Collaborations are cool and arguably we don’t see enough of them in whisky, or whiskey for that matter. Recently, we’ve had the East London Liquor Company teaming up with Sonoma Country Distilling in a cross Atlantic to deliver a collaborative blend. Let’s not overlook the Wild Turkey Longbranch, which brought together master distiller Eddie Russell and, er, actor, Matthew McConaughey. Now, its time for distilling 2 heavyweights in the form of Fred Noe (Jim Beam) and Shinji Fukuyo (Suntory) to bring a potential new twist to bourbon.
The link between these 2 respective masters is the parent company, Beam Suntory, which acquired Beam in 2014 for around $13.6 billion. Included in that deal, were a clutch of Scottish distilleries and the acquisition, raises the question, whether we might see more collaboration across the group in the future? I certainly hope so, especially at Bowmore, a distillery that is in dire need of a helping hand from somewhere. Even Auchentoshan, along with Laphroaig could benefit from external influence. But in the meantime, we have this East meets West bourbon expression.
Fred is a master distiller, while Shinji is Suntory’s chief blender; an important distinction. So, it is no surprise that Shinji explored the range of bourbons available to him at Beam, prior to commencing the blend, and thus seemingly began an adventure of sample swapping, leading to the final whiskey we have today.
I know several of my bourbon friends, prefer their bourbons straight and pure – for want of a better expression. From the cask, at a higher proof with no additional cask influence, or blending, is their preference. Anything that involves a finish, or blend, in their eyes isn’t bourbon. After all, you cannot add colouring to bourbon, so why fiddle about with other aspects? Adverts may claim that you’ve never had bourbon like this before with the answer (from some) being that Legent isn’t bourbon.
Looking at it from a distance, I can appreciate both sides of the argument. There are so many bourbons on the market nowadays and producers are looking to give their product a twist or new angle to stand out from the crowd; particularly sourced whiskies. Whereas, what’s wrong with a good bourbon that hasn’t been interfered with and is in its natural state as much as possible? After all, we want the same things here in the UK when it comes to whisky, but we’re spoilt here with numerous long-established distilleries with supposedly healthy inventories.
There’s also the stigma of a blend and in bourbon, the word has unfavourable historical connotations. Here, Legent would be described as a single malt, as the produce comes from 1 distillery, regardless of the casks types and ages. I’m not hugely familiar with the ins and outs of bourbon legislation and where the real power resides. However, if there is an outcry – or more importantly confusion – about what something is, or isn’t. Then, surely the rules need to be revisited or shuffled to underline what you’re purchasing? My own preference is I’ve never had a problem with a blend and sometimes with the skill of the blender to the forefront; you can have a tremendous experience when it’s done right. Generally, we just need to be clear what something is and isn’t. Information is always key, as is transparency.
You could argue that the pitch here suggests this release could feature Japanese whisky and that would have made for a very interesting collaboration. But Legent was created to sell in North America and bourbon sells. A mix-up of Japanese and American whisky would have been more expensive and at the end of the day, this is all about shifting units. Japanese whisky from Suntory is in such demand, that they don’t need to go around supporting a blended bourbon, or whatever you want to call it.
Meanwhile, let’s get on with the actual liquid and see what this collaboration has produced.
The main bulk of the recipe is 5-year-old Kentucky bourbon using the tradition Beam mash of 76% corn, 12% rye and 12% malted barley. This is supplemented by Beam bourbons of the same age, finished in Californian red wine casks and sherry casks. This Legent bourbon is available in the UK via the Whisky Exchange for £47.95 and is bottled at 47% strength. I have to thank Beks from the Los Angeles Whisky Club for this review sample and opportunity to try a unique collaboration.
Legent bourbon – review
On the nose: initially coconut, then it moves into more traditional bourbon territory with caramel, vanilla, fudge and popcorn. A nuttiness with hazelnuts and almonds, one of those used Staedtler white erasers from school and rubbed brass. Cherries, honey, cinnamon and orange peel hint at the other casks types. Some spices provide depth with black peppercorns and mace. Adding water brings out more sweetness, creamy caramel and wafers.
In the mouth: plenty of oak, cask char following an initial burst of sweetness. I find the palate a touch confused and the finish is vapid. Midway, some red fruits that have seen better days such as red apples, berries and oddly, red pepper. A hint of aniseed before the nuts kick back towards the end. A splash of water removes some of that sherry dynamic, revealing more bourbon characteristics, but nothing spellbinding.
The nose is actually ok on this and somewhat interesting. Things start to crumble on the palate, which isn’t helped by the bottling strength. For my palate, it comes across flat and slightly confused, as if the component parts have fought to snatch the spotlight and cancelled one another out. The wine casks are very faint at best and it is the sherry aspect that grasps control before more bourbon elements fight back.
Ultimately, it is a shame we don’t have a true marriage of Japanese and American whiskey. Instead, this is bourbon with a slight twist. It’s far from offensive and is relatively affordable, but I cannot help but think this is a corporate scheme where things are all too safe and uniform.
The Legent is drinkable and easy-going. But if you’re searching for a true bourbon, or a Japanese twist, then you’ll have to wait for the next project. A missed opportunity to create an exciting whiskey and upon reflection, it just dips below average.
Image kindly provided by Legent bourbon.