a seven-year wheat and 12-year rye — were all chosen from unnamed distillers producing a smooth bourbon that is not overly complex, and with a warm nose that is prominent with oaked caramel and vanilla with hints of fruit, cinnamon and around the edges, toast.

The taste on the palate is traditional to bourbon drinkers with flavors of toffee, oak and vanilla along with a bit of leather.

The release of the 105 proof is in homage to the 105th anniversary of the Beams’ great-grandfather, Minor Case Beam, also known as M.C., selling his Old Trump Distillery to his brother-in-law and descendant of the Beam’s mother, Joseph Bernard Dant.

“In the batching process, we are trying to get flavor profiles that are balanced and typical of what bourbon should taste like — vanilla and caramel, with a fruit finish,” Steve Beam says.  “In the 2015 Limited Edition, we wanted to hit a 105 proof that would hit different points on your palate.”

The 105 does have a classic, refined whiskey flavor that is very present at the front of the tongue, finishing high on the palate, warming the throat all without the high-octane burn one might expect of a higher proof whiskey.

Particularly pleasing on second and third sips is the spice that emerges as the spirit airs and the rye profile becomes more prominent. Also, note the aromas of butterscotch, corn and smoke that come forward the longer the glass warms in the hand.

“I hand-selected the barrels of the 12-year bourbon to add just the right notes and create a truly distinct, well-rounded flavor profile,” Steve Beam says.

“Given our ongoing partnership with Luxco and the access they have to high-quality bourbon, we were able to hand-select ‘honey barrels’ for this small batch to find the best complementary flavors to enhance the seven-year bourbon.”

The honey barrels are those barrels that are placed near the windows of the barrelhouse where the addition of sunshine changes the flavors of the whiskey, enhancing the evaporation of waters, increasing proof and sugars. 

The additional heat received from their window seats also releases more of the woods flavors, increasing the caramel and, in this blend, cinnamon and spice notes.

In blending the bourbons to create the Yellowstone Limited Edition, Steve Beam had the 7-year-old spirits put into the 12-year-old barrels. During the time the 7-year-old sprits aged in the 12-year-old barrels, it picked up new notes, bringing in flavors of cinnamon and caramel, spice and honey.

While the 105 proof may be a challenge to find, Yellowstone released a 93 proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey last year that is easier to find and is price accessible at under $50 per bottle.

The Yellowstone 93 proof is also blended, but with selected barrels of 4- and 7-year Kentucky Straight Bourbon spirits.

Those barrels have been blended to create bourbon with a lower proof, reducing the burn of a higher proof liquor, making it a bit more accessible to the occasional bourbon drinker.

But don’t be misguided. The blended 93 proof is not a second choice to the 105.

It is a complex whiskey with good spiciness from the rye, with black pepper and spice at the tip of the tongue followed with a mid palate that is rich with ripe cherries and sweet caramel. 

Simply, this is a very nice, approachable creamy bourbon that has a velvety mouth feel and finish that is strong on oak and spice, with enough sweet to make it linger.

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning travel and food writer and travel editor at Communities Digital News.

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