Booker’s 2015-02 “Dot’s Batch”

BOOKER’S 2015-02 “DOT’S BATCH”

MASH BILL – Rumored 77% corn, 13% rye, 10% barley

PROOF – 127.9

AGE – 7 years 18 days

DISTILLERY – Jim Beam

PRICE – $80-$100 and some time hunting it down

BUY AGAIN? – In a heartbeat, provided I was on my last bottle and I found another for under $90

For the first bourbon tasting on this blog—Booker’s, the bourbon that made me love bourbon. Booker’s being my first true bourbon love, I hope you will forgive me if I go on a bit about it before getting to the actual bottle on the table.

“All flights land in Booker’s” is something I’ve often said toward the end of a flight with friends. Booker’s is a small batch blend of bourbons aged 6-to-8 years, bottled uncut and unfiltered. Each batch is typically bottled in the neighborhood of 130 proof, making Booker’s a good place to land a flight since anything after it will inevitably taste like water!

Originally created by legendary master distiller, and principle bourbon-world character, Booker Noe (1929-2004), it is now blended by his son, Fred Noe. Choice barrels are selected from the “center cut,” the floors in the center of the rick house where the climate impacts the bourbon in a way that Booker Noe himself especially enjoyed. What was at first a private project shared only with friends and family eventually became Noe’s namesake product, doing much to spur the “small batch” concept. Each batch reflects a personal touch by way of a nickname, often referencing someone related to the distillery or the Noe family.

In addition to adding character to the bottle itself, this special labelling is a brilliant marketing approach. The nicknames and the stories behind them appeal to those of us who suffer from collector’s syndrome. The now quarterly releases (there used to be six annually) are highly anticipated by Booker’s fans. Whenever I catch word that the latest batch has hit the shelves I hunt down every review I can find! The only reason I don’t buy them all is $$$ and shelf space.

Though each batch has its unique accents, what is consistent from batch to batch is a certain wildness, a kind of bucking bronco quality that comes from the combined heat of the proof, the kick of the rye dancing with the sweet corn in the charred oak barrel, and the overall intensity of the undiluted flavors.

Those flavors lean from one batch to the next in caramel, vanilla, nutty, and herbal directions. Some I’ve not cared for, like the 2016-02 “Annis’ Answer,” which was far more herbal than I prefer. Or the 2015-06 “Noe’s Secret,” a surprisingly uneventful and unmemorable batch within the Booker’s oeuvre

Others have been the very definition of Perfectly Satisfying, such as the 2017-04 “Sip Awhile,” which I did sip awhile. And the 2018-01 “Kathleen’s Batch,” which delivered that Booker’s caramel intensity in a satisfyingly bright and buttery way rather than with the more typically explosive pepperiness. 

And then there are a few batches that leave me with my head happily in my hand, eyes closed, breathing long and slow, as I ride thick waves of flavor rolling through my senses. These batches tend to be much more vanilla-caramel and nut forward, like the 2016-05 “Off Your Rocker,” the impact of which lives up to its nickname! Or the intensely focused loveliness of the 2017-01 “Tommy’s Batch,” with its unusually complex nose and rich roasted caramel flavor—the very definition of “bourbon” seeming to have been articulated in a single bottle. Or my very first Booker’s experience, the 2015-05 “Maw Maw’s Batch,” a brow-raising weirdo and chameleon of a batch that swayed wildly around the Booker’s flavor profile as the bottle took air over time.

Something any glass of Booker’s underlines for me is that I am no sentimentalist. If something is going to be sweet, for me it must not be cloyingly so but rather darkly, deeply, richly sweet. Likewise, I don’t care for a humorless, dry herbal experience. There must be some life, some fire and steam, and yet enough solidity from the wood and nuts to balance the roasty sweetness of the caramel. 

Booker’s is bold and unapologetic, and I appreciate that. At the same time its wildness has been harnessed with great care to allow it the freedom of its genuine impulses, with just enough direction to keep those impulses leaping within a dependable field of flavors and sensory experiences. I know what I’m going to get with Booker’s: a surprise! That’s a nice paradox that keeps me interested and coming back for more.

So today, I’ve poured a bit of 2015-02 “Dot’s Batch.” I picked up this bottle in 2016 but didn’t open it until one evening this past May 2019. I’d seen another bottle of it gathering dust on the shelf of a corner store that afternoon, and had also recently polished off an even older batch—2012’s C06-K-8, from the days before the nicknames and simplified dating stamp:

The older batches tended to be aged around the 7+ year mark, whereas most batches now are around 6+ years. I don’t know if it’s the age of the blend or some other factor, but there is a particularly refined quality to these older batches. 

The day after uncorking this 2015-02, I marched right back down to that corner store and picked up its dusty cousin as a backup. Here is why:

COLOR – dark burnt orange and copper

NOSE – smooth oak, roasted peanut, tangy vanilla caramel, some faint orange peel and dark brandied apricot.

TASTE – a gooey texture, peanut up front, then dark tangy caramel, faint oak, and a bright flare of caramel and heat toward the end.

FINISH – deep and warm with the bright caramel flare very slowly fading, leaving a soft peppery tingle and soft oak.

Booker’s can be brash. The 2016-03 “Toogie’s Invitation” I often recalled incorrectly as “Toogie’s Revenge,” so fiery was its caramel punch! But this 2015-02 has such a lovely, rich softness to it, with the roasted peanut so smoothly blended with the caramel and oak. It shows the fruitier, sweeter side of Booker’s too with that unexpected brandied apricot in the nose, which brightens the caramel on the pallet and on into the finish.

And incidentally, Booker’s flies well with other bourbons:

So if you ever see a bottle of 2015-02 on a shelf, and if you’re a fan of high proof bourbons, I highly recommend picking it up. It will cost you more than a current Booker’s. But it will be worth it.

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