By Richard Thomas
Since my first exposure to Booker’s Bourbon dates back to the middle 1990s, I have always thought of it as the original “sucker puncher” American whiskey of the modern era. By that I mean it’s the kind of whiskey that one can belly up to the bar, order a double, drink it, and not know just how potent it actually was until they try to stand up. With two decades of periodic Booker’s drinking behind me, I was already able to attest to noticeable, periodic variances in batches. Thus, I wasn’t too surprised when Jim Beam decided to make Booker’s more of a premium product by demarking different batches with charming themes relating back to the life of namesake Booker Noe.
Booker’s is noted for being the cask strength, uncut bourbon in the old Small Batch Collection, and bottlings were routinely over 120 proof. Batch 5 for 2016 “Off Your Rocker” certainly earned that title, weighing in at 129.7 proof (64.85% ABV). Even for Booker’s, 130 proof is unusual, and this is close enough to 130 as to not really matter. This particular batch is 6 years, 7 months and 23 days old.
In the glass, Batch 5-2016 Booker’s has a surprising light appearance, sitting in the middling, orange vein of amber. The legs ran off in bunches, but bunches headed by thick, heavy, slow droplets.
In this particular instance, I think Booker’s came in with too much punch. The nose was moderately hot, which isn’t a surprise at very nearly 130 proof. So, I did something I have rarely done with this brand over more than 20 years of drinking it: add water.
With that, the nose smacks of tangerine zest, ripe cranberries (maybe I have Thanksgiving too much on my mind?) seasoned with vanilla and spiced with ginger and cloves. Lying under this is a trickle of over-roasted wood, a barrel char note that is just short of burnt.
The flavor flows from there into territory where the sweet side is now all dark fruits (no citrus) and spicer, but better balanced with an earthy, cocoa note and dry toastiness. The finish opens with a short vanilla note, before progressing into long-lasting, spicy warmth.
The current standard price for Booker’s releases is $59.99.