Little Book Chapter 7 "In Retrospect" Review - Freddie Noe's Blend of 4 to 18 Year Straight Whiskeys
The concept with In Retrospect was to reuse and reimagine some of the components that went into previous Chapters. You might be wondering where the 7th component comes from if there's only been 6 previous releases. According to Jonah Flicker from Robb Report, this would be a component that is influenced by the 80% rye and 20% malted rye mash bill that was historically produced in Pennsylvania - one of the birthplaces of some of the most legendary whiskey in history. A little background digging turns up this recipe may be getting resurrected by the Stoll & Wolfe Distillery, a legendary meeting of the minds between Erik Wolfe and Dick Stoll - one of the most prolific master distillers of all time. You've probably heard stories about the legendary whiskeys bottled under the old A.H. Hirsch name. I've had the grand fortune of drinking some of that whiskey. I'll save the rest of this complex whiskey story for another day, as there are a lot of other subcomponents built into this blend.
The Little Book website describes Chapter 7's release saying:
Little Book Chapter 7, “In Retrospect,” is the seventh chapter in the Little Book Whiskey series. “In Retrospect” offers any curious whiskey drinker a chance to explore where American Whiskey can go by looking back to where it’s been.
Now, with six chapters written, the seventh chapter of Little Book pushes the story ahead, building on what’s come before in ways not yet seen. Little Book Chapter 7 is a blend of seven different liquid streams, blending one liquid from each of the previous chapters, then adding a record seventh. “In Retrospect” is a nod to the past but also sets the course for what’s next, not only for Little Book, but Freddie’s continued journey as Eighth Generation Master Distiller of the Fred B. Noe Distillery.
“Hopefully over the course of this journey, we’ve intrigued somebody enough to try something different”.
Now let's see what the liquid in the bottle offers as far as quality and complexity. As always, I've given this 3 fair tastings on days I'm not tired or intoxicated to make sure this gets my honest analysis.
Company on Label: James B. Beam
Whiskey Type: Blended Straight Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: Undisclosed proportions of bourbon, rye and malt whiskey mash bills
Age: 4 years (a blend of whiskeys ranging from 4 to 18 years)
Further identification: This 2023 release is a blend of 18, 17, 9 & 4 year old Kentucky straight bourbon, 10 and 4 year Kentucky straight rye, and a 5 year straight malt whiskey finished in applewood smoked barrels; it is available now at an MSRP of $150
Nose: Praline ice cream jumps out of the glass upon first dipping my nose to the rim. Big, creamy vanilla aromas generate an intrigued eyebrow raise from me. Mmm. Beautiful hyper-aged barrel funk comes around after a few inhales. Bright and sweet floral tones proliferate in a distinctly cooling nose-feel, perhaps partly to do with the fact the temperatures in my house have been plummeting with the onset of Fall. Like the impending change of seasons, this glass comes across ominously sweet for what's to come on a sip. Big toffee tones scream 'Beam!' from the burnished bronze liquid below. Deep inhales show off some distinct corn and almond butter. As the liquid in my glass warms in my hand I find massive waves of floral tones with a robust spice backbone. Mace, allspice and vanilla bean dominate a lovely, complex body of aromas. Bursts of lemon frosting undulate in and out of perception.
Returning my nose to the glass after a few sips shows a whiskey still very much ready to be enjoyed. Hints of tobacco, lavender and apricot has my nose in love. This is the type of glass that you can just sit with and nose for hours. Hints of malt can be found throughout this, but it still retains a primarily bourbon-forward profile. Late in the glass I find a fun note of Hot Tamales that reminds me of Willett bourbon distillate quite a bit. As my allotted volume of whiskey nearly expires, I'm impressed by the depth of wood tones still jumping out of this glass as rich caramel begins to dominate. The empty glass smells of raisin, plum and frothed milk destined for a cappuccino. Yum.
Palate: At first sip a sweet custard base coats the tongue. Touches of plum dance in the tingling mouthfeel. Another sip hits upon a beautiful fresh cherry note; it reminds me of popping that first cherry into your mouth and it's crisp from just being rinsed under cold water. Without any sharp edges this whiskey is able to sing out notes of meringue, flan and and rich toffee. Thick gobs of malt Later in the glass earthy notes begin to amplify with more distinct wood and spice starting to build in on subsequent sips. The persistent backbone is a sweet vanilla linger that refuses to let the taste buds and salivary glands relax. Mmm - every sip has something to offer here. The overall experience is definitely classic, well-aged Kentucky bourbon shining in the forefront while some minor characters provide some background entertainment. My last sip is a wonderful scoop of vanilla bean ice cream over a wafer-style ice cream cone. The finish is medium with creamy tones abound. I am thoroughly satisfied with this glass.
TL;DR: A wonderful return to classic bourbon notes with plenty of vanilla to go around
Freddie Noe, take a bow! That nose is incredible. I'm so excited that I can look forward to this release again. After the incredibly disappointing whiskey that was released under Chapter 6, I am glad to see a more traditional profile being blended here. Experimentation is grand, but you're not supposed to try to sell the failures. Despite being an exercise in blending, this release proves Freddie definitely has the chops to be called master distiller at the Fred B. Noe Distillery. I'm always willing to give folks another chance, and I'm certainly glad I picked up a bottle of this release to do just that.
Comparing this to previous batches I'd say this batch is most reminiscent of Chapter 3. Chapter 3 also produced a lot of those really big vanilla style notes, but it also layered in a bit of extra nougat which was nice. Many would probably regard Chapter 3 as the best blend of the line, but I will continue to make the case for Chapter 2 that delivered some incredible citrus notes due to that hyper-aged Canadian stock. I would put Chapter 7 ahead of Chapter 3 due to the extra floral and spice complexity. The closest other comparison for the new blend here would be Chapter 5. Revisiting 5 shows a whiskey that has more citrus than the new batch. Chapter 4 has much more stone fruit and doesn't share many other parallels. Chapter 1 is unfortunately still boring, 2 is still the best, and 6 is still pretty bad. In Chapter 7 I do manage to taste something from everything prior, and I thoroughly enjoy which components have been highlighted on the final product. All in all "In Retrospect" proves its name with Freddie likely looking back on past successes and failures, and this sets a new bar for Freddie to try to clear next year.
Little Book Chapter 1 Through 7 Ranking:
Chapter 2 > 7 > 3 > 4 > 5 > 1 > 6