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Talkin' (& Drinkin') Bourbon with Fred Noe

Among the green rolling hills of Clermont, Ky., sits one of the great wonders of the drinking world—the Jim Beam Distillery. It's also where we sat down for a morning mega-buzz—er, tasting—with Fred Noe, Beam's master distiller and great-grandson of the legendary whiskey maker, to get schooled on the ways of bourbon. To our surprise, drinking a poured bourbon shot off an ice-carved sculpture of Megan Fox's ass may not be the best way to appreciate the nuances of the whiskey. (Although Fred never specifically discouraged it.) Instead, Noe offered up this four-step process his dad, Booker Noe, taught him many years ago.

1. COLOR: "Look at the color. You can tell a lot about a bourbon looking at the color. The lighter the color, the lighter the bourbon's gonna be and taste. When you get a bourbon that's deep and dark in color, it's probably been aged extra long to give it more color. It's probably been bottled at a higher proof with less water added to dilute it, so you end up with more color in there and more complex flavors."

2. NOSE: "It's the aroma. Here's where you get your first little trick into the tasting of bourbon. When you stick your nose into the glass, open your mouth when you sniff it. If you don't, you're going to pull up a bunch of alcohol into your nose and the alcohol will take over your nasal passages. It may even throw your head back a bit. You'll almost taste it when you're smelling it."

3. KENTUCKY CHEW: "The third step is the most fun of the four steps. What you wanna do is when you taste the bourbon, put a little on the tip of your tongue and chew on it a little bit. Dad coined the term Kentucky Chew. I'll demonstrate it for you. [Moves the bourbon around in his mouth, smacking his lips] Just work it around your mouth."

4. THE FINISH: "When you swallow it, the flavor it leaves behind is the finish."

Armed with the basics of bourbon tasting, Noe takes us through the history and some of the varied small batch flavors offered by Beam.

BASIL HAYDEN'S—"Named for a distiller who was in Kentucky about 1800. If you're familiar with Old Grand-Dad Bourbon, he's the man on the label. We leave it aging in a barrel for about eight years, and we bottle it at 80 proof. It has a nice, light flavor. The finish is going to leave the palette quickly, making it an easy bourbon to drink. You'll pick up a bit of the spiciness from the rye through the taste and the nose. The flavor is there, and it doesn't overpower your palette. A popular drink is Basil Hayden's, a little Ginger Ale and a squeeze of lime. It's an easy-to-drink bourbon. Easy on the palette with a clean finish."

KNOB CREEK—"Named for an area near the distillery. We age it for nine years and bottle it at 100 proof. The nose, you'll pick up a bit of sweetness about it. If you're a fan of the Manhattan cocktail, Knob Creek makes a tremendous Manhattan. If it's too hot for you, add a little water to it. Water won't hurt it a bit. There's more finish, and it sticks with you. It sticks in the back of your throat longer than Basil Hayden's."

BAKER'S—"Named for my second cousin, Baker Beam. Baker lives right down the road. Baker's grandfather and Jim Beam were brothers. This bourbon is a little more intense. You'll sense a little more alcohol in the nose. Baker liked his liquor with a little more bite to it. If you taste it neat, it makes you wanna pucker up a little bit. The color is a little darker."

BOOKER'S BOURBON—"This is my dad's baby. Dad was trying to get back to the way bourbon was 100 years ago. Back in those days you'd bring your container to the distillery and they'd take you up to a rack house. You'd bring your jug, glass, jar, whatever. They'd draw the liquor right out of the barrel and fill up your container for 50 cents a quart. They didn't even bottle back then. It was straight out of the barrel. Dad stored all these barrels in the fifth and sixth floors of the nine-story house. He wanted to get them in the center [to give it a more balanced taste]."