As I really like Beam Black I was excited to try the new 12 yo Signature. I got a bottle of the black at the same time and have been doing some comparisons. On the delivery I find the Signature has a lot more definition to the sweet notes. Instead of a general corn sweetness as the Black initially has, the signature has more defined notes of sweet caramel and vanilla and even some fruit. There is a complexity and distinct quality at mid palate that the Black doesn't have. On the finish, my experience is different than BB Babington's. I get a longer, more satisfying finish on JB Black. There is more oak, char and the distinctive cola note which altogether make up a finish that I've only found only in JBB bourbon- and have come to enjoy very much.
So which expression is better?
Well they're both great IMHO.
The Signature is more refined, complex, and a bit lighter, especially on the finish. It also has a sweeter, more appreciable nose. But the JBB holds its own with its own "signature" taste, especially in the finish. I actually like that it is just a bit rougher around the edges with more char and the touch of wood bitterness in the finish.
I paid $37 for the Signature and $21 for the Black. That's a reasonable premium to pay for the extra 4 years. As some have pointed out, some whiskeys really head skyward in price for just a couple extra years of aging.
But overall, I have to say that with value taken into consideration, JBB is hard to beat. It remains my favorite whiskey in the Beam line up. I hope it doesn't get crowed out. As it is, a lot of folks talk about the White label as an entry level and skip right over the Black to Knob Creek- usually as a good example of premium moderately priced Bourbon. Can't argue with that. But the 8 yo lower proof JBB hits the sweet spot for me.