*Sincere thanks to Common Ground PR and Limestone Branch Distillery for the sample.
One could say that there really is no overstating the importance and influence the Beam family has had on the bourbon industry. That, of course, would be overstating things, but not by much. Jacob Beam and his sons married powerful, brave women that gave birth to, and raised literally dozens of little Beams, many of whom were involved in whiskey-making, and had many little Beams of their own. And some of those little Beams were involved in whiskey-making as well. Beams have served as owners and distillers of a great many distilleries, bringing years of passed-down experience, technique, and even yeast strains with them, giving the bourbon world an indelible and inescapable legacy.
One of these Beams, the wonderfully named Minor Case, was the son of Joseph B. Beam, who was the son of David Beam, who was the son of Jacob Beam, the paterfamilias of the entire bourbon-making Beam clan. Born in 1857, Minor Case worked at several distilleries before buying Orene Parker’s share and becoming part owner of the F.M. Head Distillery in the late 1800’s. The Head & Beam Distillery lasted until 1900 when Minor Case purchased Head’s share and the distillery was renamed the M.C. Beam Distillery. In 1910, Minor Case sold his namesake plant to J.B. Dant who needed to increase production of his popular Yellowstone brand. Minor Case Beam died in 1934, shortly after Prohibition ended. His son, Guy Beam, as well as two of his grandsons, Jack and Walter, also worked in the bourbon industry. In 2011, Minor Case’s great-grandsons, Stephen and Paul Beam, jumped back into their family’s legacy and founded the Limestone Branch Distillery.
In 2015, the Beam brothers sold a 50% stake in their distillery to the large beverage company Luxco. This investment and partnership has allowed them to revitalize not only a family heirloom brand, Yellowstone, but create this new brand that honors their distilling heritage as well. The Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey comes in a wonderfully designed bottle from David Cole Creative. This designer has been responsible for the visual impact of many of Luxco’s and Limestone Branch’s recent releases, and this one might just be the best yet. The bottle itself was designed by David Cole, an inspired mingling of pre-prohibition flask-style bottles and a memory of “True Grit” cinematic ruggedness. The front features embossed glass lettering and the family crest reportedly used by Minor Case himself for his own labels. Speaking of labels, the front one is made of nicer, heavier weight paper, printed by letterpress, and glued by hand to each bottle. This attention to both visual and tactile quality is not something you see very often with booze bottles. The whole thing is topped off by a wood and cork stopper. From head to toe, this is a beautiful bottle.
I mention the design and detail of this one partly because it truly deserves mentioning, but also because it’s surprising to see this level of custom design for what is actually a very young whiskey. The Minor Case Straight Rye is a two year old whiskey that’s been finished for around six months in Meiers #44 Cream Sherry casks from Cincinnati’s Meier Wine Cellars. It was distilled by MGP Ingredients in Indiana. However, while there’s a lot of MGP whiskey hiding under different labels these days, there’s a curious newness to this one that makes it stand out. Contrary to what’s been said in other reviews, this one is not made of MGP’s rather ubiquitous 95% rye recipe whiskey. In 2013 MGP began making a 51% rye recipe whiskey alongside their 95% rye recipe, and the flavor profile of this Minor Case Rye definitely hews closer to that of a lower rye recipe whiskey.
It’s interesting to note that Limestone Branch’s partner (and de facto supplier) Luxco, also released a somewhat similar two year old rye earlier this year, the Ezra Brooks Straight Rye. The price point for the Ezra Brooks is much lower, around $20 versus $50 for the Minor Case Rye, and the packaging not quite so elegant. One wonders if the Minor Case is the same whiskey with just a bit of finishing, a selection of the more “honey” barrels picked by Luxco for the two releases, or a slightly different blend of MGP ryes altogether. It’s also interesting to note that Limestone Branch and Luxco thought highly enough of this whiskey to put the Minor Case name on it. The bottle is a fitting homage to the legacy Beam’s great-grandfather and their family’s bourbon heritage, but does the whiskey carry the same class? When I first saw the price of this one, around $50, I have to say I was a little put off by it. Yeah, the bottle is great, but $50 for a two year old whiskey? It’s hard to not think that you’re just paying for the design work here, but let us not judge a whiskey by its cover…
The Nose: Relatively little youthful heat, mostly this is a nice, complex nose that leans towards the sweeter side. There’s candied orange slices, vanilla syrup, and cherry juice ahead of subtler hints of pralined almonds, and dried red fruits. The rye is relatively quiet, showing up as a lightly spicy, slightly herbal counterpoint to the sweetness. There’s a little oak here, sanded, toasted boards, maybe a faint whiff of cedar closet, too. Spice wise, there’s cinnamon red hots and baking spices of nutmeg, vanilla bean, ginger powder, and a little clove.
The Palate: A little hotter initially than the nose, but still, less so than you’d expect for such a young whiskey. The red fruits of the sherry cask’s labor are more prevalent here, macerated cherries and currant jam, along with juicy oranges and dark honey. The rye is sharper here as well, peppery and toasted. There’s nice notes of semi-sweet chocolate and roasted salted almonds that lead to some mildly tannic oak and a swell of more cinnamon, clove, vanilla bean, a little nutmeg, and a bit of black pepper.
The Finish: A lengthy mingling of dusty red fruit, dark chocolate, baking spice and mouth-watering grippy oak.
Thoughts: So good. This whiskey is surprisingly impressive. The sherry cask finishing has taken some of the expected rough, young rye character out of the equation, but it’s added a layer of sweet complexity and maturity. While there is a bit of brash youth, there’s also balance here, integration, and nice progression from start to finish. MGP has made some very nice whiskey and Limestone Branch has deftly added another dimension to it. I love having this bottle on my shelf, and I’m quickly finding that I love having it in a glass as well. Luxco has been putting out a lot of very good whiskey lately in some very nicely designed packaging. The high price of many of these has been my only real gripe. With the Minor Case Rye, I’m damn near flabbergasted that I may actually think the price is worth it. Definitely recommended.
- Cowdery, Charles K. Bourbon, Straight: the Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey. Chicago, IL: Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 2004. Print.
- Cowdery, Chuck. “The Genealogy Of Beam Yeast.” The Chuck Cowdery Blog. N.p., 20 Aug. 2012. Web. May & june 2017.
- “Limestone Branch Distillery Latest Rye Release Inspired by Minor Case Beam.” Distillery Trail. Distillery Trail, 02 Mar. 2017. Web. June 2017.
- “Minor Case Beam.” Ancestry. N.p., n.d. Web. May & june 2017.
- Minor Case Launch Press Release. Lebanon, KY: Limestone Branch Distillery, 27 Feb. 2017. PDF.
- “Minor Case Rye Whiskey.” David Cole Creative. N.p., n.d. Web. May & june 2017.
- “Original Whiskey Bottle Design Now Available: The Outlaw 750ml.” David Cole Creative. N.p., 16 Dec. 2013. Web. May & june 2017.
- “The Head & Beam Distillery, RD#405, 5 th District, Nelson County, KY (1872-1920).” Pre-pro.com. N.p., n.d. Web. June 2017.