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Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon Review


Booker Noe was Jim Beam’s grandson. He was also the master distiller at his grandfather’s namesake operation for 40+ years until his death in 2004. In 1987, Booker introduced what is now one of Jim Beam’s flagship products, Booker’s Bourbon. Named after the man himself, this massive bourbon is aged on the 5th and 6th floors of a nine-story aging warehouse, which is the “heart” of the facility. It’s an uncut, unfiltered, barrel proof bourbon. This means the barrels are hand selected, batched, and then bottled with no additional water or chill filtration, allowing all of the flavor carriers in the bourbon to remain. Booker Noe wanted this bourbon to be pretty darn pure and unadulterated. Mission accomplished.

Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon, 63.70% abv (127.4 Proof), $50 (Batch #C03-I-16)

Color: Deep Dark Amber/Copper

Nose: Tight nose to start due to such a high alcohol content. It yields with 5-10 minutes of air time. Dry cedar, oak and vanilla hit first, followed by dark caramel, molasses, candied orange, a punch of rye, and cocoa. There’s a fruity quality to the nose as well that’s tough to pin down but quite prevalent.

Flavor: Grab the reigns and hold on tight – the flavors are so concentrated and intense. First there is a hefty dose of spice accentuated by the alcohol punch. Pepper and rye are anchored w/ rich caramel, vanilla, dried golden fruits, barrel char, and bitter orange. Oak integration is excellent. It’s much more in balance than its small batch brother from Knob Creek. Add a couple of splashes of water (if required) to calm things down a bit.

Finish: Long and as bold as the sip with more peppery bite, caramelized nuts, and some resiny oak.

Overall: Man, what a whiskey. I was honestly caught of guard by how fabulous this batch of Booker’s turned out to be. Over time I’ve noticed inconsistencies batch to batch, but when it’s on, Booker’s is as good as bourbon gets. Few bourbons capture sweetness, spice, fruit, and oak so well in their delivery. It’s a fitting homage to one of Bourbon History’s larger than life Icons.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Outstanding/Superb)

48 Comments

  1. AaronWF says:

    Hm, well thank you for a glowing review Jason! It’s been a few years since I’ve given this bourbon a look, and being all about barrel proof expressions, I can’t wait to have a pensive taste!

    When I’m out for dinner and in the mood for a Manhattan, I’ll always go for Booker’s if the bar stocks it; it really brings a nice wallop to such a cocktail, though I don’t see it on the shelf too often.

    Your review also brings to mind Noah’s Mill. It was my go-to “knock-out” bourbon for a bit, but I’ve left it behind in the last year and a half while seeking out more subtle expressions. Have you had it?

  2. Aaron, why I’m not sure, but it was a surprise to me how strong this one fared. I’ve had bottles of Noah’s Mill over the years and it’s an excellent bourbon, very well done. I couldn’t possible score it accurately off the cuff but it’s well done.

    We share a love for barrel proof offerings. The key for many of them is a little air and some time. These are whiskeys you can really sit back and sip slowly for an extended period of time.

    Thanks for the comment Aaron.

  3. Brandon says:

    Interesting review. Riffing on your comments about giving this one a little air/time to “open up”, I wonder if/how applying a wine aerator during the pour might affect offerings like this that bring considerable heft to the table? And if so, is the effect favorable? Just a random thought……

  4. Joe Serapilio says:

    Jason,Great review.I love Booker’s,A couple of spring water ice cubes really opens it up.Simply delicious.Compared to other barrel proofer’s price is very reasonable.Fred Noe has a video on Youtube tasting&discussing Booker’s.His Father used to give it for Christmas gift’s before marketing it.

  5. sku says:

    I’m beginning to think you have a big sweet tooth Jason, though you did mention pepper and rye in the forefront here. I have always liked Booker’s as the best of the small batch collection, but I’m not generally fond of Beam products as I tend to find their regular mashbill bourbons overly sweet. That being said, I haven’t tried one for a while, and it sounds like you think this batch is something special.

  6. Brandon, perhaps a good idea. I’ve never given it a try but will have to do so.

    Joe, I tell you I’ve just enjoyed it immensely uncut and then with a splash. It’s great stuff.

    Steve, I don’t know that I favor “sweeter” whiskeys/bourbons, but my “tooth” definitely favors big flavors. I wouldn’t describe Booker’s as overly sweet. There’s a lot of spice and oak here as well – it’s not a flabby sweet whiskey. What is most impressive is how ramped up and diverse the flavors are. I can’t think of too many bourbons that bring this much spice, fruit, oak, and sweetness together.

    One of the reasons I took on reviewing the small batch collection is because the Beam products get picked on a good bit by the enthusiast community. And some of it I understand, but I thought it warranted a closer look. It’s been around a while and it’s not a really sexy series to review. However, what I found after spending some time with them is the small batch collection is 3 really good bourbons. Booker’s brothers fell in the 8.3-8.6 range, which I consider very good bourbon. Booker’s is just in a class by itself and jumped off the page.

  7. sam k says:

    Awesome post, Jason. Very well written and engagingly descriptive. One of your best yet. I just bought a bottle for the first time in a long time, and am waiting for the right occasion to crack it open.

    At $41 in PA when it’s on sale, there is no lower price that I’ve found, and it makes for an incredible value in great bourbon.

    Another Beam fave in my house is BIB Old Grand-Dad, another excellent value. The sweetness is more up front in that one, but it’s another great ride from the folks at Beam.

    Now if they’d just put the guts back into Old Overholt…

  8. Eric S. says:

    I like Booker’s quite a lot. You’re right… Beam takes a beating in the enthusiast world. Beam definitely has it’s mundane offerings, but, Booker’s aint one of em’!

  9. Sam it’s also possible the lack of my ugly mug on video just brightened up the written review a bit. Pesky vid problems sidelined things there a bit. But thanks for the comment! Your being a lover of the barrel strength and higher proof offerings I think you’ll enjoy Booker’s a lot. Let me know what you think.

    I do agree on Old Overholt. It’s just a faint, overly diluted whiskey with very little rye bite and growl left in it. Sad. I doubt they’ll invest there, but it would be nice.

  10. Andy E says:

    Jason, you hit this review right on. It’s like you were in my head and wrote down what you saw. I’ve been waiting for your review on this, because I had a feeling if the bottle you grabbed was anything like the one I have, you would be a huge fan. Great big bold flavors. Balanced really well. If you can get through that spiciness, it is complemented with some nice sweetness. One of my favorite pours at the moment. And it’s available basically anywhere.

    Another problem I have is people complain about the price, but when you put into perspective that you are getting a barrel proof great bourbon, it don’t think it’s that bad a deal.

  11. Andy, you were correct. I enjoyed it immensely as you can tell. As for price, I agree. I would go so far as to say there is value here for sure, but obviously everyone has their own price point. Cheers Andy.

  12. Texas says:

    ..while the bourbon snobs at some certain forums are turning their nose up, the Beam folks are laughing all the way to the bank.

  13. Texas, I certainly wasn’t targeting any forums or whatever in my “enthusiast community” reference, but I did want to review these to really assess what’s there. Greg over at Bourbondork (site link on my blogroll) has done a lot of blind tastings lately. This series would be an interesting one to run blind all at once with a few others mixed in. I think enthusiasts out there would change their minds about these products if they gave them a shot.

    But I suppose I shouldn’t care because as you rightfully mention, Beam’s laughing all the way to the bank.

  14. Texas says:

    Jason, I know you weren’t targeting anyone with the reviews and I did not mean to imply that. I just intensely dislike elitism and snobbery ..I see that all the time in my hobbies..cars, guitars, whisk(e)y and I think it really hurts those hobbies. Your site is one of the best around and there is zero trace of that..

  15. Jim Sanders says:

    I’ve had the Booker’s once at the lobby bar in the Peabody downtown Memphis. I’ve thought about getting a bottle, but one of the things that concerns me is your statement “Over time I’ve noticed inconsistencies batch to batch, but when it’s on, Booker’s is as good as bourbon gets.” Especially when you are looking at one of the higher priced offerings, I’d like it to be really good.

    It would be very interesting to see someone do a side-by-side comparison of the Booker’s to something like the George T Stagg since they would be similar style, uncut, unfiltered, barrel proof.

    Having said all that, I will probably give the Booker’s a try and buy one for the collection.

  16. Alan says:

    Jason, in myopinion, the Beam small batch collection is one of the best. I love ‘em all. So many other great small batch/single barrel whiskeys out there, but if I had to pick…it would be Beam. Booker’s is a ‘must’ in my cabinet for those special times with good friends.

  17. MAL says:

    I love Bookers. I was lucky enough to drink some with Booker Noe himself at a cigar/bourbon tasting I hosted. He was a great speaker and very down to earth. He poured two fingers worth over ice and called it Kentucky Tea. He told me he praised the Lord for giving him thick fingers. Great review.

  18. Texas, I appreciate it and thanks for hanging out and being such an active and passionate contributor to the discussion. I hate the snobbery thing too. If it’s good, it’s good.

    Jim, I honestly thing a side by side between Booker’s and Stagg would fare out well. The depth and layers of flavor that Stagg brings would be tough to overcome. Still – two great ones. I also have definitely had batches of Booker’s that were not nearly this good, but that’s the way it goes – it’s a natural product. I definitely think you should give it a try and see what you think.

    Alan, thanks for the comment. The small batch line prooved to be very good for my tastebuds. Glad it’s been good to yours also.

    Mal, that’s a great memory – thanks for sharing. Lucky you to be in the company of a real legend.

  19. sam k says:

    Beam has been doing their best to kill Old Overholt, to the benefit of their own crappy rye, and can’t quite do it despite their best efforts. They intentionally pulled it from its home state during its 200th anniversary year, making it a special order item only.

    I had written Beam in 2007 asking that they consider a commemorative bottling for that 200th anniversary in 2010, with no reply.

    It has remained so popular as an SLO in PA (consistent top five) that they’re bringing it back in, but at a $20 price point, which might seem cheap enough, but it had been about $16 previously.

    The whiskey that wouldn’t die. I just wish they’d treat it with a small degree of the respect it deserves.

  20. Sam I have the same pet peeve/issue/whatever with Diageo and George Dickel. George Dickel No. 12 and the Barrel Select are two excellent whiskeys. It’s absolutely shameful to me that you can go to Diageo’s website and not find Dickel anywhere there. Not a peep. It is truly the distillery that Diageo forgot.

    I wrote Diageo back in the fall. I got some automated response informing me that “they could not accept my proposal at this time blah blah blah.” What’s weird is I didn’t propose anything other than, “Hey can you guys show a little bit of respect and put a storied American whiskey brand on your damn website.”

    Befuddled that they didn’t respond with any care, I sent another email in January of this year. This one was longer, and included some suggestions about what I would do if I were them to gain more traction globally. I got the exact same response, but in addition to that I also got a response apologizing for not being able to find what I was looking for on their website.

    Anyways, didn’t mean to hijack the stream of thought on Rye and Overholt, which is also frustrating. The whiskey business is baffling and defies logic sometimes.

  21. Texas says:

    ..I tried Old Overholt. Awful stuff. I never had the real stuff from the old days, but the new stuff is awful. Really don’t understand what Beam is doing there…I think at 100 proof it would be pretty good.

    BTW, American whiskey is really taking the world by storm. First Ralfy and now Serge over at whiskyfun is going mad reviewing Bourbons and Ryes and loves quite a few of them. Whiskyfun is another great site because even though Serge reviews a lot obscure stuff that the rest of us will never see..he is far from elitist about it, very down to earth guy.

  22. BrownMichelle says:

    I’m the second of four bourbon-loving sisters, and we were very excited when the oldest got ahold of a languishing bottle of Booker’s from a wealthy family. Such good stuff – one day when I’m done being a student and started being a real grown up, I’ll be sure to keep a bottle around all the time.

  23. Michelle, you have great taste. Booker’s is great stuff. Thanks so much for the comment!

  24. Franco C. says:

    Jason,
    Speaking of Jim Beam products, have you tried the Kirkland/Costco Small batch bourbon. It’s confirmed to be a Jim Beam product, not far removed from KC, but at a higher proof. Have you tried this, as it’s only $19.99.? Maybe a comparison review is in order.

  25. Franco, thanks for the recommendation. I honestly had no idea it existed. We have Costco here in Nashville, but there’s funky liquor laws and so Costco doesn’t actually sell liquor and wine in the stores. But I need to be on the lookout to try this one out.

  26. Hey there, another excellent review, I’m really enjoying the Jim Beam Small Batch reviews. I just heard that Jim Beam has a product coming out called “Devil’s Cut,” supposedly it’s bourbon that has been retrieved from within the wood itself. Would love to see a review of that when it’s out. Best!

  27. Thanks Ian. The Devil’s Cut is out and I hope to get to it soon. THere’s a lot of bourbon in the wood of the barrel that is soaked in over the aging process. Jim Beam essentially sweates the barrels with the addition of water and then brings it to the proper proof for bottling. Should be interesting. I appreciate the comment! Thanks!

  28. Ryan says:

    Great review, Jason. I’m glad you pointed out how well balanced Booker’s is. I couldn’t believe that nothing “jumped out” at me, even though the flavors were all delivered so well. Only thing negative I can say about Booker’s is that the proof being so high, I’d not be in the mood for it every day. I only had a miniature bottle, so I couldn’t experiment with it. What do you think, does adding a splash of water make this a little more “easy going,” or even with a little water is it still a special occasion drink due to its intensity?

  29. Add all the water you need. Bookers is a big rich pour, but young enough and bold enough to take the water. Enjoy Ryan!

  30. I’m not sure if you ever enjoy a cigar, but Chief Hava’s Cro-Magnon cigars were pretty much blended to be smoked with a few fingers of Booker’s. The man probably bleeds Booker’s (and has lungs made of Nicaraguan tobacco…)

    Thanks for the great review Mr. Pyle.

  31. BurtonOblivion, thanks for the tip. I do enjoy cigars – don’t get as much time for them as I used to but I enjoy them when I can.

  32. Gary Coe says:

    Jason, great review. I agree in saying this Bourbon is best enjoyed uncut or neat. a man’s Bourbon alright.

  33. Daniel Hall says:

    How about a review of the Booker’s Barrel Proof? I got a bottle for christmas and I found it to be oustanding, which was very surprising as I am a Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel snob. If you would have told me that I would like a Jim Beam product better than Jack I would have said you were crazy. I have previously tried the Knob Creek (liked it a lot) and Basil Hayden (not so much).

    Also, how about a comparison of JD No. 7 and Single Barrel?

  34. Daniel, this Booker’s I reviewed is their Barrel Proof Small Batch. Cheers!

    Also, I recently did a review of JD No. 7 as well as the Single Barrel. If you search under “Jack Daniel’s” on the right of my site you will see both. Thanks for the comment!

  35. Rick B. says:

    Ha, yeah, I was going to bring up cigars. Nothing better than a good smoke and a glass of good whiskey.

    Rick

  36. Rick B. says:

    Oh, bout forgot, I recently picked up my first bottle of Bookers, just waiting for a special occasion to try it where I can give it some time.

    Rick

  37. Jon says:

    Picked this up based on your reviews and after an unsuccessful hunt for Pappy Van winkle during a business trip to Lexington. Your tasting noted are spot on for the bourbon. One aspect that strikes me is the mouth feel. This is “chewy” on a level I have not had with other bourbons. An excellent purchase with a really good price to taste ratio. Thanks for the encouragement to give this a try. It will quickly become one of my all time favorites.

  38. Jon, I’m a big fan of Booker’s. Glad you liked it also. It’s a monster but a great sip.

  39. Dave says:

    Had a few drams of this last evening, and it was a delightful pour. Strong body, which I love in whiskey, and a resounding aftertaste with notes of pepper. Exactly what I expect out of cask-strength stuff, which I’ve been enjoying more and more recently.

    Terrific with food, too. It’s almost necessary, given the proof.

    Definitely something I’ll be returning to. Compares favorably to Aberlour’s Abunadgh small batch scotch, which is saying something. Thanks for the review!

  40. iskch1 says:

    Jason, this is one of the best Bourbons I have ever had. Sure, is powerful & velvety but so far nothing in the bourbon category that I have tried or own would touch it.

    I was lucky to find a 50ml. botte at the “Candy Store” and boy I was rewarded. Both my wife and I enjoy it last night. Sure, there are the P.V.W series, but so far are I didn’t have the luck to find them nor try it. Thanks a lot for the reviews and advice with this particular bourbon.

  41. Wes says:

    Jason,
    When you recommend adding a splash of water, how much is that? I normally like my whiskey neat, but I know a monster like Bookers probably needs a little water. My normal pour is about 1 1/2 oz.

  42. Wes, this is a great question, and also the great debate. Many say “get it to a 30-35% abv.” I think that is utter BS. Each whiskey takes water differently. You can’t paint with a broad brush. Some require a bit more. The answer to this question is to add a little and taste. You’ll know when you get it to your liking.

  43. Iskch1 – glad you enjoyed it.

  44. Jamie says:

    co4-a-28. A tad hot. big. fat. And a powerful rush. But it sorta makes me tired. I will swear by it you want a smokey jim beam then track down a vintage. I had smokey pine like powder coming out my noise for an hour. And so clean. Had not had bookers in year. Although only just open. The smell is not as mega.

  45. Scott Brown says:

    Jason, I have an unopened bottle of Bookers bottled in 1988. What do you think it’s worth?

  46. Joe says:

    I have been on an enjoyable mission to find the best Whiskey Manhattan. Had gven up on Bourbons, generally made the drink too sweet. Also gave up on Canadian whiskeys for same reason. Have tried most of the Rye whiskeys, have found some to my liking, especially Hudson’s Manhattan Rye. But just tried Booker’s Bourbon in a Manhattan recipe, and think that i have now found the perfect Manhattan. Somewhat expensive to mix in a cocktail, but worth it.

  47. Jake says:

    Booker’s is the pinnacle of bourbon crafting. For years I had heard how great Pappy Van Winkle’s 18 year-old bourbon was, but was unable to try it. By a stroke of sheer luck, I ended up at a bourbon tasting party (the luck part was that I knew nobody who was there) where there was Pappy 18, Bookers, Maple Hill, Baker’s, and maybe 6 more top end bourbons. The host coolly walked up to me and asked if I want to try Booker’s and Pappy side-by-side. Pappy’s is outstanding, for sure. But Booker’s is simply superb. I don’t see how distilled spirits could taste any better. It has a bite / burn, but not so strong that it destroys your tasted buds. You can taste the complex flavoring for a long time. It’s a shame you eventually have to swallow it, for it is a work of art.

  48. Robert Jones says:

    I am wondering about the batch numbering system for Booker’s. Within the past three months, I have begun to see batch numbers like the following: 2013-6. In the past, it usually started with a co-, etc. First, any idea why the change in batch numbering, and secondly, how is each batch put together. For example, I have read an article that batch number 2013-6 was a guest writer panel selection, with a proof of 126.5 (press release info), but my bottle of batch number 2013-6 has a proof of 125.9. It appears that in a batch, you get different proofs. Any info on how this is possible? Thanks.

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