Booker’s 2014-2016: Round Table head-to-head

Booker's

Google “Booker’s” right now and you are most certain to find some rants and raves about the audacity of Jim Beam to raise prices.  You will find slams on Booker’s and promises to never buy it again.

I hear you.  I want to be able to buy the same great bourbon at the same old prices, just like my millions of other friends and growing.

But I’m not here to complain about prices. And I’m not here to defend them either.  Instead, I’m here to defend some really good bourbon:  Booker’s.  It’s wonderful stuff at $75 (yes I said it) and probably good stuff at $100 (yep, quote me on that).  It’s unbelievable stuff at $50 (I really don’t hear anyone disagreeing).

Ask Jim Beam, and they will likely tell you we are exactly the problem.  Our demand is increasing, yet we want to ignore the effects of that demand on suppliers.  I have a theory, or maybe just a concern.  If demand has truly increased for a product, it would be natural for a supplier to try to keep up with that demand by taking some slight corners on production.  If you can eek out just a few more bottles by reducing age, or by grabbing some less than perfect barrels for a blend, then you can stretch your supply, meet demand, and make a profit.  But at some point isn’t a consumer benefited by a reduction of supply, and increase in quality standards, and the resulting upshift in pricing?  Feel free to debate.

So how do Booker’s batches compare over the past few years?  Has quality suffered as Jim Beam sets out to satisfy demand? I set out to find out.  Without hiding conclusions (or giving any credibility to my theory), I’ll simply state that I hope that Jim Beam’s business plan for Booker’s includes returning to the glory of year’s past.

Booker’s 2014 (7 Yrs 2 Mo; Batch No C07-B-7) (130.8 proof)

Booker's 2014

Nose: Vanilla, caramel, corn and damp oak; earthy and peppery; robust and balanced.

Palate:  Warm; vanilla, caramel, rye, butterscotch, mint and salt.

Finish: Long, hot and a salty dryness; lots of caramel and oak with fading sweetness; long lingering wood.

Overall:  The 2014 is rich and complex.  The finish is as memorable as you could ask for.  The saltiness balances out the sweetness like no other bourbon I know.  I will be very sad when this one runs out.  And I hope Booker’s can return to this glory.

Distinguishing notes:  The 2014 is the least fruity but offers the most complexity.  My favorite of the three, but only slightly more than the 2015.  The saltiness is remarkable.

Booker’s 2015 – “Noe Secret” (6 Yrs 8 Mo 7 Days; Batch No. 2015-06) (128.1 proof)

Booker's Noe's Secret

Nose: Vanilla, caramel and heavy dark fruit leather; oak and light brown sugar/cinnamon.

Palate:  More heavy fruit; wood and Christmas spices.

Finish:  Long; caramel, oak and sweet corn and brown sugar.

Overall:  The 2015 packs a blast of deep fruit and brown sugar.  The baking spices are rich and pleasing.  This has a nice hint of salt to balance the fruit and sweetness.  This is truly an enjoyable pour and exactly what I want from a bold barrel proof bourbon.

Distinguishing notes:  Heavy fruit on the nose that carries through the palate; the finish is deeper but not as long as the 2014, and not nearly as salty/drying as the 2014 (that saltiness being something I like).

Booker’s 2016 – “Toogie’s Invitation” (6 Yrs 4 Mo 4 Days; Batch No. 2016-03) (129.0 proof)

Booker's Toogie's Invitation

Nose:  Vanilla, a honey sweetness, caramel, oak and soft fruit.

Palate:  Hot and spicy; rich caramel and butterscotch; thin on flavor but somehow syrupy and coating.

Finish:  Vanilla and light oak; lingering fruit jam.

Overall: On its own it holds up very well.  The nose is soft, sweet and inviting.  The butterscotch and coating mouthfeel is pleasing.  The finish is long and fruity.  All of this while still packing the punch from the barrel proof.  Give me a glass of this any day and I won’t complain.

Distinguishing notes:  My least favorite of the three.  There is a nice mouthfeel and the sweetness on the nose is nice, but it feels younger and less complex than either of the others. It’s jammy finish is somewhat off-putting to me when compared to the previous two years of round tables.

Conclusions:

I love Booker’s and these three are unmistakably Bookers. I love the 2016 releases and I love the older releases.  I have to say I love the older released more and more.  It doesn’t take a sober man to realize that the age statements on Booker’s are getting younger and younger.  That alone may be the cause of my decreasing satisfaction.  I have to think that Booker’s is taking a step back, attempting to catch back up on production, and shifting towards producing some increasingly better products.  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, drink up!

Scott Hill

Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.

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