Jim Beam is one of the best-selling bourbons in the world. But Jim Beam the brand is no monolith. The whiskey company is more than its powerhouse bottle of sweet Kentucky straight bourbon that sits on shelves in every corner of the United States (and the world). Well over a dozen labels are made at the famed James B. Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. In fact, there’s so much more on offer from the iconic American whiskey brand that we thought it was high time to rank the whole damn line from top to bottom.
For decades, Beam was known for their standard Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey line (Jim Beam White Label, Jim Beam Black, Jim Beam Rye, Jim Beam Apple, etc.), their small batch lines (Knob Creek, Baker’s, Booker’s, and Basil Hayden), and their “Olds” line (Old Overholt, Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow). Today, those lines have all expanded while new labels/expressions like Legent, Hardin’s Creek, Little Book, and some experimental labels have hit liquor stores around the world. Beam’s bench runs deep and covers everything from blended American whiskey to high-end masterpieces and everything in between.
There’s a lot is what I’m getting at. So today, I’ll be pulling from my tasting notes and ranking all the Jim Beam brands, which are as follows:
- Jim Beam (straight bourbon, straight rye, and flavored whiskeys)
- Beam’s Eight Star (American blended whiskey)
- Kessler (American blended whiskey)
- Basil Hayden (small batch low proof straight bourbon and straight rye)
- Knob Creek (small batch straight bourbon and straight rye)
- Booker’s (small batch barrel proof straight bourbon and straight rye)
- Little Book (small batch blended straight whiskey)
- Baker’s (single barrel straight bourbon)
- Legent (special barrel-finished straight bourbon)
- Hardin’s Creek (limited edition straight bourbon)
- Lineage (travel retail straight bourbon)
- James B. Beam Distiller’s Share (experimental straight bourbon)
- Old Grand-Dad (high-rye straight bourbon)
- Old Tub (bottled in bond and unfiltered straight bourbon)
- Old Crow (budget straight bourbon)
- Old Overholt (budget straight rye)
But I’m not just ranking the brands, I’m also calling out the one single expression you should track down from each brand. Yes, some of these brands only have one bottle under that label — seven out of 16 to be exact. The other nine brands from Jim Beam have some very long lists of expressions to their name. Booker’s for instance, puts out at least four expressions per year. Regular ol’ Jim Beam has about 14 expressions. Knob Creek has nine core expressions. You get the point. I’m winnowing each brand down to the key expression that you should add to your bar cart.
Savvy? Let’s dive in!
16. Kessler — Kessler American Blended Whiskey
Average Price: $8
This is an old-school American blended whiskey. That means that the actual whiskey in the bottle is made from a blend of neutral grain spirit (cheap vodka) and straight whiskey. In this case, that split is 72.5% grain spirit blended with 27.5% straight whiskey from Clermont, Kentucky.
Nose: There’s a hint of apple pie on the nose that leads to a vanilla extract note and maybe some faint oak soaked in vodka.
Palate: The palate is creamy and sweet for a micro-second (think caramel candy) but then devolved into wood-flavored vodka.
Finish: There isn’t one.
Look, this is an $8 bottle of booze. You get a faint sense that this is/was “whiskey” but you really have to stretch your imagination to get there. Skip.
15. Beam’s Eight Star — Beam’s Eight Star Kentucky Whiskey, A Blend
Average Price: $8
This American blended whiskey mixes 75% neutral grain spirit with 25% straight whiskey from Beam’s Clermont and Frankfort, Kentucky facilities. That whiskey is then proofed and bottled for the bottom shelf.
I don’t mean this is a shitty way, but this feels like the plastic flask you keep under the kitchen sink as a cleaning solvent.
Nose: Caramel sweets and corn husks are present on the nose with a slight sense of vanilla.
Palate: There’s a hint of oak and maybe cherry vanilla on the palate with a rip of alcohol burn.
Finish: There’s a lot of ethanol at the end.
It doesn’t quite “taste like burning” but it’s close while also tasting kind of like nothing at all. It’s weird. Yeah, you can skip this altogether and just pay four or five bucks more for a Jim Beam White Label and drink legit and tasty straight bourbon instead.
14. Old Crow — Old Crow The Original Sour Mash Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $11
This is a classic bourbon that became part of Jim Beam about 30-odd years ago. Until then, it was famed for being the drink of choice of President Grant, back in the 1870s — which gave it a lot to hang its hat on as a brand. The whiskey in the bottle is a year younger than a typical Jim Beam bourbon — so three-ish years — and it is cut way down to 80 proof for bottling.
Nose: Fresh Wonder Bread and burnt popcorn lead to buttery caramel and a dab of vanilla oil.
Palate: The palate is very balanced between a sense of caramel, cherry, and “spice” with a wintry vibe.
Finish: The end is pretty short and watery with the vanilla and brown spice leading to a dash of dry straw.
This is barely bourbon on the flavor profile (it legally 100% is). Again, pay an extra couple of bucks and just get a nice bottle of Jim Beam White Label or like eight more dollars for a Jim Beam Black. They’re lightyears better than this one.
13. Old Tub — Old Tub Unfiltered Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $20
Back in 2020, Beam decided to release this “distillery-only” expression nationwide. The classic Jim Beam whiskey is a tribute to what the brand was before Prohibition. “Jim Beam” used to be “Old Tub” as a brand back then. Anyway, the whiskey in this bottle is Beam’s low-rye bourbon that’s batched to comply with Bonded laws, meaning the barrels are from one distilling season, from one distillery and distiller, and bottled at 100 proof.
Nose: The nose has a sweet yellow corn meal, a hint of butterscotch, and a mix of creamy honey and creamy eggnog with plenty of nutmeg and allspice next to a very distant dry woody note.
Palate: The palate has a touch of candy corn next o Almond Joys, sweet cinnamon Hot Tamales, and black cherry tobacco leaves rolled up with dried sweetgrass.
Finish: The end is lightly dry with a sawdust vibe next to apple stems and burnt orange.
This is a nice but kind of rough-around-the-edges straight bourbon. This is a decent enough cheap bottled-in-bond bourbon for mixing. You’ll definitely want to use this for mixing highballs (think ginger ale, 7-Up, or fizzy water with a big garnish).
12. Old Grand-Dad — Old Grand-Dad Bonded Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $19
The juice is made with a mash bill of 27% rye alongside corn and malted barley, which is Beam’s official “high-rye mash bill” (recipe). The whiskey is then aged for at least four years in a bonded warehouse and bottled at 100-proof, which lets a bit more of the aged whiskey shine in the bottle.
Nose: There’s a clear sense of green spice counterpointed by a creamy vanilla pudding with a touch of brown sugar and spices.
Palate: There’s an orange blossom floral/fruity nature that sharpens to an orange oil cut with Christmas spices, which leads towards more of that vanilla pudding with a touch of oak.
Finish: The finish leans into the vanilla, green pepper, dark spices, fruit, and oak as a final note of corn arrives to remind you this is bourbon and not rye.
People love this cheap yet tasty pour. It’s fine and the Bonded version is definitely the expression you want to get from this brand. This is a good shooting whiskey, works as a mixer with soda, and can be layered into a cocktail in a pinch. We’re still pretty far from slow-sipper territory though.
11. Basil Hayden — Basil Hayden Red Wine Cask Finish Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $62
Freddie Noe — Beam’s eighth-generation Master Distiller — created this expression by blending classic Basil Hayden with bourbon partially aged in California red wine casks. The resulting batch is then proofed down to Basil Hayden’s historically low 80-proof and bottled.
Nose: There’s a hint of orange zest on the nose with sour mulled wine spices — star anise, cardamom, cinnamon — next to Cherry Coke and vanilla cake with white frosting.
Palate: The palate is soft yet creamy with a nutty spiced cake vibe next to zucchini bread with a dollop of butter next to tart, dried berries dipped in brandy with a hint of dark cacao in the background.
Finish: The end is pretty short (low-proofed) and finishes with a sense of old oak staves soaked in sour red wine with a dash of burnt orange and dried winter spice rounding things out.
This is one of my favorite Basil Hayden expressions. It’s deep and fresh. It also works really well as a food pairing whiskey thanks to the soft red wine vibes throughout the profile. If you’re a bourbon and red wine lover, then this is a must-buy.
10. Old Overholt — Old Overholt Bonded Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $28
This rye hails from the Pennsylvania rye traditions of the early 1800s. The brand was moved to Kentucky almost 200 years later thanks to Beam. The whiskey in the bottle is a bit of an enigma since Beam doesn’t disclose the mash bill. It is aged for four years and bottled at 100-proof per bottled-in-bond laws.
Nose: This leans a bit more towards a high-rye bourbon than an out-and-out rye whiskey, with hints of vanilla, dry oak, and sweet corn.
Palate: The taste really leans into the vanilla with a creamy pudding vibe leading towards salted caramel, more dry wood, roasted almonds, and a final spurt of heavy spice with a grassy edge.
Finish: The finish stays dry and nutty as the spiciness is more woody than peppery with a green edge.
This is a nice rye. I’d lean more toward mixing cocktails with it thanks to that bourbon sweetness and higher proof. Still, this is a pretty fine bottle of classic sweet and nutty Kentucky rye at a great price point.
9. James B. Beam Distiller’s Share — James B. Beam Distiller’s Share Toasted Brown Rice Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $199
Jim Beam has been toying with brown rice for a while now. In this case, the rye in the bourbon mash bill was replaced with brown rice. The whiskey was then aged for five years before it was re-barreled into new toasted oak barrels for a final rest. Finally, those barrels were batched, slightly proofed, and bottled for this experimental release.
Nose: The nose is like opening a can of sweet and nutty brown bread and then drizzling it with toffee while a rush of dry grains and old orchard wood lingers in the background.
Palate: Spiced molasses bread leads to hints of cherry cake, vanilla cream, and millet tea with a touch of caramel.
Finish: The end leans into woody spices and sweet oak as the orchard wood starts to singe and the spice leans toward a barky and almost herbal winter vibe.
This is just fascinating. It’s very out there for a Kentucky bourbon. I’d get this if you’re looking to expand your palate and drink something somewhat out of character from Beam.
8. Baker’s — Baker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Single Barrel Aged 8 Years 1 Month
Average Price: $59
Baker’s is pulled from single barrels in specific warehouses and ricks across the Beam facility in Clermont, Kentucky. The bourbon is always at least seven years old. In this case, it was aged eight years and one month before bottling as-is.
Nose: Sourdough rye crusts and star anise with a fleeting hint of caraway counter cellar funk and cherry/vanilla tobacco on the nose.
Palate: The palate lets that vanilla get super lush with a sense of cinnamon bark and allspice berries next to hints of dill and fennel.
Finish: The end has an eggnog softness with a bit of Red Hot and chili-laced tobacco.
This is a very rye-heavy bourbon with a great funkiness to it. This is the bourbon you get when you want more herbal and floral depth on top of a classic sweet and fruity Kentucky bourbon. Thanks to that, it’s a great and fun sipper that just keeps delivering new nuance and flavors. If you’re an Old Grand-Dad fan, this is really going to be your jam.
7. Legent — Legent Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Partially Finished in Wine & Sherry Casks
Average Price: $39
This bottle from Beam Suntory marries Kentucky bourbon, California wine, and Japanese whisky blending in one bottle. Legent is classic Kentucky bourbon made by bourbon legend Fred Noe at Beam that’s finished in both French oak that held red wine and Spanish sherry casks. The whiskey is then blended by whisky-blending legend Shinji Fukuyo at Suntory.
Nose: Plummy puddings with hints of nuts mingle with vinous berries, oaky spice, and a good dose of vanilla and toffee on the nose.
Palate: The palate expands on the spice with more barky cinnamon and dusting of nutmeg while the oak becomes sweeter and the fruit becomes dried and sweet.
Finish: The finish is jammy yet light with plenty of fruit, spice, and oak lingering on the senses.
This sherry-finished bourbon is spot on. The whiskey has a great texture and depth, making it a great sipper or cocktail base. If you want to make a great Manhattan or just have an everyday easy sipper around, get this bottle.
6. Little Book — Little Book Chapter 6: “To The Finish” Blended Whiskey
Average Price: $260
This year’s Little Book is another masterpiece from Beam’s Master Distiller, Freddie Noe. The whiskey in the bottle is a blend of four-year-old straight malt whiskey finished with cherrywood staves, four-year-old straight malt whiskey finished in applewood smoked barrels, four-year-old straight malt whiskey finished in hickory smoked barrels, four-year-old straight malt whiskey finished with maplewood staves, and Beam’s classic five-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, making this a kind of single malt/bourbon hybrid. The whiskey was bottled after blending with no filtering or proofing.
Nose: The nose reveals hints of sour cherry, tart apple cores, and bright orange zest with a smidge of smoked plum in the background with a dash of winter spice and maybe some oatmeal cookie dough.
Palate: The palate kicks in with a mix of winter spices and dry green herbs (a hint of sage?) next to lightly smoked sweet cherry wood and some dry hickory that leads to a hint of cherry root beer.
Finish: That cherry layers into a dry tobacco leaf with a thin line of dark chocolate and some rum-raisin as the finish veers toward orchard wood with smoked apricot and a twinge of salted vanilla cream lurking underneath it all.
This whiskey is Beam inching us toward their eventual American single malt whiskey rollout. That aside, this is a masterful blend that just hits differently than other Beam products. This is a unique and delicious blended whiskey that will take you on a journey. If you want to cement your status as a real whiskey nerd, then this bottle is a must.
5. Jim Beam — Jim Beam Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $24
Each of these Jim Beam bottlings is pulled from single barrels that hit just the right spot of taste, texture, and drinkability, according to the master distillers at Beam. That means this whiskey is pulled from less than 1% of all barrels in Beam’s warehouses, making this a very special bottle at a bafflingly affordable price.
Nose: Vanilla pound cake and salted caramel are countered by spicy cherry tobacco, mulled wine vibes, and dark chocolate cut with orange zest and a hint of corn husk.
Palate: The palate brings in some floral honey sweetness and more orange oils with a sticky toffee pudding feel next to more spicy cherry tobacco and a hint of coconut cream pie.
Finish: The end amps up the cherry with a little more sweetness than spice before salted dark chocolate tobacco folds into dry sweetgrass and cedar bark.
It’s wild how good this bourbon is for this price. Look, I love some Jim Beam Rye and Jim Beam Black Label from this brand. But their Single Barrel 108 Proof is just too good in general not to be the one Jim Beam bottle to have on your shelf.
4. Hardin’s Creek — Hardin’s Creek Jacob’s Well Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $189
This new expression from Jim Beam is about highlighting the beautiful high-end barrels from Beam’s vast rickhouses. The whiskey in the bottle is a classic low-rye Beam that rested for 16 years and a 15-year-old high-rye bourbon. Once batched, that whiskey goes into the bottle as-is.
Nose: The nose draws you in with a rich spice mix of woody cinnamon, soft nutmeg, almost bitter cloves, and dusty allspice with a hint of black licorice leading to a buttery caramel sauce with a flake of salt, twinge of vanilla oil, and whisper of cherry tobacco in an old cedar humidor.
Palate: The palate builds on that classic foundation with layers of old boot leather, hard sultanas, meaty dates, stewed plums, and rum-soaked Christmas cake with candied orange rinds and cherries.
Finish: The end soaks the raisins and candied fruit in maple syrup with a hint of sour cherry laced with ancho chili peppers and woody spices.
This yearly limited edition is a masterclass in long aging and excellent blending from the Fred and Freddie Noe. Moreover, this is just delicious whiskey that speaks to the beauty of cherry/spicy classic Kentucky bourbon whiskey. This whiskey goes deep and is essential for any true bourbon fan.
3. Booker’s — Booker’s 2022-04 “Pinkie’s Batch” Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $249
The last batch of Booker’s of 2022 is a nod to Booker Noe’s father, Pinkie Noe. The whiskey in the bottle was created from barrels from the middle/sweet spot of four warehouses. The average age of the batch ended up being 6 years, 10 months, and 10 days old when it was bottled completely as-is.
Nose: This is full of dark brown sugar vanilla pods and winter spices that start to lean toward chili and cumin and then a sense of a well-seasoned pork butt before it goes into the smoker — it’s kind of like raw leather.
Palate: The palate is classic bourbon with a rich vanilla white cake frosted with buttercream next to bold dark cherry, woody notes of dry reeds, and salted caramel with a twinge of orange oils.
Finish: The end has a mild sense of tangerine flesh and star fruit that leads back to warm ABVs and dark winter spices layered into fresh tobacco and old cedar bark.
There are so many Booker’s batches that could have been here. I might be partial as I was sipping this with Fred Noe a couple of weeks ago at the distillery and that experience really endeared this expression to me. Part of that was seeing Fred’s excitement about the blend. Another aspect of it is that this is simply delicious. Plus, this is still around on shelves, meaning you might be able to snag one.
2. Knob Creek — Knob Creek Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Aged 18 Years
Average Price: $183
This limited-edition release celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Knob Creek, which started back in 1992 during the darkest days of bourbon. The whiskey is Beam’s standard mash bill that’s distilled at a slightly different temperature and treated with a little more care during aging by placing barrels in very specific locations throughout their vast warehouses. After 18 long years, the best of the best barrels are small batched, and just proofed before bottling.
Nose: Dark molasses and pecan clusters with salted dark chocolate lead to brown butter, old figs, and salted caramel with a woody sense of cherry and apple bark next to cinnamon-laced cedar sticks with burnt orange.
Palate: The palate is full of lush vanilla notes next to singed cherry bark and apple-cider-soaked cinnamon sticks, star anise, salted black licorice, and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans with a hint of dried red chili spice turning up the heat on the mid-palate.
Finish: The end has a floral honey sweetness that balances everything toward orange blossoms and bruised peaches, cherry tobacco, and clove tobacco.
This is the best Knob Creek after the 12-year expression. I dig their Rye Single Barrel Select as well. Really though, this is the high watermark for the brand. It’s delectable, deep, and a delight to sip. It too makes a mean Manhattan.
1. Jim Beam Lineage — Jim Beam Lineage Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey A Father And Son Collaboration
Average Price: $250
This whiskey was released for the struggling travel retail market late last year. The whiskey in the bespoke bottle is a 15-year-old classic Beam bourbon that was aged on specific ricks in Warehouse K (the most famed warehouse on the Clermont, Kentucky campus). Father and son Fred and Freddie Noe both selected the barrels to make this blend and released it almost completely as-is with just a drop of that soft Kentucky limestone water.
Nose: The nose is classic from the jump with a soft caramel candy with vanilla buttercream frosting over spiced choco-cherry cake, a touch of clove-studded burnt orange rind, and soft marzipan with a hint of old oak cellars.
Palate: The palate is lush with a sense of Black Forest cake — stewed cherries, vanilla cream, moist chocolate cake, dry dark chocolate shavings — next to a bunch of woody and barky winter spices with a hint of hazelnut and burnt orange.
Finish: The end leans ever-so-slightly into old cedar bark and rich spiced cherry tobacco layered with dark chocolate-covered espresso beans and a hint of sharp mint and maybe some more of that clove.
This is Beam at its best. The best part is that even though this is a travel retail release, you can actually get it in the U.S. at the distillery. Wherever you find it, it’s worth tracking down and adding to your collection. It’s delicious.
(Yes, I know this is technically a “Jim Beam” expression, just like Old Tub. But this is its own line as a travel retail release under the “Lineage” moniker.)