BAKER’S SINGLE BARREL 7 YEAR
Date Filled 01-2011 / Warehouse CL-D / Serial No. 000157201
MASH BILL – 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley
PROOF – 107
AGE – 8 years 6 months
DISTILLERY – Jim Beam Distillery
PRICE – $45 to $65
BUY AGAIN? – Yes indeed
For years the original Baker’s 7 Year sat lonely on shelves, often passed over in the shadow of its brothers—the heartier, more spectacular Booker’s, the containably rough and tumble Knob Creek, and the smooth crowd-pleasing Basil Hayden. Priced around $50, Baker’s offered a less attention-grabbing taste profile than the only slightly more expensive Booker’s, and was a tough sell next to the readily affordable Knob Creek and Basil Hayden.
Jim Beam Distillery could have quietly dropped Baker’s without many people noticing. Instead, they opted to give the bottling a nifty redesign and drop the blend for a single barrel release.
In terms of the bourbon itself, the key change is its now being a single barrel. That means the signature 7-year moniker is now a promise of the minimum age—which of course it was when Baker’s was blended—with the actual age of the given barrel printed on the neck of the bottle:
The proof remains a pleasing 107, low enough to be approachable and high enough to guarantee some personality.
Whiskey fans appreciate these details. I’m surprised the price remains comparable to the original blended Baker’s. Single barrel releases are more expensive to produce, and the increased level of detail as to what’s inside the bottle is typically cause for price hikes. Jim Beam kept it classy and only slightly raised the suggested price. I’ve seen it around the San Francisco Bay Area for $45 to $65, the same range I’d typically see the former Baker’s.
Needless to say, I was excited to revisit Baker’s in its new form. Here are some brief notes, made about a week and a half after first uncorking the bottle:
COLOR – a lovely soft toasted orange
NOSE – mixed nuts, oak and soft dusty oak tannins, soft caramel, smooth chocolate, a drop of lemon, all very pleasantly balanced
TASTE – caramel and oak front to back, the oak tannins a touch edgier but not unpleasantly so, a soft peppery tingle, roasted nuts, chocolate
FINISH – caramel, oak, the roasted nuts, the chocolate, a bit of granulating honey, all lingering warmly
OVERALL – pleasant, easy, warming, rustic, cozy, like a comfortable chair near a blazing fire in winter
It’s been too long since I’ve had the original blended Baker’s to compare it to this new single-barrel bottling. My memory of it was of a tamed Booker’s. I’m not curious enough to pay for one of those old bottles for the sake of making a comparison. And of course each single barrel of this new incarnation would necessitate yet another comparison.
If this inaugural 8-year-6-month bottling is representative of what we can expect from the Baker’s reboot, I’m very pleased to have it on the market and as a constant on my shelf. It’s pretty straightforward, but very cozy and comfortable. It has such ease. The nose relaxes me right away, conjuring the feeling of leaning back in a well-worn easy chair. The taste follows the nose’s lead, with the finish then also carrying on dutifully from there. It’s not a complex whiskey but a consistent one. I can trust it to deliver the goods without surprises, and sometimes that’s exactly what you want in a bourbon.
All in all, Baker’s Single Barrel 7 Year is a great autumn or winter pour, especially at its current low-end price of around $45 a bottle. In today’s market that’s a good deal for decently aged, well made bourbon this tasty and balanced.
My sense memory kept taking me back to the recent Little Book Chapter 3. So I poured a bit to make a comparison:
BAKER’S – eyeing it next to the Little Book, its toasty orange aspect tilts more toward yellow…
LITTLE BOOK 03 – …whereas the Little Book tilts more toward a proper orange.
BAKER’S – oak, caramel, nutshells, a bit of creamy apricot pastry, a dash of cinnamon
LITTLE BOOK 03 – rich dusty oak, caramel, cinnamon in some doughy layered pastry of some kind
BAKER’S – caramel and oak hand in hand, a nice soft pepperiness
LITTLE BOOK 03 – the oak leads the caramel by the hand here, with a stronger billow of pepperiness at the end, a juicier tanginess, all remarkably smooth given the high proof
BAKER’S – caramel and layered pastry dough with something creamy inside, the oak backing it up, soft oak tannins lingering
LITTLE BOOK 03 – juicy and tangy caramel, pastry dough, oak, soft tingly pepperiness, all gently fading
BAKER’S – the autumn/winter comfort food of bourbons
LITTLE BOOK 03 – the stable oak table of bourbons, on which some satisfying cinnamon-caramel and cream pastries are served
They are so close to one another. Almost twin siblings. The Little Book shows the age of its blend with its oak emphasis, and the flavor profile just a notch more pronounced. But they are so much alike that I wonder if the Little Book blend’s percentage of 12-year Baker’s is higher than its three other composite bourbons—9-year Basil Hayden, 9-year Knob Creek, and 11-year Booker’s. Of course, those bourbons are all close siblings, raised in different areas of the Jim Beam warehouses and then bottled at a range of proofs and filtered or unfiltered. Even the Little Book’s 122.8 proof—a full 15.8 proof points higher than Baker’s—doesn’t make it significantly more peppery than Baker’s. You notice it, for sure. Yet they share similar temperaments.
At the uncorking, then again a week later when I shared it with a friend, and now again a few days after that, this Baker’s Single Barrel 7 Year impresses me as a new go-to standby. I love its solid structure, and the undeniable coziness of it all. Perhaps it helps that it’s winter and the heater in my apartment isn’t working as I write this, affording this bourbon an opportunity to show off its comforting warmth. The standard Knob Creek has never been a regular feature on my shelf. But if Knob Creek has been your standby, I’d recommend giving the rebooted Baker’s a go.
Of course, if future other Baker’s single barrels swerve away from this barrel’s attributes significantly, I may need to revise that assessment. Henry McKenna is a single barrel line from Heaven Hill, for example, with a tendency to vary dramatically from barrel to barrel. That makes McKenna’s recent award-winning clout—which instantly hiked its price up from a dependable $30 to $50 and even $100—a dicey prospect. But for now I count myself a big fan of this new Baker’s. It’s an excellent addition to the relatively affordable comfort-food bourbon options out there.