Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.
In the early 2000s somebody at Jim Beam got interested in alternative grains. They laid down six experimental bourbons, all built on a classic corn and malted barley foundation but pivoting around different secondary grains. Today, those six lots are being released under Beam’s Signature Craft series, in a subseries called The Harvest Bourbon Collection.
It’s an immediately appealing idea, particularly in today’s ingredient-focused contemporary culinary world. The group reads a little bit like a row of co-op bulk bins: Brown Rice, Barley, Whole Rolled Oat, Triticale, High Rye, Soft Red Wheat. The exact proportions of the various grains aren’t released, but Beam reports the alternative grains make up a “significant” chunk of the overall mash bill. Wheat and rye are both common in the bourbon world, but the remainder are more unusual.
This review is for the “Soft Red Wheat” variant of the Harvest Bourbon Collection, aged 11 years and bottled at 90 proof. The “soft” refers to the protein level of the wheat; lower protein wheat is softer and easier to mill as well as producing higher alcohol yields. Soft wheat is also used to produce blended scotch, grain whiskey and vodka, so chances are good you’ve tried wheat influenced spirits before!
Color: Jim Beam Signature Craft Soft Red Wheat is dark and honeyed in the glass, about what you’d expect from 11 years in the barrel.
Nose: The initial nose is off-putting, quite vaporous with acetone and heavy, sour sawdust. After some airing the house paint aspects dissipate and more confectionery aromas emerge with strong cherry and marzipan, Atomic Fireball, and the cinnamon clove scent of Alchermes. The oak character is fairly powerful, and it takes some dedicated nosing to work through the initial off-notes.
Palate: Entry is soft and sweet with deep cherry and almond crescent cookie notes. The wheat is most noticeable in the full, round, custardy mouth feel. The mid-palate is easy and affable, but without much complexity.
Finish: The round flavors of the mid-palate are quickly overpowered by the intense oak, segueing into a longish, unpleasant finish. The pastry box notes of cherry and almond give way to a distressing combination of sourness, astringency, and back-of-the-throat bitterness, something like hot machinery, citrus pith, or Treviso stems in maple balsamic dressing.
It’s hard to pick out the influences of the mash bill from the aging regime, but 11 years seems to have been too much for this particular whiskey. While still enjoyable, it is difficult to justify the price tag of $50 for a 375 ml bottle. This release seems geared more towards enthusiasts with either deep pockets or a lot of friends interested in doing a vertical tasting of all six. Unfortunately, based on the “Soft Red Wheat,” I would worry that the heavy oak flavors would prevent the unique contribution of each grain from coming through.
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Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...