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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dusting the blog back off with a bourbon review: Booker's

Lately I've gotten the writing bug back, but have been too busy to really do it.  Also, I'm now writing over at Capitol Avenue Club which takes a lot of the time I do have to write.  However, I'm on a brief vacation and I want to write about bourbon a bit.  Writing about bourbon also seems to fit with the title of this blog fairly well, I think.

I've recently thought about keeping a bourbon journal.  Keeping track of my thoughts, notes, etc on the various bourbons I try.  Then I realized it's probably just as easy to write it here, so here's a random smattering of thoughts I've had about recent bourbons, we will start with Booker's:



Booker's - 124-128 Proof aged 6-8 years (this particular bottle was aged 7 years, 7 months and 128.6 proof, putting it towards the end of both the age and proof range for Booker's) Price ~$50

Packaging - comes in a wooden box with faux aged lettering.  A little hokey, but a nice touch for a $50+ bourbon.  Bottle is wax sealed on top, with black wax.  The top is plastic, which I guess is because of the wax sealing.  I'm used to a wooden top for a premium bourbon like this.  A cork is still employed, unlike the other Fortune Brands (Fortune Brands owns both the Jim Beam Distilleries and the Maker's Mark distilleries) bourbon with a wax sealed top, Maker's Mark.  I prefer cork, it may be an aesthetic thing, but I'm paying $50 for this, I like the touch of a cork, as opposed to a plastic screw top.  The bottle is wine bottle shaped and the glass is uncolored glass, which I like for really displaying the rich color that the actual bourbon has.  The labels are a bit corny, as Jim Beam tries desperately to hold onto the illusion that each bottle of Booker's is  labeled by hand.  I sort of hate that approach.  If you're really going to go for the pure hand made look, just get somebody to fill things out by hand.  If you're not, just design an elegant label that works.  This half way stuff lacks grace to me.  So while I love the wax that spills over on the 'B' medallion and the cork, I hate the Booker's label.  The box will make for a nice riser on my bar to elevate the second row of bottles I have for better display.

Appearance - Deep rich amber color.  Sticks to the side of the glass when circulated in a snifter.  Both indicate that this bourbon will be a mouthful of thick lushness.

Smell (I refuse to call this 'nose') - Vanilla and corn syrup are the two aromas that jump out to me.  More than anything else though, this smells like Jim Beam bourbon, just even more so than white label Jim Beam.  While some of the other premium Beam products, like Knob Creek and Baker's, are variations on the Jim Beam profile, at least smell wise Booker's seems to be pure 'premium Jim Beam Bourbon'.

Initial tase - Well, it's a cask strength bourbon, that's for sure.  The first thing you'll notice is the 128 proof, especially if you don't cut it a bit with ice or distilled water.  Also, if you don't cut it you'll quickly find that the inside of your mouth has been numbed.  I personally usually take a couple sips of it neat, then add an ice cube.  If Booker Noe (the bourbon's namesake) says it should be cut with water or ice, well then, I guess it's okay.  Once a single ice cube is added (which is how I personally take it) the bourbon reveals a lot more flavor than just the pure alcohol blast of the first neat sip.  The vanilla we smelled initially is there, along with the caramel/corn syrup flavor that is the trade mark of the Jim Beam flavor profile.  This isn't the most complex flavored bourbon, but it really gets it close to perfect in my mind.  The alcohol and caramel also can combine to give a slight citrus flavor, just enough to cut the sweetness a touch.  Really, to my palette, there are just 4 flavors going on here: Vanilla, Caramel, Citrus and alcohol.  And while that may seem a bit unrefined, it's the balance to those that's so perfect that makes this Bourbon.  Some bourbons go for all these complex flavors, but at the end of the day they just don't fit together well.  Jim Beam takes a relatively simple profile, but absolutely nails it with Booker's.  In a lot of ways you might view Booker's as the platonic ideal of bourbon.  It's not interesting in the sense that some other bourbons, like Four Roses, are but to me it just gets the flavor of bourbon right.

Body - This is a thick bourbon, as you would expect based on it being 128 proof.  Basically that means that in order to make this a 'normal' 80 proof bourbon, you'd have to add about 50% of the volume of the bourbon in water.  It coats your mouth and doesn't let go.  While tasting it doesn't so much slosh around as it rolls around.

Finish - long after you've taken your sip the thick, caramel, vanilla goodness continues to coat your mouth.  The finish is cinnamon-y (from the alcohol) but remains the hints of vanilla, citrus and caramel.  Several minutes later, your mouth still tastes sweet.  There is almost a complete lack of the 'astringent' mouthwash taste that some bourbons can have.  Which is perhaps the biggest mark of a truly premium bourbon.  Booker's manages to be both powerful and easy to drink, which is a rare feat indeed.

Overall - Among the best.  Jim Beam is, without a doubt, the most storied name in bourbon.  Booker's is not only their best bourbon, but also the one that best exemplifies the Jim Beam flavor profile: Vanilla, caramel, with a touch of cinnamon and citrus.  Booker's is by no means cheap, but it holds up to anything in the price range and many bourbons out of its price range.  It's not complicated, but it balances things just right.  Cut it with a single ice cube and you're tasting something that can make a good argument to being the exact way bourbon should taste.  If you like your bourbon sweet, smooth, powerful and to taste like bourbon, this is it for you.

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