February 24, 2014

Review: Booker's 25th Anniversary Bourbon - A Sentimental Beast

Oh Booker's...  You were there when bourbon was something we ordered with Coke or ginger ale. You stood proudly on the shelf and declared "I'm not a mixer!"  We remember being confused at first. Why does that bourbon cost as much as the top shelf liquors, we wondered?  And then we realized. Bourbon is an art just like scotch.  It should be treated with respect.  And that was the beginning of our real appreciation of American whiskey.  


In 1989  Jim Beam's grandson Booker Noe, Master Distiller at the Beam distillery, came up with the perfect Christmas gift for his close friends and business associates: bottles of a single barrel, cask strength bourbon hand-chosen from the best racks in the warehouse. The immense popularity of these presents led him to launch a whole line of premium small batch bourbons at Beam. By the early 90's, these releases became widely available in bars: Booker's, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden's, and Baker's. Knob Creek was probably the most prevalent, but Booker's came along next and pretty soon could be found in most decent watering holes. Given Booker's trail blazing status in the world of whiskey, we were super-psyched to find out that, 25 years after those first private bottles were given out, Beam would be putting out a special 25th Anniversary Booker's Bourbon.  


To add to the awesome mystique and anticipation, there are some further details about this special release. While the standard release Booker's is aged six or seven years, this batch is ten years and three months old. Sadly, Booker Noe passed away in 2004, and his son Fred Noe wanted to make a special product for the anniversary consisting of some of the last batches of whiskey overseen by his old man. These are those barrels, the last product of Booker himself, still hand-picked and aged in the choicest spots and treated with the reverence they deserve. There were rumored to be only about a thousand cases of this one-time release, the first batch of the year, labelled 2014-01. True to the Booker's legacy, it's coming in at a whopping 65.4%, 130.8 proof, and straight from the barrel without any charcoal or chill-filtration. A nice old Booker's, rare and raw, with a great story behind it.  What could be better?



Tasting Notes

Nose:
 Firstly, this is a big bad boy.  It needs a couple of weeks to open in the bottle, a good thirty minutes to air out in the glass, and benefits tremendously from a healthy dollop of water.  Once you get there, the nose is a lot of red delicious apples (candy apples?) and toffee with some farm elements like wet grass and hay, a lot of oak, and some fire poppers like mesquite bbq sauce and hot chiles.  It's not a deep sweet molasses type nose like Pappy, definitely not a wheater, it's a fierce and bold grainy punch packing a ton of flavor and spiciness.

Palate:  It's big and it's hot. We took this one down to about one third water and it starts to open up a bit. The palate is high in treble - again, not a deep rich one, but a high-pitched chorus of firecrackers and grains.

Finish:  A long finish, somewhat throaty, and staying in the smoky, bbq and cayenne area.

On-The-Rocks:  Well, since Booker's on the rocks was a go-to order for some years when we discovered bourbon, we tried it with the 25th. This bourbon really does take ice well, maintaining its flavor and heat but cooling and diluting nicely.



Review

Ok sentimentality aside, we have to be honest and say that this doesn't really taste like a hundred dollar bourbon. At $50, with it's pioneering spirit, the standard Booker's is a good on-the-rocks bourbon. And the 25th takes ice well. But you really shouldn't have to drink ultra premium whiskey on the rocks. We still love Booker's for defining a new role for bourbon and American whiskey in general. But we also have to give a fair review, and there are just a lot of really good whiskies on the market right now at this price point. Putting this next to Four Roses 125th Anniversary or the Buffalo Trace Antique bottles, it really does leave a lot lacking in the sweetness and smoothness category. We gave this bottle a couple of weeks to open up in the bottle, but we're going to give it another month and then come back for a second taste. For now we're very glad to have been able to score a bottle and celebrate a great tradition and a true legend in bourbon-making. 

Here's to Booker!
  

Cheers/SB

Update 3/14: Ok, back for a second taste.  This bad boy has been open in the bottle 3/4 full now for about 5 weeks.  There's an immediate difference on the nose: a LOT of the heat is gone, and a lot of new flavors have come out: orange marmalade, saddle leather, little hints of coconut, and something like palm leaves or aloe.  On the palate, wow!, we're drinking this neat and really enjoying it.  There's still a big warmth, but it's just that - most of the fire is gone and the big throaty hurt is almost completely missing.  The finish is now pretty enjoyable as well.  This one really turned around over the course of a few weeks.  We'll come back again in a couple of weeks and have a feeling it might be even better.  The first taste was a C-, this is now a B+.

14 comments :

  1. Any suggestions on where we can get our hands on a bottle ourselves?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. or preferably message on facebook.com/smokybeast

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  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  3. Drinking this on the rocks = sinful... your palate must just not be capable of handling higher percent spirits.

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    1. Despite the negative tone, we do agree, it's a travesty to drink great bourbon on the rocks. Some of our favorites (Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, William Larue Weller, Willet, EH Taylor Barrel Proof, George T Stagg) all drink beautifully neat, and that's the way we like them. This one, not so much. We only tried ice because it was very hot neat, even with water. But hey everyone has their own opinion. We'll give this one a couple of months to open up and try it again. Thanks for reading. /SB

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    2. I agree with you on Stagg JR; and its nice to see that you do enjoy other higher percent spirits. The Antique Collection is quite delicious we both agree. I am interested in seeing how you profile Diageo's Old Blowhard and Barterhouse.

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  5. Nothing personal but I remove all posts about the sale of bottles outside of regular retail. /SB

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  6. Bugger, had a post written and it went away... What exactly do you mean that you left it open? The cork off the bottle? Or it was in the decanter? Possible with or without decanter top? I'm pretty new to the fine art of whiskey drinking and I'm not sure. Thanks in advance.

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    1. Just open the bottle, drink it down to the shoulder (a glass or two), close it up and let it sit for a few weeks. Definitely don't leave it open (i.e. uncorked) for any period of time. You can use a decanter if you like, which may speed things up, but it's not necessary. You'll find that just having a few inches of air in the bottle changes the whiskey over the course of a few weeks, particularly for high-strength bourbon.

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    2. I've scored two of these numbered 19 and 21.

      Wondering - what was the number (I can only see "22") on the inside rear of your box?

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  7. OK I have determined - those numbers are in reference to one of twenty-five "Bookerisms" that are placed on all bottles of the 25th Anniversary release.

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    1. Yeah I was looking for a bottle/batch number too but couldn't find one. Booker’s #22 “Tasting Booker’s is like tasting the past.”

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