Beam distillers unleash the Red Stag

William M. Dowd photo

Funny how everything old can become new again. Take Red Stag from Jim Beam.

Not that it is truly old, but it suddenly is being mentioned a lot. Even Craig Ferguson, a/k/a/ my favorite late-night TV host, mentioned it the other day, and he's a recovering alcoholic! I've also seen mention of it pop up in various print articles, ranging from wires services to magazines and major newspapers.

The reason I refer to it as "old," is that I reviewed it earlier this year on my "Dowd's Tasting Notes" blog. That, however, was well in advance of it going to market, and I promptly forgot about it until the publicity campaign began. Now, it's all the rage because this is the month it's being released to market. As I wrote back in March:

Billed as the first Jim Beam innovation in more than a decade, this black cherry-infused bourbon joins the industry trend toward more flavored spirits. It will be on the market in June.

As a longtime bourbon drinker, I'm a bit set in my ways. I like several brands, but I started on Jim Beam way back when, and that's my go-to whiskey. But, I also find the small-batch brands -- Elijah Craig, Booker's, Basil Hayden, Baker's -- enjoyable, both straight or in cocktails, so I'm not against a little variety.

That said, it took me several tries to cozy up to this new offering. A classic Manhattan cocktail is whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters and a maraschino cherry. Sometimes a little bit of the cherry juice is added for those who like their drinks on the sweeter side.

Beam says Red Stag is an "extension of the cherry infusion made popular in the Manhattan cocktail." I'd quibble a bit with that, since the cocktail's cherry is maraschino, not black cherry as is used in this new expression. They're two different tastes.

Thus, when I tried Red Stag as the primary ingredient in a Manhattan I found it far too sweet for my taste. A tasting companion expressed the same reaction. I also tried it cut half-and-half with regular Jim Beam bourbon plus the usual vermouth and bitters. It still didn't have the appeal I sought.

But, when we tried it straight, at room temperature, in a tasting glass, we both liked it. What we have here, in my view, is a nice liqueur: warm, with a bit of spice from the rye in the grain mash, with mild notes of vanilla and caramel from the oak maturation that balanced off the black cherry infusion.

Suggested retail price: $3 above Jim Beam White. So, local pricing will prevail.

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