A new release of Old Tub bourbon is reinventing the brand with an applause-worthy twist and a laudable price point. But before we get to what’s great about this whiskey, we should probably address the question on most minds: What, exactly, is Old Tub?
Even the nerdiest bourbon fans will probably have to kick-start the backup hard drive to get to memories of Old Tub bourbon. The 140-year-old brand was among the first whiskeys ever produced by the Beam family, which is now known for the likes of Knob Creek, Booker’s, Baker’s, and Jim Beam. But it’s mostly been out of production for decades.
Old Tub hasn’t been totally dormant though. For some time it’s been available as a distillery exclusive. You could pick up 375 ml flasks of it in the gift shop before or after a tour. The overlooked bottling was just four years old, and bottled in bond (100 proof), and for visitors looking for something different, it was an affordable drinkable souvenir under $20.
But this new 2020 limited edition release of Old Tub is different. Rather than just release full bottles of the gift shop product, the Beam folks took this limited edition up a notch and made it one of the most unfiltered whiskeys on the market.
Old Tub is neither carbon nor chill filtered. In fact, the bourbon has only been “quality screened” to remove bits of barrel wood. “It’s the next best thing to thieving the barrel yourself,” the label claims.
We’ve had a fair number of barrel samples over the years, including quite a few from Clermont, and we can say with confidence that they’re not lying. Old Tub is full of big, oily texture, and the body of this bourbon is full and lush. It’s a classic bourbon—hints of oak around a core of vanilla and burnt sugar, showing a bit of creamed corn and honey, and rich ripe oranges. For a 4-year-old bourbon at 100 proof, the whiskey is considerably mellow, owing mostly to the oily, unfiltered texture coating every surface of your mouth.
Old Tub represents one of the best things about Jim Beam over the last few years: a dedication to releasing enjoyable limited editions in an affordable price range. Though it’s certainly had its unicorns (Booker’s 30th was released at $400 and quickly doubled in price), it’s also maintained a schedule of releases below $50, including the much-raved-about Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut in 2018, which also boasted lower filtration levels, and a $23 price point.
Old Tub isn’t an incredibly complex or earth-shattering whiskey. But there’s good, and there’s good for the price, and this bourbon is both.
We had high hopes that Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut might return as an annual release, but it didn’t, and what you managed to collect is all you’re gonna get. The good news is that, for the same price, the new release of Old Tub is better, richer, and equally worthy of stockpile. At $23 you can make all the damn cocktails you want, but this bourbon is so full and flavorful that you’ll probably never make it to the second ingredient.
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