Thursday, 19 May 2011

Booker's Batch # C03-A-29 longform review

It’s been over a week and I promised reviews, so here’s a couple. But first, Elijah Craig 12yr seems to be back in the LCBO, so go and pick up a bottle.


It seems odd to review Booker’s (Jim Beam’s top-end small batch whiskey) before I review normal Jim Beam, but I plan on reviewing all the standard LCBO bourbons in quick succession in June, when I have an excuse to get some cheaper whiskey (I currently am out of Maker’s, Woodford, and cheap Wild Turkey). So, then you’ll see reviews for Jim Beam (white & black), Knob Creek, Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark, and Wild Turkey 80 Proof.

Booker’s is a mighty whiskey, at barrel strength – my bottle weighs in at a hefty 127.9 proof (almost 64% alcohol) -- only the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bourbons outweigh it in my collection, and nothing else at the LCBO comes close. It also commands a mighty price. That gives it a hefty burn. Be aware when tasting and smelling it – it can easily burn out your tastebuds and sense of smell! I tasted and rated it without the aid of water, but I will mention what I think of it after going back and sampling it a few more times.

The nose is traditional Beam, well within the company’s standard flavor profile, if quite a bit more weighty. There are hints of vanilla and caramel at first sniff, which gives way to a strong vanilla burn. Burn is the operative word here, as I also detect a bit of almond and burning oak chips.

The taste, undiluted, is very harsh and sharp, even compared to its barrel proof  counterparts (largely unavailable up here) like George Stagg, Noah’s Mill, Rare Breed, and Parker’s Heritage Barrel Strength. It has notes of black licorice  and pepper on the tip of the tongue; it’s hot and spicy like black cherry cinnamon  candy, with a bit of that nutty taste Beam often has.

The finish is looooong, the child that is the father of the man that is 60+% ABV, and almost suffocating (please don’t blame this entirely on the nature of the beast – as noted above, there’s some much less obvious high ABV bourbons out there, and I’m not looking for smoothness; the finish really comes down hard and heavy like smoke, rather than a sharp burn). There’s some stone fruit – peach maybe? – hidden in there, next to the walnuts and almonds and vanilla.

As noted before, this stuff is strong, expensive, and, ultimately, pretty good. It’s not a life-changing whiskey and won’t win over folks who aren’t yet fans of bourbon, but it’s worth having on the shelf for novelty’s sake. In fact, I’d call it an experienced bourbon drinker’s bourbon, unlikely to be appreciated by folks who haven’t gotten used to the allure of Kentucky’s finest export – novices will learn more from Knob Creek (and enjoy it more), or, if particularly adventurous, they can try Baker’s for an easier transition into the world of higher-proof bourbons.

I give it a 6.5, which can inch up to a 7 for the novelty, if you are an experienced drinker who lacks access to anything but the LCBO.

However, with a few splashes of water and time, the bourbon opens up a bit. Some mint appears in the taste and finish, and the vanilla slips open and reveals other sweet floral scents.  It’s still a strong hoss of a whiskey, but it’s a lot better than the lower end beam products. Watering it down further still reveals its superiority to base beam, but while adding your own water does make the drink a bit more of a bargain, the price difference up front is pretty significant. Of the whiskeys I own, this is the one I’m mostly likely to add water to – even the 70% ABV George Stagg I’ll often drink neat – and this is the whiskey I find benefits most from a splash or two.

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