Bottoms Up: “Three Wise Men”

Obscure though the details of Jesus’ birth may be, years of drunken conjecture seem to provide sufficient enough confirmation that Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s and Johnnie Walker are as good a guess as any as to who exactly visited the boy child on history’s first Christmas morning. Obviously, they welcomed Our Eternal Savior into the otherwise hopeless world with gifts of bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and scotch. Anyone familiar with the shot known as “Three Wise Men,” or else with certain indisputable passages from the New Testament, will already be familiarized with this oft ignored piece of theo-toxicology. Although the shot is traditionally an indiscriminate combination of equal parts, my cohort in consumption (the one and only Jim Dunn) and I embarked this week in search of our own contribution to dogmatic theory by confronting an age-old dilemma: Who is the wisest of the Three Wise Men?

To solve the quandary, we drank them one at a time. We deliberated as to whether increasing or decreasing order of quality would be a better idea, before settling on the former and cracking open a couple of 50 mL “nips” of the Jim Beam. Jim Beam is a bourbon, meaning it is produced in Kentucky, distilled in oak barrels from a “mash” of wheat, rye and malted barley.  Due to a previous experience he did not venture to explain, Jim has a predisposed aversion to Jim Beam, and I am generally opposed to whiskey for no good reason. Our general distaste, combined with the bourbon’s relative cheapness, made for a rather unpleasant first leg of our journey. Let’s be realistic – this stuff burns. Moreover, it’s not a good burn, but the burn you’d expect, on the top of your tongue and roof of your mouth, from a swig of rubbing alcohol that happened to be spilled on a piece of wood and left to sit for a few months. Drinking Jim Beam is an excellent way to prove you’re a “real man”; I can find few other ways of twisting the experience into something worthwhile.

Jack Daniel’s is the world’s premiere Tennessee whiskey, meaning it gets its distinct flavor from a unique process that involves filtering sour mash through a thick layer of maple charcoal before aging. It was immediately clear to us, upon diving into our JD nips, that this difference in production translated into a massive increase in quality of taste. Jack Daniel’s goes down far smoother than Jim Beam, and was warm and full where its rival was shallow and bitter. It had that “good burn” alluded to above – you know, that burn that starts further back in your throat and resolves to a warmth in your chest, rather than remaining just a pain on your tongue. It was much darker than the other two whiskies included in our study: that darkness was suitably accompanied by the character and depth of flavor that attest to Jack Daniel’s continued popularity as both a base for mixed drinks and a perfectly respectable choice for the more sophisticated “on-the-rocks” sipper.

The last in our holy trinity of divine nectars was Johnnie Walker, the most expensive of the three, and thus the object of our greatest expectations. We were drinking the common Red Label variety, yet each of Johnnie Walker’s many blends is a scotch, meaning it is made in Scotland from a mixture of malt and grain whiskey. Like the Jim Beam, it was much lighter in color than the Jack Daniel’s, yet its smooth and flavorful lightness is far preferable to the aforementioned unfounded burn of a cheaper bourbon. Despite the favorable opinions of some fellow drinkers who had joined our study by this point, Jim and I both maintained a preference for Jack Daniel’s over Johnnie Walker. Yet this is more a point of taste than of quality, for neither of us would go so far as to say that Red Label falls short of success as a smooth and enjoyable scotch.

And so we give the trophy to Jack Daniel for the wisest of the wise men, though we would nevertheless encourage curious drinkers to try their luck with Johnnie Walker, especially if they finds themselves more inclined towards a lighter whiskey. Though we wouldn’t go nearly so far in our endorsement of Jim Beam’s famous bourbon, we nonetheless recognize and appreciate the thought he put into an acceptable gift for humanity’s great redeemer.