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Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon

Review: Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon   95.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on April 17, 2014

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

Booker's SAM_1112In the Bottle: 4.5/5

To the right is the bottle of Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon which was given by the Alberta Beam Global Team for the purpose of a review upon my website. The whiskey is house in a wooden box with a clear plastic front. Each bottle is given a light dab of glue to keep it positioned correctly in the box so that the label (which is a reproduction of Booker Noe’s handwritten description) is correctly positioned to be facing outward. The diagonal sticker above the main label tells me that my whiskey (from Batch No. C04-A-28)  is a full 64.55 % alcohol by volume, and the bourbon was aged for 7 years and 4 months.

My only quibble with the presentation is with the wax covering over the cork seal. I like the idea of a wax covered cork, however the wax upon my bottle was unusually hard to remove, and it left an annoying ridge of hard wax at the very top of the bottle.

In the Glass 10/10

When I poured out my first sample of the Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon, the rich colour the whiskey displayed in the glass was reminiscent of a lightly tarnished copper penny. When I tilted and twirled that glass, I could see a slightly thickish whiskey sheen on the inside with a crest which held back before dropping fat leglets. Some of these leglets just hung there like feet dangling from a pier, and some of them slowly crept downwards back into the bottom of the glass with the rest of the whiskey.

The initial breezes above the glass were full of clean oak spice which was pouring out of the glass. As I waited a moment, those oaky breezes above the glass were enriched with yummy scents of rum-like Demerara sugar and lush vanilla. Soon additional scents of espresso coffee beans and dark bittersweet chocolate joined in, and a delicious smell of spicy toffee (with tinges of peppery cinnamon and cloves) reached upwards out of the whiskey as well.

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!

In the Mouth 58/60

I was beguiled by the nose, and when I took my first sip, it was without water or ice. As the whisky passed though my mouth and down my throat, my palate, and my tonsils felt the full force of the high strength bourbon. While the nose is a lush masterpiece of whisky goodness; the flavour in the mouth is a savage brute of unrelenting whiskey fury. Sipping the Booker’s True Barrel bourbon neat at full strength is not for the faint of heart.

Despite the unrelenting heat and spice which the whiskey brings forward, the bourbon also brought forward a full gauntlet of whiskey flavour across the palate. The bourbon is all at once hot and spicy, bitter and sweet, hot and spicy, and even a touch salty as flavours of sweet Demerara sugar and licorice laced treacle are melded and joined with fresh-cut oak and cedar planks which are oozing spicy sap and rich with vanillans. I can taste all of this even without any water or ice notwithstanding the fury of the spirit’s 65.55% alcohol by volume bottling strength. I admit though, that after just a few more cautious sips, the savage brute which this whiskey represents overwhelmed me with spice, the heat, and its full force of flavour. I was forced to add a full cube of ice, and then wait several minutes to allow my mouth and throat to recover.

Even with ice, the bourbon remains a brute and had to be approached with prudence. The heat and spice swamp the palate if more than a small sip is taken. But, the flavour is fantastic! I taste sweet caramel corn and molasses, dry fruit, black licorice, damp tobacco, roasted pecans and oodles and oodles of spicy goodness. Glowing cinnamon sticks, fiery cloves, and hot black peppercorns all dance across the palate tempered (but only slightly) by sweet dark brown sugar and luscious vanilla. Somewhere in the middle of all that spice and flavour is a soothing minty menthol which allows us to keep bringing the whiskey back to our mouth for another sip (those sips are well spaced though).

In the Throat 13.5/15

Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon exits with a spicy thrust that leaves a trail of hot cinnamon and peppery cloves behind. Some sweet caramel and hints of menthol console the palate and throat; but only if the sips were kept small and well spaced, and if your ice (or water) is used judiciously. Keeping the score down just a touch in the finish is a long lingering dry fade of cocoa bitterness. A touch more sweetness in the finish would have been sublime.

The Afterburn 9.5/10

The Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon is a savage brute which easily overwhelms the senses. The alcohol heat and spice the whiskey brings forward is unrelenting and even with ice it remains wild and untamed. I admit I remain intimidated by my experiences of sampling and tasting the spirit for this review. In fact, I also admit that this beast of a whiskey was at times, more than I could handle. Having said that, I am looking forward to the joy of returning to my sample bottle of Booker’s Bourbon to wrestle with that brute a few more times. The flavour and complexity are off the charts, and my score of 95.5/100 represents the highest score I have given to this point for any whisky.

You may read some of my other Whiskey Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipe:

SAM_1118 The BestiaryThe Alabazam is a brandy cocktail usually credited to Leo Engels, an American bartender (working in London) who published the recipe in 1878 (recipe number 192 by the way) in his cocktail book, American and Other Drinks. The recipe bears a resemblance to the modern Sidecar, but with one significant difference. Mr. Engels used a large dose of Angostura Bitters in the recipe (with the lemon juice and orange Curacao). I found that the recipe works best with a strong oaky Brandy which can stand up to the bitters and punch back at them. It occurred to my while I was writing this review, that perhaps a strong robust Whiskey like Booker’s would stand up to those bitters and punch back as well.

I decided to call this recipe which uses Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon, the Beastiary.

The Beastiary

1 3/4 oz Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon
2 teaspoons Orange Curacao
1 teaspoon Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon fine white sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Shake well over fine (crushed ) ice
Strain into a wine glass

Enjoy Responsibly (perhaps over the course of an entire evening)!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)




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