A while back during a local Knob Creek tasting here in New Orleans, the local Beam Suntory team brought out one of Fred Noe’s country hams for the group to enjoy. I eat ham all the time, but this one still sticks out in my memories.
Country Ham is the name for the third batch of Booker’s bourbon in 2019. Booker Noe loved his ham. In fact, there’s a story in Jim Kokoris’s book, “The Big Man of Jim Beam,” in which Booker brought one of his smoked hams to a fine restaurant in Chicago. You know, to show them how real ham was supposed to taste!
This batch is 6 years, 4 months, and 2 days old, and has been bottled at 62.35% ABV (124.7 proof). The nose is typical Booker’s – lots of vanilla and caramel alongside hints of honey-roasted nuts and oak. At just over 124 proof, Booker’s Country Ham drinks fine neat. Taste-wise, it’s more of what you’ve come to expect: lots of vanilla, roasted sweet corn, caramel-covered cinnamon rolls, and some oak spice. The long finish wraps you in a sweet, warming Kentucky hug.
Booker’s Country Ham is another solid batch of Jim Beam’s cask strength bourbon. It’s a great one to introduce people curious about the brand as it solidly represents the Booker’s standard flavor profile. Recommended! Now, if I could just get my hands on more of that country ham…
It’s that time of year, folks. I’m referring to the release of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. As always, there’s not a lot of this stuff floating around, and even less at the suggested retail pricing of $99. In my humble opinion, this collection represents some of the finest whiskey from Buffalo Trace. This year’s bottlings were mostly as great as expected. There was one stellar standout and another that didn’t quite hit the mark.
GEORGE T. STAGG
Generally my top choice of all whiskies in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, George T. Stagg sees its lowest proof ever this year at 116.9 proof. This is due to a large percentage of barrels coming from lower warehouse floors, which, due to its higher humidity, causes alcohol to evaporate faster. The 15-year-old bourbon also saw a high evaporation rate of 56% percent for this year’s batch.
The nose instantly takes me back to classic Stagg with hints of demerara sugar, figs, oak spice, dark chocolate and nougat. Taste-wise, dark brown sugar kicks off a loud rock concert on the palate. Vanilla, mocha, and cinnamon have their amps cranked up to eleven. The finish features slightly burnt caramel, pepper, and toasted oak spice. Dark, loud, and brooding – it’s what George Stagg is supposed to be. Don’t let the low proof fool you. This is one not to be missed. 9.5/10
WILLIAM LARUE WELLER
One of the most popular selections among bourbon fans, William Larue Weller features Buffalo Trace’s wheated mash bill. This batch was distilled in 2007, making it 12 years old. It is also this year’s highest proof whiskey in the collection, clocking in a 128 proof.
Hints of caramel and freshly baked coffee cake register on the nose, with sweet corn and roasted coffee bean undertones. The entry is a touch hot but still approachable at 128 proof. It’s also on the sweeter side, with big caramelized sugars, vanilla, and brioche notes. A touch of earthiness and baking spices on the back palate adds a bit of complexity. The finish is long and warming. I’ve never been let down by a WLW release, and the 2019 entry continues that streak. Bold, sweet flavors… what’s not to like? 9/10
EAGLE RARE 17-YEAR-OLD
Last year, Buffalo Trace decided to raise Eagle Rare 17’s proof from 90 to 101, a nod to the bottling proof when the brand was launched in 1974. It was one of the best decisions they ever made. At 17 years old, a bourbon’s oak flavors can completely take over. Not the case here. This year’s batch was distilled in 2002 and has matured on the first floor of Warehouse P.
If Stagg is dark and brooding, Eagle Rare 17 is refined and stately. Dark toffee, dusty oak, and dark chocolate define the nose. On the palate, we’re treated with hints of dark chocolate covered orange, cocoa, vanilla extract, toffee. A drying toasted oak note lingers throughout the palate and into the long, dry finish. We’re left with subtle hints of oak spice and caramel. From memory, last year’s Eagle Rare stood out from past bottlings. The 2019 edition continues to improve the brand’s flavor profile by ever so slightly toning down the oak notes and allowing other flavors to shine through. This is a case of my wishing the sample size was a full bottle. 9/10
SAZERAC RYE 18-YEAR-OLD
The oldest whiskey in the Antique Collection, Sazerac 18-year-old rye whiskey has long been a favorite of mine. There’s something exquisite about older rye whiskies. This batch was distilled in 2001 and matured on the second floors of Warehouse K and L.
On the nose, mellow rye spice meets hints of dark brown sugar, dried basil, and toasted oak. The palate kicks off with hints of vanilla and cocoa. A development of astringent toasted oak and baking spices appear soon after. Official tasting notes mention black pepper and spearmint on the finish, and they’re spot on. This year’s batch of Sazerac 18 is nice enough, but doesn’t quite hit the complexity of past releases. 8/10
THOMAS H. HANDY SAZERAC
We go from oldest to youngest. Thomas H. Handy Sazerac rye is 6-years-old, distilled back in 2013. This batch was, as always, bottled at cask strength. In this case, that’s 125.7 proof. The flavor profile of this rye generally favors the spirit versus Sazerac 18’s strong barrel influence.
The nose is fresh, featuring hints of buttered rye toast, vanilla, and cinnamon. Rye grain is the featured player on the palate. The entry kicks off with waves of caramel and sharp rye grain. Butterscotch and black peppercorn develop mid-palate. The long finish sees lingering notes of creamy caramel and a sprinkling of oak spice. This year’s batch feels vibrant and seems to showcase rye grain over past releases. Nicely done. 8.5/10
Saying goodbye to an old friend is hard. Heaven Hill 6-year-old bottled-in-bond was discontinued months ago. At it’s $15ish price tag, it was considered by many bourbon enthusiasts to be not only a steal, but THE steal.
Its replacement was to be a new $40 7-year-old bottled-in-bond. Judging by a lot of social media reaction, the new expression was the equivalent of Yoko breaking up the band (I’m listening to Abbey Road as I write this review)
The truth of the matter is that 6-year-old BIB bourbon was a Kentucky-only release, which put it out of the reach of many folks. Second, it was underpriced by today’s standards. The $39.99 asking price of the new expression isn’t nuts. It’s actually more in line with the 2019 bourbon market.
Additionally, the new expression is available in more states than its predecessor, first launching in California, Texas, New York, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, South Carolina, and Colorado. Notably missing is Kentucky. But, those large markets put the whiskey in the hands of more thirsty customers. A lot more.
So, how is it? In the words of Mr. Harrison, “Here comes the sun.”
The nose carries hints of grilled sweet corn, vanilla, caramel, and some spice. Taste-wise, initial notes of toffee and peanut brittle meet baking spice, stewed orchard fruit, and baking spice. The long finish features lingering notes of salted caramel, freshly baked brioche, and a touch of oak spice.
Heaven Hill 7-year-old bottled-in-bond is a bourbon you’ll want to add to your collection. It’s big and bold and full of flavor. Heaven Hill knows its bonded whiskey – it makes more than any other distillery. Final verdict: I Want You (She’s So Heavy). Well said, Mr. Lennon. 8.5/10