It's time for a fresh Booker's batch review! In my journey to try as many as I can, I can't sleep on the modern releases. This is the latest I have - I haven't found 2022-04 just yet, despite us being in the 2023 calendar year at the time of writing.
On the Booker's website Fred Noe describes the inspiration of this release saying:
While some may flavor their water with tea leaves, my dad, Booker Noe, loved to flavor his water with bourbon – something he called Kentucky Tea.
As you can imagine, Dad loved the flavor of bourbon, especially his Booker’s Bourbon. Since Booker’s is over 100 proof, the flavor still pulls through when added to water. So, he’d take one part bourbon and four parts water and enjoy his drink. One night, when a reporter was at Dad’s house for supper, he asked why Dad drank Kentucky Tea. Dad quickly replied, “Why would I flavor my water with tea leaves when I can flavor my water with bourbon?” It was that simple - Kentucky Tea was Dad’s drink. He would drink it with a country ham or fish dinner and would say you need to sip the right proportion of Kentucky Tea to really appreciate the food.
As you sip this batch, add a taste of it to your water so you can try Dad’s Kentucky Tea with “Kentucky Tea Batch.” I know that’s how he would’ve liked it. Cheers!
Now let's dive into a quick review of what's in the bottle!
Company on Label: James B. Beam
Whiskey Type: Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Barley
Age: 7 years (4 months, 14 days)
Further identification: 2022-03 Kentucky Tea Batch comes bearing a light pink label in a wooden box with a batch information card
Nose: Bright vanilla and hefty oak permeate the glass upon first lifting it to my nose. The wood tones are prevalent, sticky and invasive. It's like the inescapable smell of a woodshop in full production mode: the planers, band saws and mills all generating chips, chunks and dust. Inklings of banana peel can be separated from the deep, prevalent oak. A dusty earthiness begs my nose to sneeze. Rather simple on the nose, I find myself shying from digging too deep with the bright dustiness being rather dry and harsh in the airways. A swirl of the glass unlocks better layers of tannic grape skins and bright florals. Sharp vanilla returns in droves. Time for a sip.
Returning from a sip mellows the aromas out drastically. Typical barrel funk indicative of well-aged bourbon persuades me to keep digging. Aromas of rose, strawberry cereal and white pepper tantalize now. Heavy leather clashes against molasses. Towards the bottom of the glass synthetic deodorant aromas begin to form. Black pepper and subtle sweat against a warm sweater are further odd aromas that have me thoroughly perplexed. The empty glass smells of sea salt, grass and chocolate cake.
Palate: My first sip is noticeably chocolate forward with fruit and floral undertones. I was not expecting that level of complexity based on the nose! The mouth feel is syrupy like a slightly watered down honey would feel. The linger is prevalent and cooling similar to the feeling of just had a sip of mint tea. That flavor mixed with the chocolate does very well for me to tonight. Another larger sip and swish shows this to be really distinctly floral and minty. It clashes awkwardly on the tongue and leaves me wishing for a sip of water. Perhaps Fred's recommendation to drink this batch with water is rooted in sage advice! As I continue down my neat pour exploration, I continue to find flavors at odds with each other. Zesty orange peel intermingles with old leather. Dry raspberry abuts clove and way too much star anise for my personal preference. It's quite bitter at times and zesty similar to some MGP releases at best other times. Overall, this is a stark departure from what I know and love about Booker's bourbon. Sipping near the bottom of the glass I find more red fruit mixed with citrus characteristics. The linger continues to be bright and minty with distinct proof imbalance. Every sip leaves me further unsettled & I am longing for this glass to be through. My last sip is small and satisfyingly muted.
I have to admit I thoroughly disliked my first ever taste of this bottle which was prior to tonight. I tried to think of that as a one off fluke on a bad day, but revisiting tonight seems to have confirmed that first tasting for me. Tonight was better, but I still think this is incredibly off-profile for Booker's. I'm thoroughly surprised and disappointed to have to rate one of my favorite batched bourbon releases in existence this low, but I honestly think this one is a distinct miss. I hope this batch does actually make a decent "Kentucky Tea" because I can't envision myself sipping this neat again.
For the sake of being thorough - I did try the prescribed Kentucky Tea recipe. 4 parts water to 1 part bourbon. It certainly makes this palatable! The citrus characteristic is enjoyable and the mint backbone is mostly gone. It still makes me shudder as black licorice sits in the linger. Eugh.
Here's to hoping 2022-04 is better! Cheers.
Historical Booker's reviews I'd recommend checking out:
I think that's a pretty good summary of historical greatness. The average score of all the Booker's batches I have reviewed so far is 3.833/5.000. I've also done reviews on all the Little Book releases. Those can be hit or miss too with Chapter 6 being a distinct flub in my book. Chapter 2 is my personal favorite if you can still find it. I hope this extra context helps. Let me know what you think!