Kentucky Meets Kyoto in Legent, a New Beam Suntory Bourbon
Five years ago, Japanese whisky producer Suntory purchased American bourbon behemoth Beam Inc., creating Beam Suntory—and it didn't take long for the two halves of this seemingly disparate company to begin working towards a singular new product: a Kentucky bourbon finished and blended with skills and tradition more typically seen outside Kyoto, the home of Suntory's Yamazaki distillery. The result is Legent, the company's first standalone bourbon brand release in over a quarter century, hitting shelves March 8.
"We wanted this to be east meets west, with two guys having the freedom to do whatever they wanted," says Fred Noe, Jim Beam's master distiller. The other guy he's referring to is Suntory's chief blender Shinji Fukuyo. "This is a bourbon-based product using his expertise in addition to mine."
Legent showcases its Bluegrass State roots from grain to barrel, using a five year old bourbon distilled by Jim Beam with its standard mashbill as the core component. From barrel to bottle, the impact of artful Japanese blending then rules the show.
Two finished whiskeys are incorporated—a sherry cask-finished bourbon with an extra two years of maturation, and a California red wine cask-finished bourbon with one extra year of maturation. The three pieces are married together in a tank for a month, and while exact proportions of the final blend aren't disclosed, the base bourbon is the largest player, followed by the wine cask and then the sherry cask.
The whiskey rightfully takes you on a journey across its range of influences, showcasing jammy red fruits on the nose, switching to rich, caramel-forward bourbon character on the palate, and then closing the show with a spicy, sherry-tinged finish. "The fruity comes from the wine casks, while the aftertaste is longer than traditional bourbon and with a bitter note, which comes from the sherry," Fukuyo says.
It's plenty capable as a neat sipper or on the rocks, and also serves ably in a range of cocktails. Just take it from Noe. "Drink it any damn way you want," he recommends.
While the gregarious Noe and more reserved Fukuyo may seem worlds apart, the two naturally came together in a project which tested both of their skill sets. "We can communicate through the whiskey," Fukuyo says.
"Our accents are a lot different, but we can read each other's eyes," Noe adds. "My friend Shinji and I tended to gravitate to each other. It was a natural thing to make a whiskey together."
Legent (47% ABV) will be rolled out across the country as a permanent edition of the Beam Suntory portfolio, offered at an estimated retail price of $35. The bottle artwork depicts a brush stroke revealing the in-profile visages of Noe and Fukuyo, two masters from different whiskey worlds coming together for one tasty new dram.