Updated June 30, 2017
By Debbie Shocair
I hold tremendous respect for the Beam family and for Booker’s Bourbon, the unfiltered and uncut expression of the Beam Small Batch Collection inaugurated twenty years ago. Booker’s has changed over that time, and now comes in discrete batches.
Fred Noe, 7th generation master distiller for Beam, has selected Booker’s Bluegill Creek, the fourth release in the 2016 Batch Collection expressions of Booker’s, from barrels in four different rack houses, and the result is a fine bourbon, still uncut and unfiltered. This is a bourbon for the whiskey lover who appreciates a fine bourbon that isn’t overtly sweet. Booker’s “BC” is bottled at a hefty 64% (128 proof) after being matured all of 6 years, 5 months, and 28 days.
Fred Noe named this particular expression for the time he spent with his father, Booker Noe, fishing for bluegill. A lovable pastime, certainly. From a line known for being robust and as one of the more heavily-bodied whiskeys around, it’s a fine tribute to a man who is a veritable legend in American whiskey.
On the nose, this heavy whiskey is all about grassiness and toasted grain, hints of vanilla and cinnamon falling low and noticeable only if you patiently hunt for them. Add a half teaspoon of water, and the grassiness jumps to the front, along with bright notes of hay fields. Again, for the whiskey lover who is looking for a bourbon that isn’t too sweet, this is the one to try.
The mouthfeel is noticeable at the tip and under the tongue. I have a habit of holding whiskey in my mouth far longer than most people do before I swallow it, but it allows me the full sensory experience of the amber gold at hand, and I enjoyed this one.
The medium-length finish began slightly acerbic, but quickly evolved to be all about warm toasted grain and toasted oak, before dark bread-y toast and low sweet vanilla notes took over.
For an uncut bourbon, Booker’s Bluegill Creek is surprisingly gentle (well, until about 12 minutes later…), and this particular expression is a true testament to the whiskey its namesake intended to bring to the whiskey lover at large. I graded it as a B+, but seriously cusping on A-.
Addendum by Richard Thomas
For a quarter century, Booker’s has been the big bodied whiskey playing the sneaky game. I have been calling it the original “sucker puncher” for almost as long, because for a 120+ proof bourbon it is routinely and imminently drinkable without water. Slip your friend a double of this, don’t tell them how strong it is, and watch what happens when the stand up from the bar!
Booker’s has slid a little over the years. When it was launched, the bourbon was an uncut, unfiltered whiskey aged between 6 and 8 years. Nowadays, that is almost always 6 years and some months. Even so, it’s still the sweet, slightly spicy vanilla bomb one expects. Like Debbie, I picked up a toasted cereals note that is a bit outside what my memory tells me to expect from the days before Booker’s was identified by titled batches, but this merely accents a big wallop of heavy Beam style bourbon.
Booker’s Bluegill Creek retailed at $60 when it was released, but following this year’s price hike, most surviving examples have been raised to the now standard $75 or higher. However, you may get lucky and find a particularly scrupulous retailer selling it for the original $60.