Batch C07-B-7 (2014)
MASH BILL – 77% corn, 13% rye, 10% barley
PROOF – 130.8
AGE – 7 years 2 months
DISTILLERY – Jim Beam
PRICE – $65 (Those were the days!)
BUY AGAIN? – If I found one under $80 or so, I might
If my concerns were oriented toward capitalism, there’d be no point in posting notes about this long gone 2014 bottle of Booker’s. You can’t get it. You might find it gathering dust in some random store, or at a hiked price on the secondary market. But you might also find similarly older Booker’s batches in those same places. In a way, which older batch you find doesn’t matter. If you find one, and you either know you like Booker’s or are Booker’s-curious, so long as the price isn’t yet three digits you should buy it. It’s a no brainer in that sense.
I say this because Booker’s, and especially pre-2015 Booker’s, always has something to offer anyone with a penchant for the brash, rollicking rollercoaster ride it provides. I’m much choosier with more recent batches. But anything older sporting that simple masking-tape like label I’m going to buy without blinking. They never let me down. This C07-B-7 batch from 2014 is no exception.
Before I go further, here are the notes in brief, taken two months after uncorking and sipping the final ounces of the bottle in both a simple brandy glass and one of my sentimental-favorite tumblers:
COLOR – vibrant autumn orange with copper and gold highlights
NOSE – caramel and cinnamon-heavy baking spices, dusty oak, strong heat from the proof warning me not to lean in too deep!
TASTE – bright but rich caramel and fiery sparks, fresh oranges, grilled orange peel, solid oak
FINISH – warm and tingly from the heat, the orange, caramel, and oak all lingering together
OVERALL – a fiery masterpiece, a fun loud Winter party with dancing and a roaring fire, and proof that a bourbon need not offer a wide range of complex flavors to be excellent or satisfying
Yep. It’s good. The range of dominant flavors is narrow: caramel, orange, oak. Boom. I wouldn’t call it complex. But it nevertheless grabs my brain right along with my senses. The fiery punch of the 130.8 proof is immediate and undeniable, softening gradually with further sips. But the intensity of the elements that make up its limited flavor range is striking. I’ve picked up orange notes in Booker’s before, though never so powerfully as here. In this batch we get the whole orange—meat, juice, and rind.
Another older Booker’s fave was 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 deep and dark, with caramel, chocolate, oak, and some cherry aspects. The taste was at once dry and juicy, with lively contradictions between woody oak flavors and fruity caramels. The finish never ended, lingering on and on with caramel, oak, and dark dried fruits. Though younger at 6 years, it reminds me of this C07-B-7 batch in how the flavor profile is at once limited in range and yet so vibrant and full.
The tumbler I’m using, with the crow, deer and forest imprinted on it, was a gift from a cast of actors, one of whom was my friend noted above who moved to New York. I think of that cast and the show we made together whenever I use the glass, and my friend whenever I use it to drink Booker’s. Working on that show was an intense experience, befitting a generous pour of Booker’s! And my friend is as comforting and generous as she is intense and passionate, also befitting a pour of Booker’s.
I mention this as an example of how an experience with a whiskey can soak up associations that add to one’s enjoyment of it. And in another glass my memory might conjure up other friends with whom I’ve shared one batch of Booker’s or another. Booker’s imprints itself on you in this way. It’s indelible and it sponges up the people with whom and circumstances in which one drinks it. There is something about the intensity of Booker’s that captures history in this way.
A few years ago, Jim Beam Distillery published its plan to hike the msrp for Booker’s from $50 to $100 and this was met with immediate outrage from very vocal fans. Beam backed off at once. But they didn’t change course so much as tweak it. Now they hike the price by $10 each year. As of 2020 Booker’s costs $80, and, to be honest, despite my deep fondness for it, I can no longer justify the cost for the experience. Booker’s is good. But it’s young and inconsistent. I can get excellent bourbon aged 12 years for $80 from MGP—their 100-proof Remus Repeal Reserve, for example. Not a barrel-proofer, but aged 12 years! Or the very available Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, always aged 12 years, ranging in proof from 125-135 on average, and still selling for $60-$70 on average. Booker’s, MGP, and Elijah Craig don’t taste at all alike, of course. But that’s not the point. Considering the ever-expanding bourbon market, I wonder how Booker’s will continue to sell if Beam remains committed to their price hikes and the brand’s low age range.
Find yourself an old bottle of Booker’s. It’s worth the search and patience. It’s not worth three digits, though, so don’t pay that. If you buy a more recent batch, do some research first. Find out how a given year’s batches have been received and go for the one that seems like it might most appeal to you.
Booker’s might not be for everyone. But nobody who tries it doesn’t have a point of view on it. That’s something.