MASH BILL – 77% corn, 13% rye, 10% barley
PROOF – 128
AGE – small batch blend with a minimum age of 7 years
DISTILLERY – Jim Beam Distillery
PRICE – $75 to $100 on average
BUY AGAIN? – No, but…
Older batches of Booker’s—the now 4x-annual, small batch, unfiltered barrel proof release from Jim Beam Distillery—are increasingly difficult to find out in the wild. I was lucky to have found not one but two bottles of this 2013-7 batch.
After recently uncorking one of them, I sold the other at cost. Not at all because it’s bad, mind you. It’s good. Simply because (1) my shelf space is very limited in the wake of this past autumn’s whiskey hunting, (2) in its first few pours the 2013-7 didn’t fall squarely enough within that dark area of the Booker’s flavor profile I favor most, (3) I know there will always be more good Booker’s out there to be had, and (4) it’s good to practice letting go of things. 🙂
So, all things considered, I figured I’d enjoy this bottle of the 2013-7 through to its end and get the other into the hands of someone else who might also enjoy it. (And of course the shelf space that other bottle once occupied has already been filled! Oy!)
Before I get into the details, here are some tasting notes in brief, taken a month after uncorking and a few ounces into the bottle, using both a brandy glass and Rauk tumbler:
COLOR – surprisingly light for Booker’s, a nice clear copper orange
NOSE – crisp baked cinnamons, dusty and toasted caramels, warm melted butter, grilled orange peel
TASTE – that grilled orange peel aspect dipped in bright caramels, a nice peppery tingle, some oak and mild wood tannins
FINISH – warm for a moment before the heat then opens up in the chest for a nice Kentucky hug, lingering with bright caramel, dense white oak, and some sweet zip from that orange peel
OVERALL – unusually bright for Booker’s
The qualities that stand out most for me with this Booker’s is its brightness and that grilled orange peel aspect. They carry through from the nose all the way to the finish. The orange peel in particular gives those expected Booker’s caramels a nicely sweet, almost soft juiciness.
Both glasses, the Rauk and the brandy, offer similar experiences, so this batch is quite firmly rooted in its personality. I do enjoy it. But there are other Beam bourbons (the new Baker’s Single Barrel 7 Year, for example) that also offer a bright Beam experience and cost a bit less. Whereas when I reach for Booker’s I’m reaching for surprise, which this delivers, and a dark brooding quality—dark like the fun comedic Hamlet who stabs with sharp wit, rather than the humorless Hamlet who sulks and batters people around.
A part of me regrets letting my back-up bottle of this 2013-7 go. It’s rare, and Booker’s hasn’t seen a 7-year minimum in its blend since the 2015-03 Center Cut batch. Not that age is everything. The youngest bourbon in the C06-K-8 batch from 2012 was 6 years on the dot, and that was an amazing Booker’s. So deeply dark and complex, it will easily remain among my top Booker’s experiences for a long time. By contrast, at the 7-year-minimum mark this 2013-7 batch is quite notably brighter than many Booker’s I’ve had.
At the same time, I’m very glad to have let my back-up bottle go. Someone else now has the opportunity to experience it, alongside however many friends they’ll share it with. And anyway there are four new opportunities every year for me to experience Booker’s.
And this is what I appreciate about Booker’s, and why I’m such a fan. There is the nostalgic aspect, that Booker’s is the bourbon that made me love bourbon. But weightier than nostalgia is the Booker’s signature combination of variety, intensity, and rich flavors. It’s a roller coaster. A bucking bronco. A smart action picture. Shakespeare that excites, rather than being merely “good for you” like broccoli. Nobody has nothing to say in response to Booker’s. Nobody is indifferent to it. Booker’s compels visceral commentary, the kind of conversation where voices rise in enthusiasm, fists pound tables, palms smack foreheads. Booker’s is good art, good sports, good community, good friends. It challenges and it entertains.
And because it’s so strong, Booker’s is a destination. You need to make your way toward it. I prepared for this tasting, for example, with some 107-proof Baker’s single barrel. I wanted something in the Jim Beam catalogue of a lower intensity to warm me up. Booker’s as a first pour would make a good toast to a very hard week. But there’d be no going back afterwards. Everything else would taste like water!
At $65 a bottle on average, new Booker’s batches are still among the better deals in barrel proof small batch bourbons. And if you ever come across an older Booker’s from some handful+ years ago that’s priced under $100, I recommend grabbing it on sight. Even if it doesn’t end up being your favorite bourbon, it will be memorable. If the conversation at your party ever slips into a lull, pour your guests some Booker’s and they’ll be all fired up in no time.