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Review: Hooker’s House Bourbon

Whew, sorry for the layoff folks. Appreciate your patience with me. Let’s get things started off with a review of a reasonably new small batch product called Hooker’s House Bourbon.

Hooker’s House is bottled by Prohibition Spirits, which is affiliated (owned actually) with HelloCello, a Sonoma, CA based company producing limoncello. Hooker’s is named after Joseph Hooker, a civil war general that was known to help lift soldier morale (shall we say) with the help of some of his finest ladies. The term we use as a slang reference to prostitutes can be credited to Hooker. Hooker’s home now serves as a Sonoma, CA museum of sorts.

But that’s only the name. What about the bourbon in the bottle? First off, this is four year old sourced bourbon whiskey from Kentucky. According to Prohibition Spirits, the whiskey is a mashbill of 54% corn and 46% rye. A search across the internet will prove fruitless in determining the origin distillery of such a grain recipe. According to Sku over at Recent Eats, Prohibition Spirits procured the barrels from a pilot program that never got off the ground. The bourbon was then placed in Pinot Noir barrels for 9 months before bottling. In a year where we’ve seen Port and Cognac barrel-finished bourbon, this is quite unique.

For the record, i’m a big fan of the finishing “craze”. It’s really hard to call it a craze because only a few are doing it, but I think it’s building towards that. I’ve found most of these products, like the 2011 Parker’s Heritage Collection and Angel’s Envy, to be quite good. Let’s see how Hooker’s House fares.

Hooker’s House Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $36

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: Rich toffee and fig and plum jam overcome much of the rye spice at first. Eventually the bright rye spices emerge (cloves), but the overall impression is soft and rich with a touch of sun dried hay and toasted oak on the back end.

Palate: Much bigger and bolder than the nose indicated with a lovely, coating viscosity. Ripe, sweet cherry syrup, vanilla toffee, chili, spicy cinnamon, clove, and razor sharp rye. This is a very entertaining sip with loads of spice and fruit.

Finish: You actually can make out the winey notes on the finish, but it’s minor. Again fruity with remains of the cherry and spice flavors. Some developing oak as well.

Overall: Hooker’s House is a winner with great fruit and spice balance. The finishing process is well integrated, making something greater than the sum of its parts. In the end that’s what you look for in a well executed finished whiskey. The 100 proof also helps to accentuate the rich fruit and still keep things zippy with spice. I find this a more interesting whiskey than Angel’s Envy, which would have been a good notch better at 95-100 proof. Well done Prohibition Spirits! If you can find this whiskey online, grab it.

Sour Mash Manifesto Ranking: 9.2 (Outstanding/Superb)

26 Comments

  1. How would you compare this with the Big Bottom 2 year port finished? I was talking to David OG at K&L yesterday and he seemed to think this one was much sweeter and more cherried. I thought the Big Bottom 2 year was ok, not worth $35 for sure, but I’ve been eyeing this one.

  2. Ryan I have not had the Big Bottom. I found Hooker’s House sweet but balanced with spice nicely. It’s absolutely a cherry monster to me, but it’s really outstanding.

  3. Dave Markle says:

    The other night, I had some of the BTEC Cabernet finished Rye at the Jack Rose here in DC.

    It was *fantastic*. Definitely the “biggest”, yet most accessible rye I have ever tasted. I loved the fact that none of the tannic notes which you might expect to come from a Cab barrel came through — just a delightful full, (dry fruit) fruity body. I’ve not been a big fan of the BTEC, because I’ve heard there are just as many horrible whiskeys as good ones, but if you can score a bottle of this stuff, I highly recommend it.

    I too love this finishing fad. When done properly, it can yield some absolutely amazing whiskies. (IMO when done wrong it yields the Woodford Maple finished which to me tasted like bourbon and maple syrup)

  4. Great review and welcome back, Jason. I have Angel’s Envy and wasn’t too impressed (I felt the underlying bourbon was too corn-centric, sweet and simple – and too young). I’m glad to see others are doing it, and with bigger results. I’m not surprised. I’m looking forward to trying Hooker’s if I can find it.

  5. Andy says:

    Just a clarification on a definition; not a knock against you, Jason. I also used to believe that the term “hooker” could be credited to Major General Joseph Hooker. While a great story, it is unfortutunately not completely verified. There were likely multiple origins to the term (with perhaps the Civil War soldiers finially making the term widespread). One such origin is traced back to the 1820s (and reported by American Hertage magazine) arising from the concentration of prostitutes around the shipyards and ferry terminal of the Corlear’s Hook area of Manhattan.

  6. Anon says:

    So, now when one needs to relax after a rough week at the office they can get a hooker, a hookah, and some Hooker’s and be all set.

  7. iskch1 says:

    I agree about the “finishing craze” potential in the Bourbon and Whisky market. There are several options they can use like: Tequila, Rum, Zake, Brandy finish …etc. I just takes patience, a whole lot of trials and the approval by the consumer.

  8. Lazer says:

    There’s the whiskey, and there’s how ya sell the whiskey. If I have a problem with the way they sell the whiskey, then I’m not gonna buy it, even if the whiskey is good. There’s lots of other good whiskeys out there. In other words, I’m not bringing something called Hooker’s House into Lazer’s House. ya hear? That’s just me being me.
    Good to have you back Mr. Pyle.

  9. EricH says:

    This was made at LDI. I was at K&L Redwood City and found out someone (most likely one of the Davids) called Prohibition Spirits for clarification. Now the label on future batches will be changed to reflect that but anyone with a label mentioning Kentucky might have a minor collectible.

  10. EricH says:

    Hmm, I was told at K&L that this was made at LDI. Sku, however, was told that this was made at a Kentucky distillery as an experiment. So now I’m extremely confused

  11. Bmac says:

    Its interesting to note that there is no mention of the rough edges asociated with young whiskeys. Does the use of finishing help to smoothen and balance a young whiskey?

  12. sku says:

    Just to clarify this issue, I heard that rumor about it being LDI and took it directly to Fred Groth, proprietor of the Hooker’s House label. He assured me that he purchased the bourbon directly from a Kentucky distillery and gave me some detail about it. I have no reason to doubt him.

    In any case, I agree with Jason’s excellent post. This is really good stuff at a really good price.

  13. Thanks EricH and Sku – interesting back story. Could still be LDI juice or it could be the juice of the distillery he purchased the barrels from. Either way – very good stuff.

    Bmac and others – I think finishing in these fruity (port, cognac, wine) casks serves to certainly round out the rough edges of the younger whiskey (any whiskey frankly). The fruitiness on the ones I’ve tasted has also been ramped up. If you like fruitier whiskey then that’s a good think. If you do not then it might be a little over done to your palate. What I find interesting with Parkers Heritage 2011 and this Hooker’s House is they’ve still retained the spice and vibrancy of the bourbon. Of course Hooker’s being very high in rye – that still comes through well. The finish is really well integrated as a result. I know some do not like this finishing stuff, and I agree that when it doesn’t come off well it can be a real mess, but I applaud these distillers and independent bottlers trying new things.

    Andy – thanks also for the clarification. It’s always funny how tales get spun through the years. I’ll have to check my facts!!!!

  14. Terry Kirschner says:

    Jason, I rushed out for a bottle after reading your review (thanks for your recommendation and thanks to K&L Hollywood). Found it an off-beat, but thoroughly enjoyable combination of fruit notes and rye. Definitely more rye-like than bourbon to my palate, which is fine with me. Please keep those discoveries coming!

  15. Dave says:

    Wow….9.2 rating, something I’m going to have to look for.

    Dave in Oklahoma

  16. DBMaster says:

    Jason, thank you for the history trivia. I am serious. History has become a passion of mine, as has American whiskey.

  17. DBMaster says:

    Unfortunately, I think the mythology surrounding Gen. Hooker and hookers is exactly that, mythology. I have read several things similar to this…

    http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-hoo4.htm

    Still makes for a good story, though.

  18. Bmac says:

    Hey DBMaster, i am something of an American History buff. My field of speciality is dip pens from the 1830s to 1950s. Specically surrounding the Esterbrook Pen company, the first pen company in the USA. If you want to take a peek at my website (that needs serious updating) it’s

    http://Www.whiteapplemultimedia.com/vintagenibs.html

  19. DBMaster says:

    Bmac, I was just talking to my girlfriend about sticking a new ink cartridge in my old fountain pen to see why I stopped using it years ago. I guess the reason is that if you don’t use your pen frequently a fountain pen is not for you. I appreciate the artistry and simplicity that it represents, but I also realize that handwriting is truly becoming a lost art. I myself reverted back to printing (being sort of a draftsman) back in 1982. I shall check out your site. Thanks!

  20. WhiskeyFan says:

    It’s LDI or else why would he be changing his labels? Maybe he’ll get the rye % right this time. No one has done a 46% Rye bourbon. Great product, no integrity. Shame…..

  21. GQuiz says:

    Jason, you’re driving my liquor consultant at Spec’s in San Antonio crazy. I look forward to trying this. He found me a bottle of the St George’s… Lot 8. Tastes like a Porter. Gave him a sample (gotta take care of the consultant). He loved it. He’s searching for Lot 10. Have you sampled any of the Texas craft whiskeys yet? Balcones Baby Blue from Waco or Rebecca Creek or Ranger Creek from San Antonio? Everybody’s getting in the game.

  22. GQuiz says:

    Any suggestions of where to get this online?

  23. GQuiz, I would check with K&L Wine and SPirits. Great shop and they were one of the first to have this. Give them a shout and let me know how you fare. Cheers and thanks for the great comments this week!

  24. GQuiz says:

    So close…K&L can’t ship to Texas.

  25. Dang GQuiz – sorry to hear that on the shipping front. If I find some out there I’ll let you know.

  26. Moiz Ali says:

    Hooker’s House Bourbon is now available for purchase at Caskers!

    Go to http://www.caskers.com/register and enter code “FRIENDS”