The Whiskey: Jim Beam Double Oak (abv 43%)

Country of Origin: USA (Kentucky)

The Location: Quarantine Station, Manly, Australia.

We needed a get away. Somewhere close by, with plenty of space to roam, somewhere to explore. Given the situation it’s not surprising that the old Quarantine Station came to mind.

Established in the mid 1800s and active for over a hundred years the Quarantine Station sits on a west facing slope of North Head, in Sydney, Australia. Perched above Quarantine Beach the grounds of the Quarantine Station are surrounded by a Police Training Academy, a recently closed hospital, a disused artillery Barracks and a sprawling national park.

Popular with walkers, divers, fishermen and those keen on Australia’s colonial history the area has a somewhat darker past as a fully functioning Quarantine point during episodes of the Spanish Flu, Bubonic Plague, Smallpox and other communicable diseases.

Grisly reminders of the time include several cemeteries, memorials and inscriptions to the deceased carved into the sandstone. Many of the original buildings have been conserved including a steam room where patients were required to inhale a zinc sulphide solution for four minutes a day and the station’s mortuary. A museum provides more details of the various treatments, outbreaks, death tolls and heartbreaks and showcases the medical instruments that were used.

Although these reminders of the previous functions of the ‘Q’ Station are everywhere the site also embraces the surrounding natural beauty and has been transformed into a multi purpose site offering education, business facilities, accommodation, food and recreation. Anyone staying at the ‘Q’ Station now does so by choice with several of the old building having been converted into comfortable rooms. The old boilerhouse has been converted into a restaurant while a museum and cafe occupy the old wharf buildings. It’s also possible to book a ghost tour of this reputedly haunted site where guides will take you to the most ‘haunted’ parts of the site and tell you the spooky tales of how many previous inhabitants came to an untimely end. If you’re up for it you can lie in a haunted bed where a previous inmate dies and who is said to torment anyone she finds lying in her place……

We’ve decided to spend a few hours exploring the Station and the surrounding area. Many of the buildings are open to inspect and the grounds are open to wander with a network of trails and roads crisscrossing the site. We poke our noses into old buildings, avoiding those that serve as accommodation (to give the guests privacy), follow the old furnicular railway path to the wharf buildings and peep into the shower block and fumigation rooms. Scattered across the site are inscriptions in the bedrock and boulders from ships crews and patients. While many were rudimentary quite few are ornate, displaying considerable skill.

Although the site is compact the sloping grounds and numerous buildings make it an effort to get to every corner and quite good exercise.

Eventually we find ourselves at one of the more isolated parts of the grounds and come across an outdoor lounge tucked in against a building, protecting it from the breeze. With a view of Sydney Harbor and the city in the distance it’s time for a whiskey.

To keep me warm I’ve packed a miniature bottle of the Jim Beam Double Oak.

To be a bourbon a predominantly corn mash bill (in this case the bill is 77% corn, 13% rye, and 10% malted barley) must be distilled then aged for a minimum of three years in freshly charred new American oak. That means any bourbon is matured for a minimum of three years old and the Jim beam White label (JB’s budget and most widely sold offering) is aged for around three years. So the name ‘Double Oak’ suggests this spends double the time on oak, but this aint no 6 year+ Bourbon. I’ll accept it’s spent more time in a barrel than the Jim Beam White label, but 6 years (or more)? I do not accept that. For me ‘double’ means ‘twice the amount of’ and in this case we’re talking about maturation. The ‘Twice Barrelled’ on the label is accurate enough although the label doesn’t elaborate on this it’s apparently barrelled in new American oak (again) for an unspecified period of time.

So it’s with a deceptive label that we begin with this Bourbon.

The nose is inviting with rich toffee molasses and lollies (red frogs). Even outdoors in a small tumbler I could smell this from arm’s length. There’s vanilla, more like imitation vanilla with a synthetic edge. There’s a little oak hiding in the back.

But the flavors don’t carry through onto the palate, there isn’t anywhere near the intensity the nose would suggest. There’s lots of flavorless alcohol intensity in the front of the mouth. This doesn’t have the vanilla and caramel I’m looking for in a bourbon, in fact there’s barely any complexity, it’s not balanced and the alcohol isn’t well integrated. On the swallow it tastes cheap and makes me think of whisky flavored mouthwash. There isn’t really a finish on this aside of a mildly antiseptic finish with the hum of the alcohol being the thing you’re left with. The numbing dominance of the alcohol is surprising and disappointing given the relatively low abv (although this tastes more like 40% avb rather than the slightly higher 43% that it’s bottled at) and the hype about extra maturation.

A few drops of water kills the nose and opens the flavors on the palate a little, but only really brings the oak out (not such a great thing) and makes for a very diluted drink.

What does it remind me of?

Wild Turkey Longbranch with the flavor removed. The red lolly flavors on the nose are like Starward Twofold, but the Starward’s ripe, bursting aromas come from their use of red wine casks so I have no idea where it’s coming from on the JB Double Oak.

What do I think?

Not impressed.

This was probably brought out to compete against Woodford Reserve’s popular Double Oaked (or else the WR Doubled Oaked inspired by and an improvement on the JB Double Oak), but the JD Double Oak is a weak offering for serious Bourbon drinkers. I guess it’s aimed at people who don’t want to venture away from one of the best known names but want to try something new. Or maybe it’s supposed to appear ‘smooth’ and infer that this is because of extra maturation, rather than simply being weak and lacking in flavor.

For the price I’d happily have a Buffalo Trace or even a Maker’s Mark. The Longbranch would also edge this out easily. In fact there’s probably a bunch more Bourbons available on the Au market around the same price point that you’d readily take over the JB Double Oak.

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