The release of Little Book Chapter 6: “To The Finish” couldn’t have come at a better time. With the American single malt whiskey category inching closer to federal recognition, it’s intriguing that this blend, produced at the James B. Beam Distilling Co. home of Jim Beam, is predominantly malt whiskey. However, eighth-generation master distiller Freddie Noe insists that it’s merely a fortunate coincidence.
Little Book, the brainchild of Noe, is a yearly blend of whiskeys that has explored nearly every domestic category and even included liquid from Canada across its six releases. Always bottled at cask strength, paying homage to Noe’s grandfather Booker, a bourbon legend, and his creation of the barrel-proof Booker’s and the entire Jim Beam Small Batch Collection.
While Chapter 6 may not be my favorite Little Book release so far, it’s undeniably interesting, innovative, and distinguishably different from its predecessor. Yet, it remains a genuinely good whiskey.
The Unique Blend
The blend comprises four malt components and one bourbon. If you were unaware that Jim Beam was crafting American single malt, you’re not alone. Noe revealed that the distillery has been producing it since 2017, with approximately 10,000 barrels aging alongside copious amounts of bourbon and rye. The mash bill for the single malt is what Noe calls their standard American single malt—80 percent malted barley, 20 percent special flavoring malted barley, aged just over four years.
Each whiskey in Little Book received a special finish through stave or smoke. The final blend consists of:
- Straight malt whiskey finished in hickory smoked barrels (12.5 percent)
- Straight malt whiskey finished in applewood smoked barrels (25 percent)
- Straight malt whiskey finished with cherrywood staves (28 percent)
- Straight malt whiskey finished with maplewood staves (8 percent)
- 5-year-old straight Kentucky bourbon (26.5 percent)
Bottled at a powerful cask strength of 117.45 proof.
The Bourbon Quirk
There’s an interesting story behind the bourbon component of the blend. It was unintentionally blended at the distillate stage several years ago. Noe, then a supervisor on the third shift, recalls a switch from producing Jim Beam to Basil Hayden. However, they forgot to switch tanks, resulting in a blend of approximately 60 percent Jim Beam and 40 percent Basil Hayden. Despite being distraught about the mishap, Noe recognized its potential and declared it as a unique bourbon. As it aged, his appreciation for it grew.
Although the bourbon component dominates the blend, the flavor is decidedly un-bourbon-like. As you taste, various notes emerge—sweet grain, coffee, vanilla, burnt orange peel, a touch of pleasing bitterness, and, of course, the characteristic nuttiness associated with Beam. While there is a subtle hint of smoke, it leans more towards savory barbecue than smoldering fireplace. The noticeable orange note stems from the fruitiness that malt whiskey can exhibit. The high proof provides a robust bite, but adding a few drops of water can enhance the experience.
Nostalgia in the Blend
Noe selected the whiskeys for this blend based on sentimental reasons. The smoking and finishing process evokes memories of his family’s tradition of smoking and curing meats. The flavor arising from the still reminds him of his grandfather’s sourdough bread baking in the kitchen. Additionally, the use of malted barley is a crucial aspect of Beam whiskeys, as it aids in breaking down the starches in the grains without the need for enzymes. The narrative surrounding the whiskey is an integral part of its allure, but the ultimate judgment lies in its taste. Once again, Noe has created a complex, flavorful, and worthwhile whiskey, though I still find myself leaning towards Chapter 1 or 3.
What Our Score Means
- 100: Worth trading your first-born for.
- 95 – 99: In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet.
- 90 – 94: Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram.
- 85 – 89: Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market.
- 80 – 84: Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable.
- Below 80: It’s alright—honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this.
Every week, Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.