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[This photo and next: CKE Restaurants, Inc.; All others: Todd Brock]

You know what's been missing from the everything-bigger-and-crazier-and-more-extreme-than-everything-else fast food burger trend? Booze. In what the accompanying press release proudly trumpets (in the lead sentence, no less, so that's clearly what they're hanging their hat on here) as an industry first, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. have unveiled a mass-production burger "with the distinctive taste of a branded, distilled spirit." That's right. Now any underage carnivore can stroll on in and—with no fake ID required—belly up to the Jim Beam Bourbon Thickburger.

Of course, you don't have to be of age to buy a bottle of Jim Beam's BBQ sauce from your local grocer, either...and that's all that's essentially at the centerpiece of this new offering from the sister chains. "Higher-end restaurants have long served menu items flavored with branded spirits but, until now, they had yet to find their way onto fast food menus," said Brad Haley, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's CMO. "While there is no residual alcohol in the sauce, that wonderful bourbon taste remains," he goes on to say.

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It's a clever twist, sure to excite a certain demographic of young male fast food consumers who will be intrigued simply by the alcohol tie-in. Of course, a little T&A also plays well with that crowd, and Hardee's/Carl's Jr. never disappoints. To that end, they've produced a new ad starring supermodel Heidi Klum as a Mrs. Robinsonesque cougar seducing a younger man with this "burger with grown-up tastes."

But how does the real thing stack up to the high-production-value fantasy? Well, right out of the box, I was admittedly a little let down.

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CKE Restaurants typically use third-pound burgers for their PR shoots (like the two above), but my Six Dollar version ($4.99) looked flatter and far skimpier, despite being eight full ounces. Some toppings were visible, like the bacon strips, lettuce, a veritable flood of sauce, and just a hint of the crispy onion straws.

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To get a look at the pepper jack cheese, I had to do some under-bun investigation. And there's a tomato slice under the charbroiled patty, along with a second application of Jim Beam sauce.

Not the prettiest fast food burger I've seen, but this one tasted better than expected. The sauce is, of course, the primary component, but I found the sauce to be far less overwhelming than barbecue sauce usually ends up being on a burger. It had a gentle heat and maybe just a slight astringent aftertaste that lingered a while longer than I was ready for. Not unpleasant...and interesting enough to hang with.

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The lettuce and tomato were a little pathetic, and while that could be chalked up to just this burger on this day from this location, I found that the veggies likely don't even need to be here at all. The pepper jack cheese was mildly spicy and the bacon was your basic fast food iteration, but the crispy onion straws proved to be a nice surprise. I am not a huge fan of fried onions on burgers, but these had some real crunch to them, more akin to the French-fried onions you toss over a casserole than limp-ass onion tanglers.

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But really, the Jim Beam Thickburger is all about the sauce. Be prepared for a mess, as it'll end up all over everything by the time you're done. Not even halfway through mine, a significant amount of the sauce had already been lost to drippage. Not the end of the world—there was still plenty more on board the burger—but it's a good thing to keep in mind, especially if you're trying to eat and drive.

About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT, pizzas for Slice, and desserts for Sweets, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.

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