Booker’s Rye Whiskey Review

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By Richard Thomas

Rating: A+

Booker's Rye

Booker’s Rye
(Credit: Beam Suntory)

Booker’s Rye first hit store shelves less than two weeks ago, and instantly sparked a buzz so large as to certainly make it the biggest thing in rye whiskey for 2016. The whiskey’s pedigree and assumed quality was what most focused on, although some chose instead to bemoan the $300 price tag and darkly ruminate about where the fact that Beam was asking so much for it was taking American whiskey (answer: nowhere new, because American whiskey is already there).

Booker’s has been a fan favorite brand for two decades now, having carved out a niche as a high octane, cask strength offering that somehow manages to be imminently mellow at the same time. In recent years, Booker’s was expanded with a series of limited edition expressions, and Booker’s Rye is the latest of those.

Drawn from stock laid down by brand namesake Booker Noe, the whiskey is based on a non-standard mashbill. Little is known about it past that, but by default it must be higher than the legal minimum 51% rye, high corn recipe Kentucky style used by Beam. Fred Noe has said that based on Booker’s notes, it is probably in the 70s or 80s for rye content. Aged for just over 13 years and bottled at the cask strength level of 136.2 (68.1% ABV) proof, on paper it promises to be a whopper of a rye whiskey. And it delivers.

The Whiskey
That this is a big whiskey jumps out at you from the start. In my eye, rye tends to have a more orange tint than bourbon, and this stuff has an appearance that speaks to not just that, but also time in wood and potency. The liquid’s color is as deep as the most superb of maple syrups, an essence of red sunrise with earthy brown stirred in. When I look a it from the top instead of the side, however, it turns to glistening dark orange. The legs are runny, but heavy.

After making my notes, I freshened my glass up, and I find I keep looking at it as I type this. It’s certainly an pleasing sight.

The signature of the Booker’s brand in my opinion has been its sucker puncher status. It’s strong stuff, but also mellow, so sipping on it blind you would have no idea how strong a whiskey it was until you rose from the bar stool to your feet. In keeping with that, the nose didn’t suggest an almost 70% alcohol content. No burn on the nostrils, only heavy citrus, plums and blackberries seasoned with a dollop of vanilla and pinches of cinnamon, anise, and dill, and all presented in a box of pine.

While the whiskey didn’t start hot on my palate, it increasingly became so as it sat on my tongue. So, no sucker puncher there. I recommend a splash of water or an ice cube, doubly so in view of the furnace blast finish that comes on drinking it neat.

The flavor starts out as an oaky vanilla bomb, opening up to add blasts of spicy, prickly cinnamon and ginger and more modest notes of fruitiness. The liquid is hefty and leaves an oily sensation long after the swallow. It’s big, bold and ballsy, and in no way subtle, but supremely delicious. The finish is a long, warming embrace, leaving lingering oaky, fruity, spicy and herbal notes to dwell on minute after minute before taking another sip.

Too full-bodied to be what I think of as complex, this is instead a whiskey with a huge, absolutely out-sized character. It comes into the room and everyone pays attention to it, not in spite of but because of the direct, plain speaking style. Ice doesn’t even so much as faze it. If you can find it, don’t blink at the price tag. Buy it while you can.

The Price
As previously mentioned, the recommended retail on this big boy is $299.99. While I understand that is more than many an enthusiast can afford for a single bottle of whiskey, it’s not an unfair price. Those who think otherwise either haven’t tried it, are living in the distant past, or both.

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6 comments

  1. how can you reasonably say that $300 is not an unfair price? and no I haven’t tried it but as long as BTAC is still $80 a bottle it seems silly and somewhat dickish to bring it to market for that amount.

    • … and if you don’t have connections at the distributor/liquor store or get very lucky with a lottery, a few hundred bucks is what you’ll actually pay to get one of the less popular BTACs. The reason why $300 is fair is because the sticker reflects what the market will probably bear. I don’t like it and can’t afford it myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to deny the world we live in.

    • And where can you buy BTAC on the shelf at retail without having to camp out for two days, get lucky in a raffle or do something to the liquor store owner to get said BTAC at retail. I live in KY and I got one Thomas Handy this year at retail, Maybe you have a time machine

  2. James: something that hit me with all the griping about Booker’s Rye is how there is no griping about Knob Creek 2001. Beam says there are 36,000 bottles of the stuff, at $130!

    When Diageo pulls something like that with Barterhouse or Blade and Bow or whatever, all the usual complainers on Reddit and the blogs gripe about it. When Beam puts out a river of high priced whiskey, mums the word. They focus on Booker’s Rye, with only several thousand bottles.

    Funny, isn’t it?

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