Like clockwork another quarterly released Booker's batch is here for evaluation. The 2nd release of 2023 has been mulled over a bit by enthusiasts in group chats, but how much of that is just group-think? Rather than talk about it, I figured I'd be about it - so I bought a bottle from one of my local stores. Perhaps some of the perceived backlash I am seeing and hearing is due to the ever-increasing shelf price? I remember the last 3... We grumble and cry & then keep coming back for more. There does have to be a price limit where demand does fall off, but I'm not here to determine that. I just want to tell you what I think of the bourbon, so that's just what I'll do!
Backstory from the Booker's website:
This batch pays homage to the early days of my dad Booker Noe’s career – far before he was the Sixth Generation Master Distiller – when he first learned the art of making bourbon under the guidance of his cousin Carl Beam.
When Booker started working at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont in 1952, Carl became like a mentor to him. Back then, they didn’t have official titles like Master Distiller, but everyone knew Carl was in charge. He didn't put up with any foolishness and made sure Booker was set straight. But even if Booker did mess around sometimes, he was a fast learner and was ready to be put to work, and that quickly got him Carl’s approval.
Two years after Booker started, we purchased a distillery in Boston, KY to increase our production capabilities. Carl and Booker worked closely together to get it up and running, and eventually, Carl handed the reins over to Booker. This is where he was able to experiment and master the bourbon- making process, and later on, the location was renamed the Booker Noe Distillery.
Carl showed Booker the ropes at the distillery, but from there, his approach was sink or swim and it was just the push Booker needed. His apprenticeship under Carl helped him become the Master Distiller and legendary innovator we all remember him as today.
I always love reading the inspiration for these batches. A good story can only take a brand so far though, so I'm here to offer my thoughts on the liquid inside. Let's dive in.
Company on Label: James B. Beam
Whiskey Type: Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Barley
Age: 7 years (1 months, 2 days)
Further identification: 2023-02 Apprentice Batch comes bearing a robins' egg blue label in a wooden box with a batch information card
Nose: Barrel funk jumps out of the glass first for me, followed by subtle peanut brittle and vanilla frosting. Woah - big lemon notes permeate the senses on a subsequent deep inhale. It's on the edge of being intoxicating like Pinesol (think Willett rye), but it ultimately trickles down in intensity closer to Knob Creek 12 year. The citrus fruit disappears quickly leaving damp oak bark, allspice, mace and fresh mulch aromas sitting in the glass. This fast change is a bit rushed and leaves the glass feeling slightly chaotic to me. The citrus tones begin to ebb back into the nose moments later, though this time a little more zesty than before. The overall nose-feel here reminds me of a lighthouse: the beam of citrus light slowly spinning in circles, shining brightest when it sweeps briefly past the point of viewing. The chaos of the assorted notes that follow isn't far removed from the tumultuous crashing of ocean waves on the dark rocks below. The glass continues to exude funky earthy notes all throughout as it settles into its generic base profile. Time for a sip.
Returning to the glass from a few sips reveals a glass that has rolled into layers of sweet vanilla. Scooping this off the surface with deep inhales quickly vaporizes those dreamy notes, leaving soft oak and molasses in the glass behind it. Dark, damp earthy tones return in spades and continue into the empty glass.
Palate: My first sip highlights sweet cherry and strawberry up near the front of the tongue before bitter, tannic notes permeate towards the back. I find thick, jammy plum and raspberry notes coating my tongue before a wave of classic, nutty oak scrapes these flavors off the palate. Another sip is vibrant, energetic and teeming with citrus zest. I feel the lighthouse looking at me. A larger sip and swish is full of dark, red grape notes that sizzle, pop and dry out. The spice level is high on this one; I certainly would stay away from this on hot days. Fig newton suddenly becomes minty before finishing in full blown lemon drop land. What on earth is going on here? The changing of notes seems to indicate further passing of time as the good subparts of this whiskey continue to clash. Overall this whiskey drinks incredibly close to the high proof Knob Creek profile with a little more heat. The linger is hefty at times with zest and spice and other times it just sits flat like a flower petal on a wooden table. My last sip is surprisingly creamy as buttercream frosting soothes the lemon zest and sweet tea finish. This glass is all over the place!
This whiskey really took me on a journey. The setting I envisioned myself in as I sipped on this was standing on the oceanside on a Summer night in my teens. The temperature is that perfect temperature when you can't feel a damn thing except when a gentle breeze moves the air around you. I'm alone and the lighthouse is the sole focus of my eyes, but the restless darkness around me is urging me towards the allure of a cigarette. There's nothing else to focus on, nothing else to think about... Just me and the lighthouse and the sea. I don't believe I've ever been in this exact situation, so it isn't really a memory per se. I also definitely don't recommend smoking cigarettes - but damn. What a cool journey that was.
All that said, I don't think this was a bad batch, but also nothing to write home about. Perhaps this blend didn't quite have enough time to marry - as this pour was all over the place with notes weaving in and out at a startling pace. I hope this helps you form your own opinion and doesn't leave you with more questions than you came with. Maybe give your bottle a good shake and leave it on the shelf until the weather cools off.
I decided to compare this to a small dram of the "Beaten Biscuits" batch, and it was no competition as far as consistency, depth and quality.
Bonus Booker's reviews I'd recommend checking out: