The story behind this product according to Chuck Cowdery the bourbon writer, is that Win Wilkins was a long-time R&D guy at Beam in Kentucky and a deer hunter. He used to make up a drink of Jim Beam infused with black cherry to put in his flask when he went deer hunting and he called it Red Stag. He retired about 2 1/2 years ago, but the idea was on the shelf in R&D and last fall somebody picked it up, scaled it up, and Red Stag was born as a product.
As the label says: " Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey infused with natural flavors" with the current flavor of Black Cherry in a black highlight box. Jim Beam advertises this with "From the woods of Kentucky emerges the newest member of the Beam family. Created with four year old Jim BeamŽ Bourbon, Red Stag by Jim Beam™ has been slowly infused with natural black cherry flavors for a smooth, unique taste." They also say that the taste is: "Corn sweetness and mellow oak accented by a hint of black cherry for smoothness and balance, Red Stag, A different Breed of Bourbon."
Starting off, the nose is cherry. Period. Not quite as cloying as cherry Nyquil but no mistaking it is cherry. Straight up it is thicker then any bourbon I've ever seen, there are no legs on the glass but a film viscosity that slides down as you tip the glass. I find it hard to believe that the 2.5% added sugar threshold that would allow this to be called a cordial wasn't crossed. However, I've heard that 82 proof regular White Label Jim Beam is infused with just enough Black Cherry to bring the proof down to 80.
I have no idea who did the tasting for Jim Beam but there is no mellow oak or hint of black cherry. It is cherry overpowering everything. There is no bourbon that can be noticed so it might as well been blended whiskey as a base.
Now I'm a purest, if it isn't good right out of the bottle, it isn't good. You shouldn't have to mix, cut, add or do anything else beside pour it in a glass. This isn't good. Can it be made good? Well, I tried mixing 3oz of standard Jim Beam with one oz if Red Stag. At least you now can tell there is bourbon involved but the cherry aftertaste just hangs in the mouth until you rinse out your mouth or drink something else. No go on the mixing.
I also tried the ratio above in a Manhattan. While an improvement over the mix above it still had that odd aftertaste. I've read that Beam is marketing this to people who are already drinking Beam & Cherry Coke plus as a way to get more non-bourbon drinkers involved with bourbon. Since you can't tell that there is any bourbon in Red Stag to start with I don't know how that is going to work out for them.
My biggest complaint is not that they made a product like this but that they are calling it Bourbon. How the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) didn't mandate this as a flavored whiskey is beyond me. In a nut shell bourbon is defined as - Whisky(1) produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers for a minimum of two years. Bourbon aged for a period less than four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging. If an age is stated on the label, it must be the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle.
(1)Whisky being: Spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain at less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof) having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whisky and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)
Flavored Whiskey is defined thusly:
Whiskey flavored with natural flavoring materials, with or without the addition of sugar, bottled at not less than 30% alcohol by volume (60 proof)
The name of the predominant flavor shall appear as part of the class and type designation. (Cherry Flavored Whiskey for example)
Wine may be added but if the addition exceeds 2.5% by volume of the finished product, the classes and/or types and percentages (by volume) of wine must be stated as part of the class and type designation.
Also, to be specific, Title 27, Part 5, subpart ca3 says: “Harmless coloring, flavoring, and blending materials” shall not include (i) any material which would render the product to which it is added an imitation, or (ii) any material, other than caramel, infusion of oak chips, and sugar, in the case of Cognac brandy; or (iii) any material whatsoever in the case of neutral spirits or straight whiskey, except that vodka may be treated with sugar in an amount not to exceed 2 grams per liter and a trace amount of citric acid." The bolding is mine.
The way I read it the above means you can't call it Bourbon, new breed or otherwise. The "any material whatsoever" part of the the regs would seem to preclude it being called Bourbon.
However, the TTB has thought otherwise so now I can only hope for it's abject failure or that Beam realizes how they have sullied the name of Bourbon and change the labeling.
I wish I could claim to be the first to call this Red Gag but I'm not - but I will be the first to tell you to avoid it at all costs.
Edited by AVB, 22 June 2009 - 06:27 AM.