Lately, I find myself more and more curious about bourbon. I’m sure that the slow but steady rise of Scotch prices is playing some sort of role in this – mostly on principle, since prices in Albrta remain fairly reasonable compared to other places. But I mostly blame this growing interest in bourbon on Four Roses Single Barrel. After only a few bottles passing through my cupboard, FRSB has quickly become one of my very favourite
whiskies whiskeys, regardless of style, which has me wondering treasures there are to discover in the world of bourbon.
As chance would have it, I was recently looking for something outstanding to share with my dramming pal, Richard, as our families were set to head out for the Okanagan on a week-long holiday together. I went looking for a bottle of FRSB but, as chance would have it, it was sold out… AGAIN… So I went to peruse the scotch wall but nothing really spoke to me. A return to the bourbon wall led to the fantastic presentation of Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon catching my eye.
Booker’s is one of the ultra-premium bourbon offerings in the Beam-Suntory catalogue. The claim to fame for all bottling of Booker’s bourbon is that it always comes from a single barrel, completely uncut and unfiltered. Apparently, Jim Beam believed bourbon was always best somewhere between 6-8 years of aging, which is a tradition that his grandson, Booker Noe, adopted in creating his special bourbons. This particular bottle is labelled as Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon Series, bottled from batch number 2015-05 after 6 years and 7 months at 128 proof, aka 64% abv. This bourbon carries a price tag of $71 in my locale.
I’ve said it before but the look of high quality bourbon is really appealing to me. Rich, deep copper with flames of brighter orange… This is a beautiful looking whiskey! As my dram swirls and moves during my inspection, it almost seems to cling to the walls of my glass and leaves behind thick stubborn legs.
This is probably the right time to note the beautiful presentation of this whiskey… Something I don’t usually do. But Booker’s has done so many things right in packaging this dram, it would be a shame not to acknowledge the efforts. From the wood-with-a-window carton that holds the wine-style bottle, to the black wax-dipped cork and “B” seal, its a good looking bottle! The faux handwritten label is a bit hokey, but is forgiven since it provides entertainment value by challenging you to find a small error, which I think I successfully located – do you see it?
Hellfire and brimstone! Obviously, I’m kidding, but the first whiff of this very high-proof whiskey will nearly singe your nostril hairs if it’s not allowed to adequately open up first. During my tasting regime, I discovered that upwards of 30 minutes of breathing time does wonders for enjoying the nose of this dram, even with water.
Booker’s offers loads or caramel and butterscotch, with brown sugar, vanilla and cinnamon at the forefront, with barrel notes of oak and a subtle sooty charcoal lingering in the background, along with something slightly vegetal. A splash of water tames the cinnamon and allows the wood notes to step forward, which reveals a peach-like character in the whiskey as well. Water also develops the brown sugar into maple syrup and that vegetal note comes somewhat more into focus as a minty-menthol sort of aroma.
On the Tongue
The alcohol can grab you on the initial sip but what would you expect from 128 proof?! At full strength, caramel and peanut brittle are the first flavours that come to mind, along with a good dose of vanilla. (Very reminiscent of a “Crunch n’ Munch” combination of caramel corn and nuts.) There is some orange peel in there, as well as a definite spicy, dusty rye character. With water, that peanut brittle becomes more of a corn-syrup flavour and that orange note develops into a nice, floral marmalade. I think a little water brings the oak forward on the palate, as well.
The finish on this whiskey is looooooonnnngggg! Especially neat, without water. Vanilla eventually gives way to leather, oak and a peppery character that is a bit like a mild green chile. All of these flavours eventually fade back toward a lovely sweetness that reminds me of graham crackers and corn bread.
“Potent!” This was Richard’s description the first time we tried Booker’s Uncut & Unfiltered Bourbon. Well, actually, I think it was, “Phhhhh…@#k, that’s potent!” And that’s coming from an experienced drammer!
This is one beast of a bourbon, and it needs to be respected as such. I don’t think Booker’s will be everyone’s everyday favourite drop but it’s one that at least deserves to be tried by whiskey drinkers. Having tasted it several times now, I think I have a decent understanding about what it is and how to enjoy it. Definitely not the whiskey to grab after a few beers while barbecuing on the patio… this is a dram you pour when you’re serious about enjoying a whiskey and intending to take some time with it, allowing it to reveal itself to you. Water can come in handy with this bourbon especially since, when you think about it, you could cut it to half and it would still damn-near pass as minimum proof! I tend not to water my whiskies, however, and, even at 64%, Booker’s Bourbon manages to come across as a smooth and richly sophisticated dram, when it has been treated properly and allowed enough time to open up. The finish is among the longest I have experienced.