Jim Beam is the best-selling bourbon whiskey brand in the world. Jameson is the best-selling Irish whiskey brand in the world. Can these two very different whiskeys be compared to see which are better? Absolutely.
Overall, Jameson whiskeys are better than Jim Beam whiskeys. Although when it comes to flavor, they’re similar, and Jim Beam whiskeys are better when it comes to price, Jameson produce more complex and smoother whiskeys which is what gives them the edge when deciding which of the two are better.
The rest of this article will look at these four factors (flavor, complexity, smoothness and price) in more detail and I’ll show you how I decided for each of them whether Jim Beam or Jameson whiskeys are better.
The point of drinking whiskey is (usually) to taste lots of delicious flavors so obviously this was the first factor I used to determine whether Jim Beam or Jameson whiskeys are better.
With the help of some friends (and by friends, I mean anyone who would help me) I created a list of the flavors in the current whiskeys of both brands. The earlier a flavor appears in the coming lists, the more people detected it and all the flavors listed were detected by at least two people.
The flavors we found in Jim Beam whiskeys are:
|White Label||Corn, oak, peanuts, vanilla, ethanol, brown sugar, caramel, cinnamon, nuttiness|
|Rye||Rye, caramel, vanilla, toffee, spices, fruit|
|Apple||Apple, bourbon, honey|
|Honey||Honey, vanilla, oak|
|Fire||Cinnamon, bourbon, vanilla|
|Peach||Peach, bourbon, vanilla, oak|
|Orange||Orange, vanilla, oak|
|Black Extra-Aged||Oak, vanilla, caramel, spices, corn, alcohol, honey|
|Devil’s Cut||Vanilla, caramel, wood, tannic, corn, char, oak, cinnamon, nutmeg, leather|
|Double Oak||Oak, vanilla, caramel, corn, peanuts, toffee, fruit, spices, maple|
|Single Barrel||Vanilla, nuttiness, oak, caramel, peanuts, corn, alcohol, citrus, toffee, fruit|
The flavors we found in Jameson whiskeys are:
|Jameson Irish||Vanilla, oak, pepper, wood, apples, grassy, malty, cream, honey, alcohol, spices, cereal, floral, nuts|
|Black Barrel||Vanilla, spices, fruit, caramel, wood, oak char, honey, oak, brown sugar, butter, sherry, grain, light smoke, maple|
|18 Years||Caramel, vanilla, spices, oak, fruit, tannin, leather, toffee, banana, wood, lemon, pepper, apples|
|Bow Street 18 Years||Vanilla, oak, pepper, spices, cloves, honey, caramel, wood, cinnamon, apples, bananas, leather, sherry, corn, crème brulé, nutmeg|
|Caskmates Stout Edition||Chocolate, coffee, vanilla, sugar, hops, honey, pepper, caramel, butterscotch, cinnamon, spices, beer, malt|
|Caskmates IPA Edition||Hops, honey, citrus, bitterness, grain, malt, oak, apples, spices, vanilla, oak, lemon, fruit, caramel, bread|
|Distiller’s Safe||Butter, apricots, cinnamon, vanilla, grain, fruit, pepper, spices, honey, citrus, pears, malt, grass, oak|
|Cooper’s Croze||Fruit, oak, vanilla, spices, caramel, citrus, ginger, stewed apples, honey, cinnamon, raisins, malt, pepper, nuts|
|Blender’s Dog||Honey, fruit, caramel, pears, bananas, apricots, spices, oak, licorice, ginger, malt, cinnamon, nutmeg, butterscotch, vanilla, apples, pepper, chocolate, oranges|
Although we found lots of flavors as a group, each of us individually only found four or five of them. This means that the whiskeys are not very complex (more on that in a minute) and also that a summary of the most common flavors in these whiskeys would be useful:
The most common flavors we found in Jim Beam whiskeys are:
Caramel, vanilla, corn, oak, toffee, spices and peanuts
The most common flavors we found in Jameson whiskeys are:
Vanilla, honey, caramel, spices, fruit, cinnamon, pepper and oak
As you can see, there’s a lot of similarity between the most common flavors of the whiskeys in both brands which is not surprising when you consider how the whiskeys of both brands are made.
Jim Beam whiskeys (except the Rye) are made from at least 51% corn, rye and malted barley, and aged for at least four years in new, charred, American white oak barrels. Jameson is a blend of pot still whiskey – which means malted and unmalted barley, and grain whiskey namely maize otherwise known as corn. They’re also aged for at least four years – in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry barrels.
There are also some differences between the two brands when it comes to the most common flavors of their whiskeys. Jim Beam has a relatively prominent peanut flavor in its profile whereas Jameson has a more overall fruitiness and some sherry sweetness. The whiskeys that are better when it comes to flavor will depend on which you prefer.
The result for which whiskeys have better flavors:
- If you prefer a peanut flavor, then the brand with better flavors is Jim Beam.
- If you prefer a more overall fruitiness and some sherry sweetness, then the brand with better flavors is Jameson.
- If you have no preference, then in terms of flavor, it will be a draw.
While Jim Beam and Jameson whiskeys have some flavors, they don’t have anywhere near the same number of flavors as other more complex whiskeys. That’s why many experienced whiskey drinkers find the expressions in both brands boring, but the simplicity is intentional as it allows these whiskeys to appeal to a wider audience, which being the best-selling bourbon whiskey brand in the world and the best-selling Irish whiskey brand in the world, they clearly do.
That being said, both brands also produce more complex and flavorful versions of their standard expression. It’s true that they’re still not as complex as many other sipping whiskeys but they are complex enough to be the second factor I used to determine whether Jim Beam or Jameson whiskeys are better.
More complex flavors come as a result of one or more of the following:
- More time aging – since most of a whiskey’s flavors comes from the barrel it’s aged in, the longer it spends aging the more flavors it will have
- Barrel characteristics – differences in the barrel itself or how it’s stored will affect how much flavor a whiskey picks up
- ABV – alcohol carries flavor compounds, so whiskeys with a higher ABV will have more intense and concentrated flavors than whiskeys with a lower ABV.
The following table shows how long the more complex Jim Beam whiskeys spend aging, any additional barrel characteristics, and their ABVs.
|Devil’s Cut||4+||contains whiskey extracted from deep inside the barrel walls||45%|
|Double Oak||4+||aged in two barrels||43%|
|Single Barrel||4+||from the best barrels||47.5% – 54%|
As you can see the more complex Jim Beam whiskeys are aged for longer than the standard expressions (exactly how much longer is unknown), they have unique barrel characteristics (with the exception of the Black Extra-Aged), and they have higher ABVs.
The Devil’s Cut is a blend of Black Extra-Aged and whiskey extracted from deep inside the barrel walls. The Double Oak is first aged in new, charred, American white oak barrels for four years as usual but is then transferred to a second freshly charred, white oak barrel. The Single Barrel expressions come from barrels that due to various circumstantial factors such as placement in the rack house, the intensity of the season and length of aging, produce a more flavorful whiskey.
We found the Single Barrel was the most complex and flavorful Jim Beam whiskey, which being aged the longest, coming from the best barrels and having the highest ABV, is no surprise.
The following table shows how long the more complex Jameson whiskeys spend aging, any additional barrel characteristics, and their ABVs.
|Black Barrel||Charred twice||40%|
|Bow Street 18 Years||18||54.5% – 55.3%|
|Cooper’s Croze||5 – 12||Four different barrels||43%|
|Blender’s Dog||5 – 12||43%|
As you can see, the Black Barrel is charred twice to give it more intense flavors. Charring barrels breaks down parts of the oak which creates flavor compounds for the whiskey to pick up and absorb, makes it easier for the whiskey to seep further into the wood to pick them up and creates a layer of charcoal that filters out unwanted flavors. Charring barrels twice does all that only even more.
Cooper’s Croze and Blender’s Dog come from a range of whiskeys that highlight the effect different parts of the whiskey making process have on the flavor of the whiskey. These in particular have greater depth and complexity than other Jameson whiskeys because of what they highlight. Cooper Croze highlights the flavors that come from the barrels and Blender’s Dog highlights the skill needed to make the different flavors in the whiskey work well together.
However, the most complex Jameson whiskeys are, obviously, the two that are aged for significantly longer than the others. The depth and complexity is even greater in the cask strength version as it has a significantly higher ABV than the other Jameson whiskeys.
So it’s no wonder we found the Bow Street 18 Years to be the most flavorful Jameson whiskey we tasted, with the 18 following not far behind. Since Jim Beam don’t age their whiskeys for anywhere near this long, their most complex whiskey is not as flavorful as the most complex Jameson whiskey.
The result for which whiskeys have more complexity: Jameson
The third factor I used to determine whether Jim Beam or Jameson whiskeys are better, is how smooth they are. Several things contribute to making a whiskey smooth.
High Quality Grain
This means grains that haven’t been contaminated with something that could give it an unpleasant flavor and make it harsh – the very opposite of smooth.
Being Distilled in Copper Stills
Copper binds with the sulfur that comes from fermenting yeast, keeping it in the still and out of your whiskey.
Being Distilled More Times
Distillation separates the alcohol from the water so it can be concentrated but at the same time this also separates out many of the unpleasant tasting impurities. The more times a spirit is distilled the more unpleasant tasting impurities are removed and the smoother the whiskey will be.
A Longer Period of Maturation
During maturation whiskey picks up a lot of flavors from the wood of the barrel, but at the same time some of the unpleasant flavor compounds evaporate through the barrel walls. The longer the time spent maturing the more unpleasant flavor compounds will evaporate and the smoother the whiskey will be.
Jim Beam uses high quality grain and is distilled in copper stills – twice, so their whiskeys are somewhat smooth. And some of their expressions are actually very smooth, for example the Jim Beam Honey because of the honey liqueur in it and Jim Beam Single Barrel due to coming from the best and longest matured barrels.
However, Jameson (like many Irish whiskeys) distills all their whiskeys three times, which is why even their standard expression is known for being smooth. And the two 18 year old expressions that have had so long to mature are even smoother.
The result for which whiskeys are smoother: Jameson
The last factor I used to determine whether Jim Beam or Jameson whiskeys are better is price.
The following table shows the approximate price for 750ml bottles (unless otherwise indicated) of Jim Beam and Jameson whiskeys:
|White Label||$23.99 (1L)||Irish||$29.99|
|Honey||$23.09 (1L)||Bow Street 18 Years||$179.99|
|Fire||$17.99||Caskmates Stout Edition||$34.79|
|Red Stag||$18.69||Caskmates IPA Edition||$34.99|
As you can see, Jim Beam whiskeys are clearly cheaper than Jameson whiskeys. Even a 1L bottle of the standard Jim Beam expression is cheaper than a 750ml bottle of the standard Jameson expression! And when it comes to the higher quality more complex expressions (aside from the two 18 year old Jameson’s which will obviously be that much more expensive) Jim Beam is still the cheaper of the two.
This doesn’t mean Jameson whiskeys are particularly expensive, because they’re not. Some may be too expensive for what they are but in the grand scheme of the price of whiskey, they’re pretty reasonable in terms of price. However, when it comes to a direct comparison to Jim Beam whiskeys, they’re certainly more expensive.
The result for which whiskeys have a better price: Jim Beam
To decide which whiskeys are better, Jim Beam or Jameson, I looked at four factors and found the following:
- The brand that’s better in terms of flavor will be a matter of taste.
- The brand that’s better in terms of complexity is Jameson.
- The brand that’s better in terms of smoothness is Jameson.
- The brand that’s better in terms of price is Jim Beam.
If price is the most important thing for you, or you just really love the flavor of peanuts, then that will be your deciding factor.
Otherwise, the overall result for which whiskeys are better: Jameson