BAKER’S SINGLE BARREL 13 YEAR
2019 Limited Edition, Barrel #267847
MASH BILL – 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley
PROOF – 107
AGE – 13
DISTILLERY – Jim Beam Distillery
PRICE – $136
BUY AGAIN? – No, but I’m quite happy to have this one.
This fancy-boxed limited edition has taken heat from some reviewers and buyers. I very much like it overall. But I do agree that, as a limited edition, it’s too like its standard release counterpart (Baker’s Single Barrel 7 Year) to justify the typical L.E. price bump and inevitable markups. I managed to find a bottle close to msrp. I know folks who paid $200 or even $300 for it. I have no doubt I wouldn’t like it as much at those prices.
Is it even worth its msrp? Here in brief are some notes taken about three weeks after uncorking and a few ounces into the bottle:
COLOR – a glowing orange that fades toward golden honey
NOSE – oak in sun after a fresh rain, cinnamon, caramel very faint in the background
TASTE – there’s the caramel, now alongside the oak, with dark vanilla, roasted nuts, some apricots in their orchard
FINISH – a bit tannic from the oak, with the caramels, roasted nuts, and a bright sweet fruit sugar syrup
OVERALL – like standing in a nut and fruit tree orchard, surrounded by an oak forest, on a sunny autumn afternoon
I’m very struck by how in the orchard this tastes. It really does conjure up clear images and smells from my hometown—apple and other fruit orchards, thick oak forests, the crisp weather of a sunny autumn day after rain, the smells of wood, mulch, fresh fruit on the branch and a bag of freshly roasted nuts in hand.
But mostly it’s the various oak notes that strike me. How a thick oak tree trunk smells when a hand-swung axe opens it up. Oak trees after rain. Smoothly sanded chunks of oak. Cracked oak branches unleashing fresher scents than the thick trunk. Having grown up surrounded by oak trees—many of which I knew so well I could climb them in a matter seconds—and in a part of California that sees all four seasons in their extreme weather patterns, my nose for oak is keen. It makes a bourbon like this jump out for me.
Comparing this 13-year single barrel with the standard release Baker’s Single Barrel—in my case an 8-year 6-month barrel—the latter is notably less forthcoming on the nose, though its caramel is a bit more in line with the oak. The younger single barrel has a thinner mouthfeel. The taste is likewise less dense with oak, yet with a similar blend of caramel, roasted nuts, and that fruit sugar syrup. The finish has less of a tannic edge, and is brighter and thinner. Overall, with the younger barrel we’re not standing in the orchard itself but rather back home at the table where the fruits and oak chunks have been set out. It’s very good, just less complex and layered by comparison.
I don’t begrudge this Baker’s 13 Year’s detractors their complaints. It’s not so spectacular as to warrant the fancy box and jewelry. Its 107 proof is the same as the standard release. And anything called a “limited edition” deserves a cork made of something more substantial than cheap plastic. The cork of this limited edition is the exact same cork used for the standard release. This and the proof leave the impression that Jim Beam had some old Baker’s stock they needed to move out (maybe because it didn’t make it into Little Book 3?) and they used the Fall 2019 release of the rebooted Baker’s line to put out a limited edition padded with eye-catching, shelf-space-eating packaging.
And if I’d paid the secondary prices some of my whiskey friends did, and which most shops seem to be charging, these notes may have leaned a bit more against this bourbon. But I didn’t. I would not buy this again, even at msrp. For half the price I can pick up a bottle of that exceptionally oaky caramel bomb, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof—always aged 12 years and ranging in proof from about 125 to nearly 140. And anyway the standard Baker’s Single Barrel release is already so good in its way.
Nevertheless, I will savor this well-aged, exceptionally oak-centric bourbon while it lasts. It’s mature and fun, rich and approachable, as willing to chat as to lean back and listen. The excessive packaging earns the accusation of “trying too hard.” Jim Beam Distillery’s tendency to stick bourbons in boxes is quite unnecessary. They’re as likely to do it with Booker’s, a high-end barrel proof offering, as they are with Jim Beam Double Oak, a common bottom-shelfer. There must be marketing people with data proving this moves bottles. But the significant part of me that values inner integrity over surface presentation wishes they’d trust their own integrity and drop all the boxy splash. Whether it’s Booker’s, Baker’s, Knob Creek, or Jim Beam, the bourbon itself is always genuine.
This Baker’s Single Barrel 13 Year is no exception. I don’t recommend it above msrp. But if you find it priced right, and you already know you’re a fan of Jim Beam or of the oakier aspects of bourbon, I say go for it.