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Review: Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon

Posted by Arctic Wolf on April 20, 2014

Booker's SAM_1112Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon is part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Bourbon Collection. This collection is composed of Booker’s, and the previously reviewed Baker’s, Knob Creek,and Basil Hayden’s. The whiskey collection is considered by Jim Beam Distillers to be a selection of ‘ultra-premium’ bourbon whiskeys created to establish a high-end category for bourbon, and thus to appeal to the serious whiskey aficionado. The Booker’s Bourbon was named for Booker Noe, who in 1992 began to produce the Booker’s whiskey bottled “straight-from-the-barrel, uncut and unfiltered”.

Apparently, the Booker’s whiskey was originally produced in extremely limited quantities and reserved as special holiday gifts for his friends and family. This high strength ‘holiday bourbon’ was so popular with those who received it that the Beam company decided to produce it as a special bottling beginning in 1992.  Interestingly, Booker’s Bourbon does not carry a consistent age statement from batch to batch as barrels are chosen for character and flavour rather than for being a specific age. For that reason the age of a particular bottle can vary between 6 to 8 years old. Because the whiskey is bottled straight from the barrel the bottling strength can also vary (according to the website) between 59.5 % to 64.55 % per batch.


The Beastiary

(The Beam Global team must be aware of my fondness for over-strength whiskey because my sample bottle checks in at the full 64.55%.)

You may read my full review by clicking on the following excerpt link:

Review: Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon

“… As I enjoyed the scents and smells which the whiskey brought forward, I was treated to even more richness as indications of dry fruit revealed themselves above the glass along with hints of treacle and pan roasted walnuts. There were also delightful aromas of leather chairs and rich pipe tobacco meandering into the breezes with undertones of smoky charcoal and dabbles of licorice mixed in. What I sense only a little of, is any undo astringency from the whopping 64.55 % alcohol within the glass. Maybe I have a bottle from a particularly outstanding batch; but air above my glass represents a masterpiece of whiskey goodness …”

My cocktail suggestion at the end of my review, The Beastiary, combines the goodness and savagery of Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon with a whopping dose of bitters in the tradition of the Alabazam Cocktail.

Please enjoy my both review and my cocktail which is not for the meek of heart. Happy Easter!


7 Responses to “Review: Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon”

  1. Omineca Greg! said

    Hi Chip

    Thanks for the review. I never would have got around to checking out this whiskey if you hadn’t put the article up. My bottle was marked at 65.2%, I guess I never considered the legal ramifications of labeling cask strength whiskies, but of course yeah, if you’re not diluting it to a fixed ABV, then it takes a little work to be accurate.

    Indeed, awesome whiskey, they do a great job at matching the flavours to the intensity of the alcohol, I was surprised by how much nuance there was in something so robust, I hadn’t expected such a level of detail in the taste. This is the first time I’ve tried a cask strength whiskey, so I don’t have anything else to compare it to…I have had Wiser’s Red Letter, so this is my second unfiltered whisky, if these two are typical of the unfiltered experience, then that’s something I’ll be looking out for in the future…the mouth feel is richer, I like that.

    I tried the Beastiary…it was great. Good instincts in pairing the Booker’s with such a heavy dose of bitters, the spices complement each other, and you need a big whack of them to make their presence known…I have to admit I was a little unnerved watching the teaspoon filling up with Angostura, that’s more than I’ve put in a drink ever…and I like Angostura…except with vermouth, I love them both separately, but together…yuck! It’s gotta be orange bitters in my Manhattan’s…or maybe Fernet Branca…maybe…(I’m just trying to re-establish my serious cocktail cred after that Fluffy Duck thing!… Does it show too badly?). Anyway delicious drink…I haven’t tried the brandy version yet…I like that it turned pink, in a white spirit sometimes you get that with Angostura, but I’ve never seen it in a brown spirit cocktail before. That’s a lot of Angostura!

    I think I’ll try a Sazerac with the Booker’s before I’m done with the bottle. When diluted with water, the Booker’s takes on a more typical buttery corn taste that I associate with bourbon, and less of the spicy roller coaster ride that it is right from the bottle. So what better drink than a Sazerac? no ice…70% absinthe with 65% whiskey…should be good…

    I’m sorry to learn of your bad advocaat experience…I hear that throwing up advocaat is no fun…a lot of beginner drinkers in England overdo it on Snowball’s…or so I hear. It sounds like your mother was making the advocaat from scratch…does a mother’s love know no bounds? My mother never made me advocaat, but she took care of me in so many ways, it would be impossible to re-pay my debt to her…aww…you see…drinking just one of your Beastiary’s has made me all sentimental…


    • Hi Greg

      I am glad you like my recipes, I have noticed that section of my website is starting to get great traffic. It took a while, but I think I am slowly winning over the “I only drink it neat” crowd. Good Whiskey, like good rum improves the cocktail experience. (I am not saying that I do not enjoy my spirits neat, of course I do, but there are many occasions when a cocktail suits my mood much better.) I actually like your Fluffy Duck recipe, and I have been considering getting a bottle of Advocaat just so I can try one. I am hoping to find one of those 50ml sampler bottles just in case my previous experience with Advocaat repeats itself. (Those childhood memories really stick with you.)

      Have a great Day, and thanks for your continued support!

      • Omineca Greg! said

        Hi Chip!

        I used to be one of those “one spirit (high quality) for sipping, one spirit (better price) for mixing” kind of people. My logic was that mixing an expensive liquor gave me a relative lack of value, that by the time I was paying a premium price I should be savoring every drink unsullied be other ingredients. After awhile I figured out because I am more of a cocktail drinker than a “snifter or Glencairn” drinker, I was missing out on higher quality spirits, as they would come and go from the BCLDB before I got a chance to try them out, because after all, I still had an expensive scotch, or Canadian Whisky or armagnac or whatever, at home, so why would I buy another?

        These days, when I buy a new bottle of something I haven’t tried before, my first two or three drinks will be straight up, or with a little water, depending on what it is, so I get to know what it tastes like. Then I’ll run it through my favourite drinks and try to guess how the introduction of the new brand will affect them. It’s fun and educational to see when I am able to guess correctly, or when I totally get it wrong and am completely surprised by how things turn out. And then I’ll try some new drinks and try to capture the best qualities of the liquor and amplify them using cocktail craftsmanship. I do alright, but not great…but what would I be if I didn’t try? And then, finally, I save a few ounces so I can go back to tasting it neat, and see what I’ve learned. It sound tedious when explained in excruciating detail like that, but it’s an amusing little hobby…it makes life more interesting, and I’m trying many more compelling products than I had done in the past. Now I don’t have two tiers of products in my pantry, everything pretty much gets the same treatment, although I have to admit if I’m paying a certain price, I slant things more towards the drinking it neat part of the program. For example, Crown No. 16 is pretty pricy and tastes great the way it is, so I mixed fewer drinks with it than I would have with something half the price.


        It is not a cheap hobby. It takes a little financial commitment (but not as much as owning a snowmobile!) to do things this way, and certainly I can see why there’s a bias against using high quality, expensive liquor as cocktail mixers.

        Well, I’m off for a long vacation, and I’m going to be beyond the reach of the internet (if I told you where I was going you wouldn’t believe me!) So you’ll have a month without my blather, and as where I’m going is so very Buddhist (no, I’m not telling you!) I think you’ll definitely be able to write more articles than I’ll be able to try new drinks, so…when I get back I’ll have some catching up to do!


        • My experiences with a new spirit are very similar to yours, although I suspect I mix cocktails a little earlier in the regimen than you do. I have never ever really been bothered by the expense of the bottle which I am mixing and in fact when I talk to Master Distillers and Master Blenders, I find they are just as likely to mix cocktails with their expressions as not. (In fact the Global Master of Malts for Morrison Bowmore is as likely to shuck oysters with his whisky as he is to drink it straight. It is after all, about enjoyment not pretense.

          I have made the point in the past that many people go to bars or restaurants and pay 6 to 10 bucks for cocktails made with cheap booze. When I mix cocktails even with a very expensive bottle, it rarely costs me more per drink than what is being served in those places. So for me, the expense of the bottle I am mixing with really doesn’t have a strong impact on my decision as to whether I should mix or not. It is more about enjoyment and the joy of exploration.

  2. Kevin said

    While I am more in love with rums than whiskeys I have to agree these Beam Small batch bourbons are on a whole other level above the noise filling the whiskey shelves. Thanks Chip for another awesome review!

  3. Andy said

    Many were waiting to hear your review of this, after the review of Knob Creek was high. Knob Creek SmB is my go to bourbon. Knob Creek SB and Bookers I enjoy a bit more, but it is a much higher price. Bookers was actually the best bourbon I had..until Four Roses 125th Anniversary LE SmB was released 2 weeks ago in Toronto. It seems to be on a whole other level. Look for it, get it while you can.

    • I just loved Booker’s (as you could see from the review). I was actually lucky enough to taste all four of the Jim beam Small Batch collection side by side during my review process, and it is really hard to pick out the best. However, it was the stupendous nose of the Booker’s which in the end caused me to give this whisky the highest score. Next on my bourbon agenda will be reviews of Four Roses and Blanton’s (in about four weeks time). I am really looking forward to both as feedback on my website has been strong for each of those brands. (I am hoping to get a bottle of the Knob Creek Rye soon as I have heard wonderful things about it.)

      I am not sure if Four Roses 125th Anniversary will cross paths with me or not, if it does I will add it to the review queue.

      All the best Andy, and thank you for the comment.

      But for now, Beam Global’s Small Batch Collection is where

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