30th Anniversary Limited Edition (2018)
MASH BILL – 77% corn, 13% rye, 10% barley
PROOF – 125.8
AGE – small batch blend made up of 70% 9-year and 30% 11-year
DISTILLERY – Jim Beam Distillery
PRICE – $200 at msrp
BUY AGAIN? – Buy? No, simply because life is $hort. But for a reasonable bottle trade? In a hot second!
I picked up this bottle in a trade—three Weller 12 Year bottles for one Booker’s 30th Anniversary. The other fellow and I were both equally pleased. Weller 12 Year is among the more coveted unicorns out there. But, now having tasted the Booker’s 30th Anniversary, I’d do that deal again in half a heartbeat.
I finally opened the bottle this past New Years Eve. My partner and I were playing cards on a brand new deck we’d picked up, featuring an antique design based on Civil War era playing cards. We’d had a great day and it was a special night. On the exact second the clock struck midnight, we punctuated 2020 with the solid pop of the Booker’s 30th Anniversary cork. It was superb right out of the gate, and 2020 was off to a tasty, decadent start.
Now, some weeks later, I’m returning to it for the first time since that midnight uncorking. Tasted this time in both a Rauk tumbler and a traditional Glencairn, here first are some notes in brief:
COLOR – a beautiful, deep, brown-tinted copper
NOSE – thick rich caramel, brown sugar, baked cinnamon on chewy pastry dough, a background of well-aged but still sweet oak
TASTE – oh so thick and oily, those rich caramels now releasing their juicy tang, the oak wafting forward toward the end, everything rolling out in seeming slow motion
FINISH – dark caramel, oak, a nice peppery warmth, lingering and lingering…
OVERALL – If heaven were a bottle of Booker’s, this may very well be it. And if hell were this bottle of Booker’s, I’d go there too.
Trying this gorgeous monster in two glasses was very interesting. Everything was notably less forward in the Rauk as compared to the Glencairn—not a surprise given the Glencairn is designed for tasting. Here the Rauk’s typical brightening effect is not a benefit. The bourbon certainly isn’t bad in the Rauk. But I prefer it in the Glencairn, which more readily allows that rich dark color to translate into the nose, taste, and finish. The Rauk pulls forward the oak’s brighter tannins. It lightens the caramels, almost in a way that tastes like water has been added.
Speaking of which, here are some notes from the Glencairn with 5 drops of water added:
WITH 5 DROPS OF WATER:
NOSE – emphasis shifts toward the brown sugar and cinnamon, with the oak and caramel playing equal roles in the background
TASTE – Mm. Okay. Same as before, only now with more ease to it, not as thick, a bit brighter…
FINISH – brighter, pepperier, that Kentucky hug hanging around for all the love it can give
OVERALL – though I prefer it without water, this is still excellent
Well. The only other Booker’s batch my taste buds’ memory can compare this to is the C06-K-8 batch, from 2012. I opened that bottle to toast farewell to a good friend, who appreciates a strong whiskey, and who was heading off to New York. The nose on the C06-K-8 was similarly deep and dark, with caramel, chocolate, oak, and some cherry aspects. The taste was at once dry and juicy, a bounty of lively contradictions between woody oak flavors and fruity caramels. The finish never ended, lingering on and on with caramel, oak, and dark dried fruits.
The C06-K-8 was 130.4 proof and you’d never know it given how smooth and easygoing it was, like some comfortable leather recliner. Though comparatively lighter at 125.8 proof, the 30th Anniversary bottle is similarly powerful and easygoing. I wouldn’t guess it to be even 120 proof. More than many others, both these bottles capture an aspect of Booker’s I greatly appreciate: that it’s so dang genuine. It is what it is. Not every batch is equally pleasing. Booker’s fans are in perpetual debate over this, that, and the other batch. As I recently noted about the 2013-7 batch, Booker’s is a conversation starter.
I very slowly made my way through that C06-K-8, the sensations of it tied to the memory of a good friend. This 30th Anniversary bottle will similarly forever be associated with a cozy night at home with my partner, and the new beginnings that 2020 represents. Over the course of this year I will pour it for friends, to punctuate significant moments or to accompany our musings on this already high-proof new decade. It’s the Roaring Twenties Part 2. Will this decade crank up to a shattering crash? Or will we all learn from the past? It’s going to be quite a ride either way.
…Thinking about all this, curiosity got the best of me and I reached for my open bottle of the 2013-7 batch. I wanted to try a “normal” Booker’s next to this special edition. Here are some notes in brief:
COLOR – easily half as dark
NOSE – brown sugar and cinnamon, caramel, oak, all reserved compared to the 30th
TASTE – bright tangy caramel and oak, bam!
FINISH – a bit of bite to the pepperiness, lingering with tangy caramel and soft white oak tannins
OVERALL – notably less complex than the 30th, but good.
The youngest bourbon in the 2013-7 blend is 7 years old on the dot. Most of the 30th Anniversary (70%) is 9 years old, with some 16-year bourbon (30%) added to darken things further. The 2013-7 is really good. But tasting it next to the 30th Anniversary points up the latter’s special complexity. The 30th really does earn its “limited edition” status. The age of its bourbons speak to the best of what the mash bill, the barrels, and time have to offer. This is Booker’s with experience under its belt, still fun at a party and as up for a stirring conversation as for a rowdy game of cards or a dramatic sports match.
So, my journey with Booker’s continues. Booker’s made me fall in love with bourbon, and I suspect if my dying day goes well it will involve, among other things, a nice long Kentucky hug from some special bottle of Booker’s like this 30th Anniversary edition.
I realized that I haven’t even commented on the box that this bottle comes in. This is telling of my relationship to Booker’s. I always throw away the boxes. They just take up space. And Booker’s is for drinking.
This box, however, I’ve kept. It’s made from repurposed wood taken from the distillery where Booker Noe, who created this bourbon line, once carried out his duties. Booker Noe remains a legend of the bourbon world since his passing. His son Freddie Noe often refers to his dad. Family is a key aspect of the Booker’s brand. This isn’t unique to Booker’s. Bourbon and family have always been entwined. It’s something used for marketing, of course. But it also comes from an inherent truth about bourbon. Something in this liquid compels human connections and stories. The individual nature of this box does add something special to the experience.