After receiving a generous sample of Booker’s from Sarah at DBC (thanks Sarah!), I thought it high time to revisit my old review of Booker’s, which was made under some duress. Also, as a small batch product (one of Beam’s Small Batch Collection), variations between batches are expected. This bottle is from Batch C07-B-7 and is 7 years and 2 months old and bottled at cask strength, 65.4% ABV. It is neither colored nor chill-filtered.
Booker’s, named after creator Booker Noe (Master Distiller for Jim Beam for 40 years) is bottled unfiltered and at cask strength in small batches after 6 – 8 years of age in heavily charred oak barrels (#4 char). Originally, Booker Noe hand-chose aging barrels from the center of the rickhouse (both vertically, from the center floors of a nine-floor rickhouse, and horizontally at the ‘heart’ of the facility) to bottle at full strength as gifts for friends and family. Eventually, he released those same selections to the general public. This style is a throwback to the original days of American whiskey, when jugs of whiskey would be filled for customers directly from the barrel.
Beam Global (now owned by Suntory) is a dichotomy for me. For one, it’s known far and wide as the producer of Jim Beam “White Label”, one of my least favorite whiskies of all time, and the bane of my college years. Jim Beam’s “White Label” bourbon is the one and only reason that I thought I hated whisky for the first decade of my drinking life. And yet, the very same distillery that cranks out industrial quantities of that hideous liquid also produces some of my favorite bourbon, including Knob Creek, Baker’s and Booker’s. This is especially odd considering that (as far as I can tell?) all Beam straight bourbons are the same mashbill, and the vast flavor differences are down solely to age and warehouse location.
Nose: Chocolate-covered caramels. Root beer floats with vanilla ice cream. The aromas are aggressive at 65.4%, but subtleties and complexities lie hidden beneath that blanket of alcohol vapor. Something vegetal and rooty, like sassafras or filé powder. A strong sense of sappy, dark oak pervades, but the interplay between the sticky-sweet candy notes and the vegetal root notes drive the complexity. After a rest in the glass, a billowing cloud of butterscotch cake icing emerges. Yum.
Palate: It burns like fire! After much eye-watering and stamping of feet, I’m finally able to taste cinnamon red-hots, tannin-y charred oak (slightly bitter), and caramel hot cocoa. This is simply too strong to taste much at full proof.
Finish: Long and warming. The sweet candy notes return on the finish, along with Christmas mulling spices and and an overall feeling of well-being for having surmounted the obstacle… not unlike the feeling which must follow walking across hot coals. It fades elegantly, with a touch more of cinnamon and oak, but without the bitterness perceived on the tongue.
With Water: It should go without saying that this whiskey demands some water. A few drops fail to tame the nose tickle, (while bringing out some weird veggie notes like celery salt), nor the tongue burn. A much more aggressive watering (probably down to around 50%) yields a sour note – like apple cider vinegar – and reduces the nose tickle to a manageable level. The palate, much muted, reveals more cake-y notes with vanilla and buttercream. There’s still a great deal of oak.
Overall: A beast of a whiskey. Booker’s shows its best flavors and aromas while undiluted (except on the palate, where you can only taste fire), and provides a sense of accomplishment that few whiskies can offer when conquered neat. That said, one will be much more comfortable with a glass of Booker’s if a generous splash of water (or two) is used to tame it. Booker’s also shows off its strength (literally) in cocktails, where the extra concentration stands up to bitters, vermouth, sugar, and anything else you can throw at it.