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Monday, January 25, 2016

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Booker’s and Revisiting Booker’s 25th Anniversary

Beginning in January 2015, in a stroke of genius from a marketing perspective, Beam Suntory released batches of Booker’s with individual names.  I took the contrarian view and passed over the first named batch, and bought the last batch of 2014 instead, which was still on the shelves.  While others have compared and contrasted each of the named 2015 batches, for this review I’ll go “old school” with the last unnamed batch.

Last fall, I also finally found a bottle Booker’s 25th Anniversary, so I can pick up my previous sample review with a little more in-depth contemplation.  I was gouged by a store in Tennessee, but I was glad to find the last bottle there.

Bourbon:
Booker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey,
Batch 2014-07

Distillery:
Beam Suntory, Clermont, Ky.

Age:
7 years, 7 months, 13 days

ABV:
64.45% (128.9 proof)

Cost:
$49.99

and

Bourbon:
Booker’s 25th Anniversary Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Batch 2014-1

Distillery:
Beam Suntory (at the time, still Jim Beam), Clermont, Ky.

Age:
10 years, 3 months

ABV:
65.4% (130.8 proof)

Cost:
$99.99 suggested retail

Tasting Notes

Color:
Both are dark amber on the verge of brown, but the 25th Anniversary is slightly darker, as expected because of the additional age.

Nose:
The aroma of each is powerful, but not in a nose-singeing way.  Instead, the power is in the depth.  Batch 2014-07 is full of brown sugar sweetness, lots of cinnamon, and some furniture polish, while the proof is more evident.  The 25th Anniversary hits hard with darker aromas (like oak and leather), rich vanilla, and overall less sweetness, with the high proof better-disguised.  A splash of water or an ice cube opened up the caramel sweetness.

Taste:
These are bold, spicy Bourbons.  Batch 2014-07 has toffee and dark fruit sweetness, peanuts, orange zest, heavy baking spices with herbal flavors, and decent oak.  The only downside is that it’s too hot and a little yeasty hitting the back of the throat.  I liked it better with a splash of water, but water didn’t take away the slight throat irritation, which left it a little distracting.  I tried it with a single cube too; some somehow that seemed to accentuate the heat, and not do much else.

I expected the 25th Anniversary to start very hot and to need some time in the glass first, but I knew that I would struggle to find that kind of patience.  The sample that I reviewed last spring already had some air, so it was great from the first sip, and this time, trying from a freshly opened bottle, I vacillated between diving right in and waiting.  I didn’t give it much time, but it was enough, because the 25th Anniversary was as phenomenal as I had remembered.  It’s a classic, robust Bourbon, starting with deep brown sugar, caramel, and vanilla, balanced by plenty of cinnamon, leather, and oak.  The 25th Anniversary has great creaminess, especially with a splash of water or a single ice cube.  It’s still worth trying neat, however, before experimenting with ice or a splash.

Finish:
Batch 2014-07 had a good finish with great warmth, but it was still a little distracting in a few ways (like raw heat, yeastiness, and furniture polish).  I suspect that my scoring on the taste and finish of Batch 2014-07 suffered due to a continued comparison with the 25th Anniversary edition.  While the taste of the 25th Anniversary was fantastic, just as I had found with my sample last year, the finish takes it up a notch further.  The 25th Anniversary finishes with a huge swell of cinnamon and warmth, and you can feel it shift gears, transitioning to dark oak and leather with maple sweetness.

Bottom Line

The standard Booker’s is a top-notch barrel strength beast, and probably my favorite of the Beam Suntory lineup.  At retail from $50 - $60 and readily available – along with other barrel proof options from Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, and Heaven Hill – there’s no reason to wait for certain “antique” limited fall releases to get your barrel proof fix.  As with all smaller batches, you will find batch variation in Booker’s, and some are better than others.  All of the 2015 named batches that I’ve tried have been better than Batch 2014-07.

Additionally, the 25th Anniversary batch shows that, with a little focus, Beam Suntory – known predominantly for its ubiquitous “white label” Jim Beam – could challenge the kings of the super-premium segment.  I’d put Booker’s 25th Anniversary and Parker’s Heritage Collection 8th Edition as the two best American whiskies of 2014, and both will likely be in the top 10 for the decade.  Now that we’re into 2016, you’ll have to rely on a friend to try either of those, but I hope that you’ll get the chance.  If not, try the next standard named batch of Booker’s.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
Booker’s Batch 2014-07:  3.0
Booker’s 25th Anniversary:  4.5+


The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Swill.  I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.
2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.
3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings.  Glad to own and enjoy.
4 – Excellent Bourbon.  Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws.  I’m lucky to have this.
5 – Bourbon perfection.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.


2 comments:

  1. right on with the 25th review..sadly, I have only had samples of different Bookers standards...I will have to get on the boat and try a few more...keep up your good work

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Alan! We'll have to compare some of those Booker's soon.

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