Booker's Bourbon: Batch 2018-03 "Kentucky Chew"

It’s the last post of Bourbon Heritage Month. Tonight we finish up the month by revisiting a bourbon that was provided to me specifically to coincide with Bourbon Heritage Month.

I state in my Statement of Ethics that if I accept a review sample, I will disclose it at the beginning of the article. Please consider it disclosed. I’d like to thank Jim Beam for providing this sample to me with no strings attached. As always, all thoughts are just my opinion and should be taken as just that.

Do you ever get the feeling that life is flying by? That maybe life is too short to hold grudges? I do, and I have for a while. For some reason, that doesn’t seem to stop me from holding a few grudges anyway. Which seemed odd to me, until I come to the realization that I’d been hiding the grudge, even from myself. Let me set the stage for you.

It was 2016. I, like many bourbon lovers, had been getting frustrated by the rising prices and disappearing age statements for a while. It felt like one punch in the gut after another as one previously affordable bourbon after another either disappeared, lost their identity (age), or just plain became priced out of reach. Affordable luxury was how I, and many others, had always thought of bourbon. And then the announcement of the 2017 Booker’s Price Increase (from $59.99 to $99.99) came. There was understandable anger. It had been communicated in such a way that almost made it sound as if the near doubling of the price was being done just because they could.

But the company either changed their mind or their messaging (maybe both) and though a price increase was still there, it wasn’t as big. It was actually reasonable. From an MSRP of $59.99 to somewhere between $69.99 and $74.99 wasn’t terrible considering the newly supplied explanation of constrained supplies and reduced numbers of batches. Unlike many others, I wasn’t angry. That’s capitalism, I thought. They are free to charge what they want and I am free to either buy it or not based on if I think the price is fair.

But unfortunately, even though I thought that the latter price increase wasn’t too bad, a funny thing had occurred: the first announcement stuck in my head. And as such, in my mind, Booker’s moved from an affordable luxury at $50-60 (depending on the retailer) to a bottle that was priced in the range of limited edition bourbons that I only bought once per year or less.

It wasn’t true, but that’s what I mean about hiding the grudge from myself. Obviously just by looking at the shelf I knew that I wasn’t going to need to drop a hundred bucks on a bottle. But for some reason, I never thought of it because that $99.99 price was stuck in my brain along with the hard feelings that came with how it had been originally communicated.

But time passes. Grudges, even hidden ones, lose their sharp edges. And when the PR folks for Beam Suntory reached out to me to see what I was planning to do for Bourbon Heritage Month and offered a review sample of Booker’s, I took it. It had been a few years since I had purchased one and I thought it might be nice to see how it was coming along.

This particular batch was named for the now famous “Kentucky Chew” method of evaluating a bourbon originally made famous by the brand’s namesake Booker Noe. It is essentially the practice of moving the bourbon all around your mouth so it gets into all the little nooks and crannies, with the effect of making it looking like you’re chewing your bourbon. The batch was released in August 2018.

Booker’s Bourbon: Batch 2018-03 “Kentucky Chew”

Purchase Info: This sample was graciously provided by Beam Suntory. The suggested retail price is between $69.99 and $74.99 for a 750 mL bottle. 

Details: 63.35% ABV. Aged for 6 years, 4 months, 12 days.

Nose: Oaky notes of leather and vanilla. Spicy notes of allspice and cinnamon. Sweet notes of brown sugar and caramel.

Mouth: Brown sugar and baking spices.

Finish: Nice and long with a good “bloom” of heat and flavor after swallowing. Lingering notes of of green apple and baking spices.

 IMAGE: A hand-drawn smiley face

Thoughts: This is a great whiskey. Compared to other bourbons in it’s price range, this is still one of the best “regularly available” bourbons on the market. I think this bottle finally laid the last remnants of that hidden grudge to rest. I’ll be adding Booker’s back into the rotation of barrel-proof bourbons I buy.


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A pair of Knob Creek Rye Single Barrel picks

Almost on a whim, I decided to go to Kentucky this past weekend. I was officially going to pick up the bottle of Wilderness Trail Family Reserve Bottled in Bond Bourbon (that we had been on "the list" to get for over four years). But honestly, the bourbon was a perfect excuse to get away and spend a long weekend with my wife. And maybe meet up with a few friends while we were at it. 

As I do every time I go to Kentucky, I did a little shopping. This time around, I was specifically on the outlook for private selections from stores where I had good luck in the past. And I did well this time around. I think I brought back around four or five different store picks. I got an Elijah Craig, a Four Roses and, some Limestone Branch Wheated Bourbon. What I didn't see was a bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel Rye. 

Knob Creek Single Barrel Rye is, as you might have guessed, a single barrel version of Knob Creek Rye. And much like the single barrel version of Knob Creek Bourbon, this rye comes in at a higher proof than it's batched brother. 115° proof to be exact. 

Though I can get the standard, batched version of Knob Creek Rye for $25 per 750 mL bottle, I splurged on the two-pack from Ace Spirits a while ago. $95 for two 750 bottles. Let's see if barrel selection and a 15° proof bump are worth twice the price.

Knob Creek Rye, Single Barrel: Barrels #5722 and #5858

Purchase Info: $94.98 for the pair of 750 mL bottles at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN.

Details: 57.5% ABV. 6 years old (not listed, but I asked Louis, the owner at Ace, for the age and he confirmed both of these are six years old, he just declined to have the info put on the bottle). 

5722 Nose: Spicy with backing spices, mint, caramel, and oak.
5858 Nose: Dusty oak and spearmint.

5722 Mouth: Mint, sharp oak, peanut, and baking spices. Quite hot. 
5858 Mouth: Nice mouthfeel. Sweet honey, mint, strong baking spices and oak. 

5722 Finish: Very warm and long. Lingering peanut butter and baking spice. 
5858 Finish: Warm and long. Lingering sharp oak, baking spice, and peanut.

 Image: hand-drawn smiley face

Thoughts: Both of these are good, doubly so if you are a Knob Creek Rye fan. I am getting a lot more peanut in them than I would have expected, especially since I don't remember ever getting that on the batched version. As for how they compare, 5722 has a much richer nose and is hotter with a lot of peanut notes. 5858 is sweeter with a nicer mouthfeel, but the nose isn't as nice as 5722. I'm happy to have bought either of these. If I were buying just one, I'd get the 5858. 

One of the reasons I buy Rye is to use it in cocktails. I found that this one didn't work as well in typical Rye Cocktails, but worked great in ones that often call for bourbon. When I made a Sazerac, I would often mix it in a 50/50 ratio with Bulleit Rye to up the Rye notes.

As to the question of if either of these is worth twice the recent local price of the standard Knob Creek Rye. I'll just say, I'm happy to have purchased both of these once, but I'd be hard-pressed to justify a second bottle of either at current prices. If Knob Creek Rye goes back to its regular price, that might change though.


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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2018: The Championship Rounds

Well, it's finally here. The championship rounds. This year was an interesting one for me on a couple of levels. For one, it was the first year that had guest judges. I have an idea that I may expand it further next year. This feels like it could be a fun party game for whiskey folk, provided the sips are restricted and everyone has a driver. Secondly, it is also the first year that I didn't restrict the competition to bourbon. I included corn whiskey and rye whiskey and sort of expected that corn would fold and rye would reign supreme. I was sorta right on the corn whiskey, it was a little too delicate to win against the flavorful rye, but it was no pushover. 

So now here we are. We are at the Last Four (Final Four being a registered trademark of a very litigious entity, there is no way I will use those two words together in a bracket post...): Old Grand Dad Bonded vs Two Stars and Old Forester vs Ezra Brooks Rye. Three bourbons and a rye. Let's see if rye reigns supreme or if bourbon can hold on to the odds. 

Division 1, Round 2: Two Stars (A) vs Old Grand-Dad Bonded (B)

Nose: Whiskey A is drier with more grain present while whiskey B is sweeter but shows a bit more alcohol. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey B is sweeter but also shows a lot more grain notes. Whiskey A is more of a well-integrated whole, though it is a tad more delicate. Winner Whiskey A.

Finish: The finish on Whiskey A is a bit harsher and drier. Whiskey B is really good though and it has no obvious plusses or minuses to it.Winner Whiskey B. 

Thoughts: I'd say that Whiskey B wins this one on the strength of a better mouthfeel and a much tastier finish. Old Grand-Dad Bonded is moving on. 

Division 2, Round 2: Ezra Brooks Rye (A) vs Old Forester (B)

Nose: Whiskey A has a spicy ginger note while Whiskey B is pretty generic with sweet caramel.  Winner: Whiskey A.

Mouth: Whiskey A is spicy and fun but a bit thin. Whiskey B is sweet and spicy with a nice mouthfeel. It is close but the Winner is Whiskey A

Finish: Whiskey A shows ginger and citrus while Whiskey B is sweet and fruity. This comes down to personal taste. Winner: Whiskey A.

Thoughts: This one is tough. I adore the fun aspects of Whiskey A. I think it is bright and vibrant and I'm digging the citrus notes. On the other hand, I really like the sweet flavors, the nice mouthfeel, and the fruity finish of Whiskey B. Gun to my head? Winner: Ezra Brooks Rye. 

Championship Round: Old Grand-Dad Bonded (A) vs Ezra Brooks Rye (B)

Nose: Whiskey B is a spicy soda, Whiskey A is a dusty rickhouse. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey A is sweet with a lovely mouthfeel. Whiskey B is spicy with a ginger ale flavor. Winner: Draw

Finish: Whiskey A is long with more sweetness. Whiskey B is also long, but is spicy. Winner: Draw.

Thoughts: Sometimes the tasting notes of bloggers make it look like we value the individual parts of a whiskey more than the whole. Though these two whiskeys are different, I liked them both, just in different ways. I like the spiciness of Whiskey B and I like the lovely mouthfeel of Whiskey A. There was a draw on every indiviual metric. And, though it was really close, when taken as a whole the Winner is Old Grand-Dad Bonded. 

Lessons learned

So was I shocked by anything this year? Not really. I was surprised that Old Forester beat Four Roses for every participant, but not enough to call it shocking. I was mildly surprised that a four seed beat a one seed, but when you notice that it is rye vs corn whiskey it is less surprising. Going into the final rounds I had guessed that Old Forester could very possibly be my winner, but wasn't shocked that a rye whiskey beat a bourbon. Even if it was only two years old.

Overall, I thought that there could very possibly be five winners in the initial grouping. I wouldn't have been surprised at any of Old Grand-Dad, Old Forester, Four Roses, Ezra Brooks and I thought that Mellow Corn had an outside shot. Because I worried that the seeding worked against them I went ahead and tried an alternate seeding. I put all the bourbon on one side and matched corn vs corn and rye vs rye on the other. Ezra Brooks beat Old Overholt and Mellow Corn defeated Hirsch, with Ezra Brooks rye still advancing to the finals. On the Bourbon side, Old Grand Dad beat Four Roses on the strength of a good mouthfeel and Old Forester beat Two Stars. Old Grand Dad then defeated Old Forester and advanced to the finals where the result was the same. Overall, I'm satisfied that the best whiskey (for my palate)won.


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Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Other people's brackets

So one of the things I did this year to shake things up was to introduce more judges to this project. In the past, it has been just my wife and I and if we disagreed, I'd overrule her due to the fact that I do all the writing. Now I was not able to get everyone together in time to get started on these so I was unable to use their input in the initial rounds. 

And now that I think about that, I think this is a good thing. This is a blog that is run by my wife and I and it reflects our palates. Plus, as you will see, everyone so far has chosen a different winner. But, there are a few commonalities in the results that I think you will find interesting. So let's begin.

This is the bracket of my friend Dave. He was the inspiration for this experiment because he asked if he could be a part of it. He knows almost nothing about whiskey that I haven't taught him but he is an enthusiastic amateur. I did the pouring for Dave's bracket. So one interesting thing that I think you will see is that Old Overholt was Dave's winner. I've described Old Overholt as one of the gentlest rye whiskeys that I'd found. And I think that it makes sense that an inexperienced whiskey drinker would like a whiskey that wasn't overly hot and aggressive. In fact, you'll notice that most of the whiskeys that made it to his last four were fairly nonaggressive whiskeys. A corn whiskey beat a rye, a low proof beat a high proof on a couple of occasions, and then there is Old Forester where he had a hard time choosing between the two.

This is the bracket of one of my dog sitting clients, Jeff. Jeff is a guy who likes whiskey but mostly sticks to the brands he knows. Jeff administered his own test which is why everything is labeled with a letter instead of a name, all the seeds are in the same location though. In this case, Old Grand-Dad beat Old Overholt, Two Stars beat Hirsch Corn, Ezra Brooks Rye beat Mellow Corn and Old Forester beat Four Roses. I haven't finished my bracket yet, but so far mine matches this one. And if you were to ask me how I thought my bracket might finish out, I can see similarities between his and mine. I'm a bit shocked that Two Stars beat out Old Grand-Dad, but hey Barton/Sazerac makes some pretty good juice. Oh, and for Jeff, Old Forester won. 

This is my wife's bracket. She and I disagreed on whether Mellow Corn should beat Ezra Brooks Rye so I had her finish her bracket based on her scenario. Once again I administered the contest for her. As you will see, there are some similarities between the previous three, Everyone likes Two Stars more than the Hirsch Corn whiskey and Everyone liked Old Forester better than Four Roses. In fact, Old Forester was in the championship for every one of these three. It sort of makes me wonder if my bracket will follow suit? I guess we will see next Tuesday.

Now, this last one is from Pat, one of my wife's coworkers. Pat also administered his own test. And Pat went a different way than anyone else. Unbeknownst to Pat, he seems to be a fan of rye whiskey. And he found this fascinating since he hadn't had very much rye before. From what I understand, he is going to be remedying that in the future. Even so, I can see the Ezra Brooks Rye winning this. It is a good and flavorful whiskey that even at two years old, brings a lot of flavor to the party. 

So I hope you found this as fascinating as I did. I liked seeing the trends among people. All of us liked Old Forester over Four Roses, which I didn't expect from me much less anyone else. It was split evenly between those who preferred Mellow Corn and those who preferred Ezra Brooks Rye. Only one person thought that the Hirsch Corn was better than Two Stars. And yet even with that, they all chose a different winner. I'm very curious now to know which one will win on my bracket. 


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Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Round 1a: Old Grand-Dad Bonded vs. Old Overholt

Round 1a of the 2018 BourbonGuy.com Bottom Shelf Brackets features a pair of Old Guys from Beam Suntory. Number 1 seed Old Grand-Dad Bonded versus Number 4 seed Old Overholt Rye. There are a few similarities that make this an interesting matchup. Both are very old brands, dating back to the mid-1800s or before. Both were popular brands when owned by National Distillers and both were mostly neglected after they were sold to Beam before both recently received a renewed marketing push. Old Grand Dad got a packaging update and Old Overholt got a brand extension. Old Grand-Dad is a high rye bourbon and Old Overholt is a barely legal rye. And though it has no impact on the flavor, both feature the fanciful, grizzled visage of their namesake. 

Old Grand-Dad Bonded is a high-rye bourbon from Jim Beam. Since this is one of two bonded whiskeys in the competition, this 100 proofer gets one of the top seeds. This old guy is a frequent guest in the BourbonGuy household as we love a good value. 

Old Overholt is a barely-legal, 80 proof rye whiskey from Jim Beam. At only three years old, this gentle rye earns one of two number four seeds. And in a fun twist, is also the first-ever non-bourbon in the contest. 

These were tasted blind in the following order. My thoughts on each are from before the reveal.

Old Grand Dad Bonded

Purchase Info: $22.99 for a 1 L bottle at Blue Max Liquor, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50% ABV, non-age stated.

Produced by: Jim Beam

Nose: Dusty wood, cooked cereals, and honey.

Mouth: Follows the nose with cooked cereals and honey. Fairly dry. Nutmeg and cinnamon. 

Finish: Nice and warm. On the longer side of medium. Lingering baking spices.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Spicy and warm. This is tasty.

Old Overholt

Purchase Info: $12.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN.

Details: 40% ABV, 36 month age statement

Produced by: Jim Beam

Nose: Mint, ginger and citrus.

Mouth: Thin in the mouth with ginger and mint.

Finish: On the shorter side of medium with lingering dry, dusty grains.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: This is a little bitter compared to the other one, though I much prefer the nose here. Unfortunately, the mouth disappointed compared to the nose.

Who wins?

One of these is gentle and thin with a fun nose. The other is a warm and spicy, yet kinda grainy whiskey. There are certain family similarities between these two that I had never noticed before. I found that fun and interesting. At the end of the day though, proof wins out and Old Grand-Dad is the winner. Based on this, I might have to go back and compare OGD Bonded to the Old Overholt Bonded on my own time. 


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!