Kentucky’s Finest, Straight from the Barrel
When we decided to focus our July posts on bourbon, there was one bottle that immediately came to mind. Booker’s is about as straightforward of a bourbon experience as possible. We received our bottle as a gift and have quite honestly been intimidated to open it. For starters, our batch clocks in at an eye-watering 65.3% ABV. In addition, the packaging is simply perfection. So this beautiful, potent bottle sat for a long while, waiting while we slowly built up our collective bourbon palette. This month gives us a great opportunity to dive into this cask strength heavyweight.
Booker’s is a small batch brand of the Jim Beam distillery and seems to be focused on producing the filet mignon of the company’s bourbon. According to the company, the barrels used to compose Booker’s rest in the center of the warehouse where the combination of temperature and humidity are optimal. Each bottle has all of the hallmark small batch attributes—cask strength, non chill filtering, and small production runs.
To further the small batch story, each bottle of Booker’s features a label describing the particular batch. Our bottle is from an older batch, C-07-A-12. More recent batches are named (i.e. “Front Porch Batch”). The label gives you the age, strength, and a small picture that represents the name of that particular batch. This customization extends to the company’s website, where you can find even more details about the different barrels that went into each batch along with tasting notes.
Booker’s gives us a chance to have a customized bourbon experience. Bottling at barrel strength means that we can (and will!) add water to suit our tastes. After trying several different bourbons and bourbon-type whiskies over the past few months we were excited.
Booker’s Bourbon Batch C07-A-12
On the Eyes: Honey toned wood varnish; the bottle is too beautiful to open. Elegant, wine bottle shape. Wax dipped neck with a “B” insignia with a pale green ribbon.
On the Nose: (Neat) We picked up waves of acetone, paint thinner, and caramel. As the proof would indicate, the nose is very strong.
(Water added/Reduced) With water we got scents that were more fruity and floral, but also with notes of fresh charred corn and burnt butter.
To the Taste: (Neat) The initial sips were like warm liquid fire. Once we got over the burning embers, warm cinnamon and brown sugar pie filling emerged. The effect was like drinking a strong holiday tea.
(Water added/Reduced) The reduced palette was quite a different experience. Sweet and tart, with hints of stone fruit and pastry crust, like a fresh peach cobbler.. Even with water, the taste still brought a lot of heat.
And the Finish: (Neat) Like a fireworks finale, the experience was intense and burning yet it disappeared very quickly, leaving a lingering warmth.
(Water added/Reduced) Water didn’t change as much here. The finish still disappears quickly, but with notes of vanilla pudding, and a slight lingering sweetness.
Drinking a glass of Booker’s was an experiment in bourbon appreciation. Both the unreduced and water-added versions gave us a lot to think about. Given that most batches of Booker’s clock in north of 60% ABV, we’re confident that the more recent batches produce a similar experience to the one we had. We would recommend you add small amounts of water spread out between sips to get a sense of how dynamic this bourbon can be. In addition, we always suggest you give this or any dram of high ABV spirit a few minutes to rest in the glass before diving in.
Overall, we were a bit split on our opinion. One of us really enjoyed the full blast cinnamon glow strait out of the bottle, while the other enjoyed the more nuanced and floral taste of the reduced glass. Either way, Booker’s contains a robust, full spectrum of bourbon flavor that is still approachable enough to try. Furthermore, the focus on small batch production likely means that each bottle is going to feature different flavor notes. If you get a chance to sip some Booker’s, think about the fact that it is created from the same mash that produces your standard Jim Beam and you can get a sense of how much variety distillers can achieve in one facility.