Booker’s Bourbon

Review: Booker’s Bourbon Batch 2018-02 (Backyard BBQ)


Summertime is synonymous with BBQ.  Former Jim Beam Master Distiller Booker Noe used to hold giant BBQs at his Bardstown, KY house, dubbing them “bourbon-ques.”  With that in mind, the second batch of Booker’s for 2018 is aptly named “Backyard BBQ.”

The barrel strength bourbon comes in at 64.4% ABV, or 128.8 proof.  The youngest barrels in the batch are 6 years, 2 months, and 10 days old.  Barrels were pulled from six locations in three different 9-story warehouses, broken down as follows:

  • 4% from warehouse E, 4th floor
  • 29% from warehouse E, 5th floor
  • 10% from warehouse E, 7th floor
  • 8% from warehouse J, 5th floor
  • 32% from warehouse I, 6th floor
  • 17% from warehouse I, 7th floor

I love the disclosure of this kind of information, especially from a company as large as Beam-Suntory.  But the important thing is how the whiskey tastes…

On the nose, a slight departure from the “classic” Booker’s profile finds maple syrup instead of vanilla as the dominant aroma.  This is still Booker’s through and through, with hints of vanilla, toasted oak, peanut butter and a touch of fresh herbs.  Slightly overcooked caramel kicks things off on the front palate, followed closely by vanilla custard and some spice. This is the point where that high proof shows its cards – a full mouthfeel and a bit of a kick.  You’re definitely in flavor town here (a Guy Fieri reference – was that really necessary?). The mid-palate brings hints of grilled corn and cigar box, with cedar shavings following.  The long finish is chest-warming, which is always welcome.  Acid reflux be damned!  Bittersweet caramel and barrel char linger.

This batch of Booker’s slightly leans towards the sweet side compared to previous batches.  It’s a welcome quality knowing it still fits under the brand’s flavor profile.  “Backyard BBQ” featured less of a corn note and more caramels, meaning it could pair nicely with BBQ ribs, or a smoked brisket, perhaps.  All in all, it’s tasty – and I wouldn’t expect anything else from Booker’s. 8/10

Thanks to Booker’s Bourbon for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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That Time I Helped Pick a Batch of Booker’s Bourbon

Since starting this blog years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing many whiskey geek moments.  I count myself very lucky.  The most recent of these was the opportunity to take part in a Booker’s Roundtable tasting.  Every so often, Jim Beam Master Distiller (and Booker Noe’s son) Fred Noe will gather with a handful of whiskey writers, enthusiasts, experts, and friends to pick out the next batch of Booker’s Bourbon.  Booker used to pick batches of his namesake bourbon with friends, and I’m glad to see the continuation of that tradition.  This Roundtable consisted of Chuck Cowdery, Lew Bryson, F. Paul Pacult, Nino Marchetti, Blake Riber, John McCarthy, Jack Robertiello, and myself.  Batch 2017-01, or “Tommy’s Batch,” is named after a 30+ year distillery employee and close friend of Booker’s who helped Booker with his barrel picks.  He was also on the call.

Doing a little pre-call tasting of both batches.

Regular readers of this blog, and anyone within earshot of me, know I consider Booker’s the best whiskey in the standard Jim Beam lineup.  I find it much more balanced than the older Knob Creek, which is also delicious but carries an oak-forward flavor profile.  Booker’s was on bourbon lover’s radars recently with an announced price increase that takes effect with this very batch of Booker’s I am helping to select.

How does the Booker’s Roundtable work?  Those selected will meet in person in Kentucky or via a conference call.  The latter is the case for this particular Roundtable selection.  The distillery usually sends three samples to each participant.  The samples are different batches of Booker’s, each with slight differences.  Fred leads a tasting and shares some production notes.  Our job is to taste each sample and pick the one we believe tastes most like Booker’s.  The batch with the most votes then gets bottled and goes to market.

This Roundtable selection was a touch different.  Participants only received samples from two batches of Booker’s instead of three.  Noe said the reason for that was a shortage of barrels of age needed to craft batches of Booker’s.  He also mentioned it’s why Beam is only releasing four batches instead of the usual six this year.

The breakdown of the two samples is as follows:

Batch A is 128.2 proof.  335 barrels came from two different production dates (January 2009 & July 2010) and three different warehouse locations:

  • 41% came from the 6th floor of warehouse E
  • 13% came from the 6th floor of warehouse H
  • 46% came from the 7th floor of warehouse D.

Batch B is 124.1 proof.  Barrels came from 5 different production dates (January 2009 & January – October 2010) and 4 different warehouses:

  • 7% came from the 5th floor of warehouse H
  • 19% came from the 4th floor of warehouse F
  • 18% came from the 5th floor of warehouse D
  • 18% came from the 5th floor of warehouse F
  • 38% came from the 4th floor of warehouse E

Both were great tasting bourbons.  While I found Batch B to be a touch more balanced but slightly muted, Batch A hit it out of the park.  With the exception of one participant, everyone (even Tommy) decided Batch A made for a much better batch of Booker’s – a big, rich, robust “back alley bruiser,” as someone on the call eloquently described it.

“Tommy’s Batch” is due to arrive on shelves in late February/early March.

Thanks to the folks at Beam and Multiply for inviting me to take part in the Booker’s Roundtable.

Booker’s Bourbon Batch 2016-06 “Noe Hard Times” Review

My first whiskey review of 2017 is of one of the most controversial newsmakers of the past year – Booker’s bourbon.  Batch 2016-06 is the last batch of 2016, and the last to carry the old SRP of $59.99.  Beam Suntory has decided to raise the price of Booker’s to $99.99, only to come back with the decision to gradually raise the price.  We’ll first see a small increase to $69.99 in the beginning of 2017 with the next batch, followed by an eventual increase to $74.99 by the end of the year.  I think it’s a move they should have made from the start, as I agree with the company in that Booker’s has been undervalued. A few years ago $50-$60 was just the right price for this whiskey, one I’ve called the best regular production bourbon in the Jim Beam staple.  However, in today’s current bourbon market, where $100 seems to be the new $50, I’m not so upset seeing Booker’s eventually make it to the $100 price range.  There’s currently nothing in the Beam lineup in that price range, and it’d be an idiotic move to not bump up the price.  Yes, they shouldn’t have announced the immediate jump, but they’ve since rethought things (or looked through their anger-filled Twitter feed) and decided upon the incremental price rise.  There will be many of you who disagree, and that’s perfectly fine.  I’ve shared my thoughts and have nothing more to say on the matter.  Now, to the more urgent matter at hand, and the reason you’re here – onwards to the review!

“Noe Hard Times” remembers Booker Noe’s nickname during his football-playing youth.  Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe said this about this current release:

Dad was larger-than-life in personality and stature, and possessed both from an early age. Needless to say, no team in central Kentucky wanted to line up against such a formidable opponent. This, combined with a birthday in December 1929, just on the cusp of the Great Depression, earned him the nickname “Hard Times” on and off the field.

Batch 2016-06 comes from six different rack houses and six different production dates.  It’s bottled uncut and unfiltered at 127.8 proof and is aged a minimum of 6 years, 10 months, and 1 day.

The nose is full of big vanilla and baked corn notes, as well as hints of wood smoke, burnt sugar, black cherries and roasted peanuts.  Booker’s slightly oily and somewhat creamy entry features vanilla bean, cherry cola, barrel char and sweet corn.  A touch of herbs fill the back palate.  Cinnamon sticks and caramel chews linger on the long, warm finish.

As expected, we have another great batch of Booker’s bourbon.  Sure, the pricing controversy has overshadowed this batch, but rest assured – this is the Booker’s bourbon we all know and love.  8.5/10

Thanks to Booker’s Bourbon for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.