Review: Booker's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey / by Jason Hambrey

~60% (varies)
6-8 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
~75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky)

This whiskey was introduced in 1992, and was originally released because Booker Noe (the master distiller of Jim Beam at the time) used to bottle his favorite bourbons straight from the barrel and gift them to his friends. After so much hype about these gifts, he started to bottle bourbon straight from the barrel – uncut (no water added – so at the alcohol percentage in the barrel) and unfiltered (most whiskies have oily compounds stripped from them to increase clarity). This is a bit of a landmark bourbon – when it was released, the category of unfiltered, cask strength bourbons essentially did not exist, and this bourbon did a lot to establish the category which is now the ultimate for bourbon enthusiasts.

As the story goes, Booker found that the barrels in a particular section of the warehouses were quite polished, and soon realized the bellies of warehouse workers had polished up the barrels from this particular area of the warehouse as they stole out little drams of the whiskies from this area! Originally, booker used old chablis to bottle this whisky for his friends, hence, it is still bottled in a wine style bottle.

Review (2015)

  • Batch: C04-J-19 (63.65%, 7 yrs 11 months old)

  • Bottling Code: L2266CLA 07322510

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: Some floral rye comes out right off the bat, but this progresses to deeper and heavier notes as it sits. The nose is oily, creamy, and vibrant especially with a bit of water added. Banana custard, dried apricot, corn husks, butterscotch, nutmeg, almond milk, green bell pepper, oak, and black tea – and a bit of shy bitterness. There is a lot in there and you may well take the entire bottle to unpack it all. The nose, itself, is a bit shy, and you need to take your time with it.

Taste: Sour and tannic at first, before heavy corn, hay, tobacco, vanilla, black tea, almond and some cherries come in. It’s quite hot at its natural strength, and I prefer it with a bit of water added to bring it down to around 50%. Overall, it’s a bit nutty and oily too – with nice mouthfeel. There is so much going on with all of its brute force that it can be a bit hard to keep up at times. Really, this is quite fabulous – at full strength or with a bit of water added.

Finish: A bit tannic and somewhat empty, though oak, dried fruits, and vanilla make their presence known. It’s spicy, rather than juicy and fruity – and the oak is suprisingly subdued. However, at this proof, the finish is quite deep and lingers for a good long while.

Conclusion: This is good, but this batch doesn’t quite come together for me. If you’re adding water to this, a bottle can go quite a far way – and this is a bourbon that every whiskey lover needs to try – it is very highly regarded across the board and is reasonably priced and available.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (before the price started shooting up).

Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2016-01E (63.85%, 6 yrs 1 month old)

  • Bottling Code: L2266CLA 07322510

  • Bottling Date: 2016-01E

Lots of caramel, plum, oak, and nice, nutty oiliness. Peaches, apricot, freeze dried strawberries, and rye that is almost a bit dusty (usually you see this in Canadian, not American, ryes!). Terrific body on the palate – that unfiltered business works really well. Corn, hazlenuts, marshy and earthy notes, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove – an amazing development of spices. There is a brilliant spicy flourish where sweetness and vanilla start to edge themselves in before oak takes over the show and dries out the finish. The finish is terrific – complex, long lasting, and developing – tobacco, dried corn, spice, oak, orange bitters, caramel, and a touch of poplar wood, I think. Not the best I’ve had, but a really nice bookers.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. A good batch of this for 85 CAD? Yes please.