Jim Beam’s Booker’s Bourbon brand has been a semi-frequent target of whiskey geek grumbling for a few years now, owing to the fact that its price point has provided a real time reflection of the ever-increasing demand for American whiskey and the inflation of MSRPs that has accompanied it. As recently as 2017, Booker’s was still being found in the wild for $60, but that price tag has steadily crept upward in the last few years, to the point that its starting MSRP is now $90. That’s a significant jump, and one that reflects not only bourbon mania but also the normalization of close to three-digit pricing for cask-strength bourbon brands, regardless of whether they can boast an impressive age statement along with the high proof. After all, Jim Beam also sells the likes of Knob Creek 12 Year for $60, at 100 proof, a product roughly twice as old as most Booker’s batches. There’s a clear argument being made: Cask strength bourbon represents a facet of the whiskey game that is impossible to replicate elsewhere, and the consumer is willing to pay extra for it.
With that said, amidst all the Booker’s grumbling, there’s an undercurrent that accedes an opinion many would agree with: The whiskey in the bottle still often justifies its price point. Booker’s batches do tend to vary significantly in perceived quality—this is part of their charm, and a boon to the collector’s mindset—but those batches that the bourbon groupthink anoints as “keepers” for one reason or another still fly off the shelves. And I will happily admit that I still enjoy this brand as well—a great batch of Booker’s has a magical quality, and a tendency to taste much more mature than it actually is. Compared to other mid-aged Beam bourbons, a perfect batch of Booker’s is an entirely different animal.
Which brings us to the latest batch hitting store shelves, titled “Bardstown Batch.” This is the third Booker’s batch of 2021, which is designated 2021-03, with a name that acknowledges the hometown of longtime Beam Master Distiller Booker Noe. Bardstown is of course steeped in a very long bourbon tradition, being home to the likes of Heaven Hill and others, and is one of those cities where one automatically thinks “bourbon” when hearing the name. Bardstown Batch recognizes the more than half a century Booker Noe spent living in the city, smoking his famous country hams.
This batch of Booker’s was aged for approximate 6 years, 5 months, and weighs in at a typically robust 62.75% ABV (125.5 proof). As previously stated, it carries an MSRP around $90, which is usually where you’ll find it—an upside of raising MSRPs is that retailers are less likely to price gouge as they do on so many other products. So with that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, Bardstown Batch has a wonderfully rustic combination of cinnamon fried apples, darker fruit jelly and hints of the trademark Beam nuttiness. There’s less “peanut funk” in this bottle, however, than in many batches—instead I’m getting more graham cracker, caramel and brown sugar, with touches of cocoa, clove and a dash of stinging ethanol. This is 125 proof, after all. There are traces of youthfulness, and a combination of grainy/corny sweetness, but the more vinous dark fruit gives it an air of greater maturity.
On the palate, there’s a rush of initial sweetness and spice, with cinnamon brown sugar and gingerbread giving way to hazelnut, dark fruit compote and traces of sweet espresso roast. It’s fairly sweet on the front end, but that sweetness is wiped away on the back end by some significant oak and tannic dryness. This again strikes me as not as nutty as many of these batches, with an enjoyably assertive front-end sweetness that is balanced out nicely by the oakier elements. Alcohol heat isn’t overwhelming, but it does flare from time to time, which is to be expected at this proof point.
All in all, I quite like this profile. It’s absolutely not lacking in character, and it strikes me as a step or two outside of the very traditional Beam flavor profile, while still being recognizable. Tasted blind, I believe there’s a lot of bourbon geeks out there who would resign themselves to paying $90 for this particular dram. At the end of the day, that’s a win for Beam.
Distillery: Jim Beam
City: Clermont, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 62.75% (125.5 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $90 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.