Note that things usually do not bode well for a 50mL mini that happens to be in the "dollar bucket" of the neighborhood liquor store, but I'll be god damned: It turns out that I actually like this stuff.
Frankly, I pick some things up with the expectation that they'll make for some bottom-shelf hatchet job review, because that's usually the way to bet. Maybe I'll end up saying something like, "this tastes like a half-digested pizza," or "it smells like the fart that would come out of a dying hippo." Maybe it gets a laugh. If it tastes bad, I can always pour myself something better after I write my initial notes.
By all accounts, Jacob's Ghost should be terrible, and I dreaded pouring it. It's aged for a scant year in oak barrels before it goes out the door. And from there, the price puts it in the category of an upmarket Jim Beam, as it's noticeably more expensive than both the black and white labels. Jacob's Ghost is the same price, incidentally, as their 90-proof, 6-year-old "Devil's Cut" offering. So on paper, the JG sounds like terrifically overpriced firewater for total suckers. Mathematically, we're paying more and getting less.
So for all of those reasons I am dumbfounded by the quality of what's in the bottle. The aroma of the Jacob's Ghost is surprisingly focused with notes of lime and corn, and you can really get your nose in there without being blasted by ethanol. So far so good. Even better was the clarity of taste in the glass. The lime is there, and the corn is there, but there's also a lot of very rich, sweet vanilla that isn't at odds with the citrus. I also tasted a little bit of honey butter. Well, okay then.
Maybe the reason I like the Jacob's Ghost is that it's basically a hodgepodge of other spirits. Thinking about it, it's basically the bourbon equivalent of a reposado tequila. You have the essence of the base spirit (corn instead of agave) thrown into an oak barrel long enough so that it kicks away the edges and lends some butter and vanilla. And you know what? I think it actually works. Beam set out to make a lighter style of bourbon, and I'd say they succeeded. For as unusual as the "white whiskey" category seems, it's actually not too hard of a sell when you begin to mull it over.
So to state the obvious, It's not an oak-aged nightmare like Knob Creek—someone in search of a bourbony bourbon should pass this over. But for a guy like me who is just lukewarm on corn funk and barrel char, turning the volume down on these particular elements isn't a bad thing. Some have said the Jacob's Ghost is a halfway point between vodka and whiskey, but I'd disagree. It doesn't have the mouth-filling nature of vodka or any saltiness. I actually think it's closer to a combination of whiskey and gin, of all things, because the spirit is actually so lithe and citrus-forward.
Ghosts don't make a lot of sense, and neither does this. However, if you sit down to evaluate the bottle on its own merits, you might be similarly spooked by how unusual, cohesive, and refreshing it is.