Frederick Booker Noe II was Jim Beam’s grandson and a sixth-generation master distiller who was born in the heart of the bourbon industry. He started making bourbon at a young age and would eventually be named master distiller at the Jim Beam Distillery in 1965, a position he held until his retirement in 1992. Booker stayed on as an ambassador for the company, traveling and hosting bourbon tastings and other events, up until his death in 2004. His son, Frederick Booker Noe III, has followed in his father’s footsteps and continues to release his father’s namesake whiskey, Booker’s small batch bourbon.
The Booker’s small batch bourbon brand has roots dating back to 1980s, when Booker began the practice of hand selecting a small inventory of bourbon to give as a gift to friends and family. In 1988, this limited selection of bourbon was first offered to the public and the Booker’s brand was officially born. The distillery claims Booker’s was the first small batch bourbon publicly released and that Booker actually coined the term “small batch” with his personal selections.
Each batch of Booker’s is uncut, unfiltered, and bottled a barrel strength. The bourbon ranges from 121-131 proof and is usually aged 6-8 years in the center areas of Beam rick houses, where temperature and humidity are most desirable.
Booker’s is released several times throughout the year, with each batch being given a unique name. This review is of Batch 2019-03, otherwise known as “Country Ham”, which was inspired by Booker’s love for curing ham in his smokehouse. According to the distiller, this batch was made up of 364 barrels, produced on a single date and stored in three warehouses. The breakdown of barrel storage is as follows: 51% from the 7th floor of 9-story warehouse H; 5% from the 3rd floor of 7-story warehouse P; 44% from the 4th floor of 7-story warehouse P. The juice was aged for 6 years, 4 months, and 2 days. This batch comes in at 124.7 proof (62.35% abv) and originally retailed for $69.99.
Appearance – dark copper. Thick, slow legs formed in the glass.
Nose – a quick dose of ethanol is present at the tip of the glass but it is quickly overpowered by strong notes of deep, rich vanilla, molasses, plenty of oak char, and some of those classic beam nutty notes. A few drops of water brought out more sweet notes and a well-defined note of roasted green apple.
Palate – this bourbon has a wonderful viscosity, providing a thick coating on the first sip. There is plenty of burn on the tongue, although it is not unpleasant. The sweet notes develop quickly and really dominate, revealing plenty of brown sugar, vanilla, and some chewy salted caramel. I also found a lot of toasted oak, which provides a nice smoky flavor that blends seamlessly with the sweet notes. The name country ham is fitting because I was repeatedly reminded of a nice smoked honey ham. With a few drops of water, that alcohol bite almost completely disappears and you’re left with a pleasantly sweet flavor bomb of a bourbon.
Finish – the finish is long, warm, and just really, really good. The burn lingers but it is balanced by all those wonderful sweet and smoky notes from the palate. I also found some sweet corn notes, which reminded me of a fresh-baked cornbread, along with more of that burnt brown sugar note that lingered with plenty of smoky oak undertones, culminating in a somewhat dry finish.
Overall – Admittedly, I tend to be a big fan of Booker’s bourbon. I always appreciate the unapologetically strong releases that aim to deliver plenty of heat, flavor, and a real challenge on the palate. This bottle is no exception. This bourbon was nice and strong, but the heat does not overpower all the rich, delicious flavors that develop throughout the sip and that continue to get better with time. I was also surprised by how much this bourbon changed with just a few drops of water.
I look forward to pouring this bourbon on Thanksgiving Day and just drinking myself silly. If you see this bottle on the shelf, definitely take it home with you and get ready for a lot of fun! Cheers!