Batch 2022-02 “The Lumberyard Batch”
MASH BILL – 77% corn, 13% rye, 10% malted barley
PROOF – 124.8
AGE – 7 years 1 month 1 day
DISTILLERY – Jim Beam
PRICE – $87
WORTH BUYING? – Yes. But do take the time to find the lowest price you can.
The last newly released Booker’s I bought was the 2020-01. Like some other 2019 and 2018 batches, it was heavy on the cinnamon at the expense of other flavors I like in a Booker’s—those great orange and orange peel notes that add sweet zing to the vanillas, caramels, chocolate, and nuts. If cinnamon was to be the new dominant Booker’s note, that combined with the cost climbing up toward three digits meant I was sadly done pursuing Booker’s. With several bottles from 2012 to 2017 bunkered, I figured I was set for a good while.
Not that I’ve had a bad Booker’s. But back in the $50 days, every release was a no-brainer buy for the specs. Even at $65 and $70 it was a good buy, if no longer a no-brainer. I started to get choosier. Now at around $90 to $100+ on average, it will take some unusually good notices from other Booker’s fans to get me to plunk down the cash—and even then I’ll scout around for the best price. I’ll also check in on when the reviewer became a Booker’s fan. If they started their journey with the brand in 2018 or later, they might favor in a Booker’s the very cinnamon emphasis I don’t prefer. But if they got into Booker’s in 2017 or before, we’ll be more likely to share similar favorite Booker’s notes.
YouTubers Chad and Sara of It’s Bourbon Night got into Booker’s around the same time I did, and I have often shared their assessments. They’re a bit more accepting of the recent flavor profile shifts than I am. But generally they’re inclined toward the same darker, sweeter notes that I favor, and they agree the higher price tag makes Booker’s a less desirable prospect given other options on the market.
So when Chad and Sara posted a “Flight Fight” episode, in which they blind-tasted the 2022-02 Booker’s against some of their 2017 and 2018 favorites, and to their surprise the 2022-02 won, I was intrigued.
They described it as a return to older style Booker’s batches, citing the syrupy mouthfeel and darker notes. I bought a bottle the next day.
At uncorking I was less impressed than Chad and Sara had been. The cinnamon was immediately prominent, though notably less bright than the 2020-01 or 2019-03 batches—two very cinnamon-forward releases. But indeed that mouthfeel was excellent, and the flavor profile darker overall. On the nose I got cookie dough, crystalized brown sugar, chocolate, honeyed caramel, and oak. The taste had that great syrupy texture, and the same notes as the nose. The finish carried on consistently. I wouldn’t quite call it “old school” Booker’s. But it was certainly much closer to some of my favorite pre-2017 Booker’s experiences.
So now here we are, just over a week after uncorking and a handful of pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – few whiskeys have quite the same rich color as Booker’s, that dark and sunset-burnt russet orange that tilts into brass and red in the light
NOSE – bright rich cinnamon and thick dusty oak dominate; behind them a dry-cut caramel, subtle chocolate, some faint fruit like baked apricot, the faintest hint of pulpy orange zest
TASTE – very syrupy, caramel and now a much stronger chocolate note swirling in the dust of the oak, those bright cinnamons tempered like a late-Summer sunset’s burnt light, the heat only biting a bit toward the end
FINISH – the heat’s bite gently unclenches its jaw, allowing the chocolate and oak to linger most prominently, dusted and dried by the cinnamon and the oak’s own dust
OVERALL – a quiet but confident celebration of chocolate, oak, and toasted cinnamon
Well, those bright cinnamons are still very much present. But as this bottle has aired out over the week they seem to have dimmed a bit, allowing other darker notes to emerge—especially a delicious chocolate note.
I absolutely understand why Chad and Sara’s eyebrows went up when they tried this, and why it conjured for them Booker’s of old. That mouthfeel is truly exceptional, and does a lot to balance the drier aspects of the bourbon—the cinnamon, dusty oak, and darker chocolate notes. The caramel also helps in this regard. It’s a dark, thick caramel, drier on the nose than in the taste.
I don’t know that this 2022-02 will make me a regular on the Booker’s train again. But it is certainly a refreshing sidetrack from what the brand has generally been offering these past couple years.
I’m glad I got this at a price now on the “low” end for Booker’s. At $100 I might not be quite so complimentary. I’m not among those who can disregard price as a factor in their enjoyment of a whiskey. Whiskey is an expensive hobby, and I choose to indulge in it. I do consider it an indulgence, and myself privileged to be able to pursue it. Maybe I’ll regret it when I hit retirement!
Then again, as a theater artist I’ve never imagined myself retiring. We tend to die with our boots on. I also hope to have a glass of whiskey in my hand. There are worse ways to go!