With Clermont Steep, Beam Takes On American Single Malt
May 16, 2023 –––––– Julia Higgins
American single malt has always been the province of craft distillers—its origins trace back to the making of McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt in the 1990s. But as the style has begun raising its profile in recent years, it seemed only a matter of time before American whiskey’s biggest names entered the fray. That time has now come: Just months after Jack Daniel’s introduced its Twice Barreled single malt, James B. Beam Distilling Co. is now releasing Clermont Steep, an American single malt from master distiller Freddie Noe.
“What I like about this whiskey, and what’s more important than anything, is the ability to change people’s perceptions as to what American whiskey is about,” says Noe. “We talk a lot about bourbon, but I wanted to throw everything we’ve talked out the window and come to this project with a blank slate … It’s a new way for others to come into American whiskey.” The barley in Clermont Steep’s 100% barley mashbill comes from the Midwest—Noe looked into Kentucky grains, but barley is a tough crop to grow in the Bluegrass State. Noe used Beam family jug yeast during fermentation, which is the same yeast that goes into all Beam products. After being distilled on a column still, Clermont Steep was aged 5 years in barrels that were toasted and then charred to level 1, contributing flavors of rich butterscotch and shaved oak. (You can read about different barrel charring and toasting levels here.)
The first run of Clermont Steep is limited, but the 47% ABV whiskey is a permanent addition to the Beam lineup, priced at $60, and available in 14 markets across the U.S. and on reservebar.com starting next month. Moving forward, Clermont Steep will be made alongside Little Book and Hardin’s Creek at the Fred B. Noe Distillery, a smaller experimental operation on the James B. Beam Distilling campus in Clermont that opened its doors in 2021.
Noe notes that technically, this isn’t the first single malt whiskey that Beam has created. “There was a 6 year old malted barley whiskey made right when I was getting started at the distillery, that just happened to be a one-off,” he says. “I ended up using 99% of it in Little Book Chapter 1.” That whiskey, called The Easy, was released in 2017, and was Noe’s first solo release for a Beam brand.
While Noe is upbeat about the future of American single malt, you won’t see Beam on the American Single Malt Commission (ASMC)—or at least not yet. “There are some rules I disagree with, and I think American whiskey as a whole has built its backbone on new casks; that’s a big one for us, and all of our single malts will likely continue to be aged in new casks [as our other whiskeys are],” explains Noe. (Currently, the ASMC’s rule stipulates that any sort of oak cask may be used, regardless of what it may have previously held.) “I’m not against used casks, but I do think it’s misleading to incorporate them, as they have such big impact on the flavor, and then not put that on the label.”
Regardless of when, or if, he and Beam choose to join forces with the ASMC, Noe believes this is the apex time for American single malt. So it’s off to the races with Clermont Steep.