Fred Noe and Shinji Fukuyo have their stamp all over Legent because the whiskey is the first collaboration between Beam and the House of Suntory. (Shannon Kinsella/styling) (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Great grandson of Jim Beam puts mark on a whiskey worth drinking

The signatures of Fred Noe and Shinji Fukuyo adorn the bottle of Legent.

The signatures of Fred Noe and Shinji Fukuyo adorn the bottle of Legent, the first new bourbon brand that the distiller formerly known as Jim Beam (now called Beam Suntory) has released in about 30 years.

But it’s inside the bottle that you can taste the signature elements that have made the two men legendary figures within the whiskey world. Noe is a seventh generation Jim Beam master distiller and the great-grandson of the actual Jim Beam. Fukuyo is just the fifth person to hold the title of House of Suntory chief blender, a crucial role among Japanese whisky makers (like the Scots, they spell it without the “e”) given that Japanese whisky expressions are typically a blend of dozens of whiskies.

Noe and Fukuyo have their stamp all over Legent because the whiskey is the first collaboration between Beam and the House of Suntory since Suntory purchased Beam in 2014. And it’s been a long time coming with plenty of time spent “teaching each other the art of what we do,” Noe says. “A lot of that time involved sitting down with Shinji and tasting a lot of bourbon, not just ours, but also our competitors. And he sat me down and talked about blending and finishing.”

Ultimately, they settled on a plan: Noe would oversee the whiskey’s distillation, and Fukuyo would oversee its finishing and blending processes. Legent began with Beam-distilled straight bourbon. (The initial release is whiskey that’s at least 4 years old, although that may change in subsequent releases.) He then split the whiskey into a variety of red wine and sherry casks. Then Fukuyo took over, blending the whiskey from the various casks along with other Beam bourbon to create Legent.

Crafting Legent was a learning process for both Noe and Fukuyo. It was also a departure for Noe.

“Historically, ‘blending’ has been a cuss word in our world,” he says. He and his dad, the late Beam master distiller Booker Noe (who created Booker’s Bourbon) would joke that blended whiskey by other distillers was “bourbon-flavored vodka” because it was often produced by blending a grain-neutral spirit, bourbon or rye, color and flavoring. That’s starting to change as high-quality whiskeys are also becoming increasingly common thanks to bottlings such as Beam Suntory’s own Little Book, which is produced by Fred Noe’s son Freddie. But he’s quick to note: “This is a different bird” from the spirits he and his dad would joke about.

He’s right. Legent is an approachable whiskey, both in price point (its suggested retail price is $34.99) and flavor. On the nose, it has notes of red fruit, cinnamon and cloves. On the palette, it’s rich, with caramel, red fruit and spice, with a light but spicy finish. It works on its own and in a Manhattan or other cocktail. “Drink it any damn way you like,” Noe says.

The story behind Legent is interesting, but it’s almost beside the point. After all, even without the story, it would be a whiskey worth drinking.

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