For those of us living here in the United States of America, single malt whiskey tends to be identified with, shall we say, non-domestic lands. Single malts from Scotland are renowned, single malts from Japan are fabled, single malts from Ireland are slept on but impressive. Hell, even single malts from Canada have racked up their share of fans.
In recent years, though, single malt American whiskeys have begun picking up steam as a category. The latest entrant comes from the Fred B. Noe Distillery of Kentucky, a craft distillery beneath the James B. Beam Distilling Co.'s umbrella which in turn sits under the purview of Beam Suntory: Clermont Steep Single Malt Whiskey.
Fred B. Noe Distillery, in case you're unfamiliar, has become something of James B. Beam's Skunk Works — an under-the-radar division where grand ideas are tested and the future of Beam Suntory begins to take shape. Clermont Steep is the brainchild of master distiller Freddie B. Noe — who, as you might have surmised, is the son of Fred B. Noe, James B. Beam's seventh-generation master distiller. (The Clermont in the name refers to the Kentucky town where the five-year-old liquid is distilled and aged — and, of course, is also where the Beam distillery complex as a whole is located.)
The whiskey itself uses hand-selected American malted barley — and only that — as its base grain, which is then set to work upon by Beam family jug yeast. After distillation, it spends half a decade in new American oak barrels that, after being toasted, were blasted to char level 1 — a mere 15 seconds under the fire. Then it's off to the bottles at 94 proof, priced at an MSRP of $59.99.
"We don’t just want to participate in American Single Malt Whiskey," Noe said in a press release. "We want to help define it for the future.”
Clermont Steep: First Impressions
We had a chance to taste Clermont Steep before its formal launch at a dinner with Fred B. Noe master distiller Freddie B. Noe himself, where Noe discussed everything from his long family history in the business to his love of potent off-road-ready trucks. (He drives a Ram 1500 TRX, for what it's worth, but he's very interested in the GMC Hummer EV.)
On the nose, its barley notes are clear and present, with a slight honey-ish sweetness and even a gentle hint of cinnamon; in spite of clocking in at 47 percent alcohol, your nasal passages won't burn. On the palate, you'll find notes of dried fruit — not prunes, mind you, more of dried apricot and plum — and just enough bite to hint at its power. On the finish, the whiskey returns to honey as it coats your tongue, almost reminiscent of butterscotch candy or caramel. At no point does it burn or torture; if you're looking for that in your whiskey, look elsewhere. This is a smooth, sipping brown meant to be savored.
If you're looking to try some yourself, you'll need to hold on just a bit longer; Clermont Steep goes on sale in select markets (both in stores and online at ReserveBar) in June 2023. (That said, you can pre-order it earlier if so desired.)