Booker's Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a cross between a whisky cabinet novelty item and a drink to be taken seriously. The novelty part comes from it being one of the (if not the) highest alcohol content drinks you can buy in US and Canada (63.4%).
On the other hand, it's a bourbon to take seriously because the distillery manages to succeed in bringing flavour to an otherwise overpowering combination of alcohol and barrel aging.
Booker's Kentucky is part of the Jim Beam Small Batch series (which includes Knob Creek, Basil Hayden's, Booker's and Baker's), and Booker's is definitely the boldest of the group. Knob Creek Single Barrel (not to be confused with the regular Knob Creek) is similarly high on alcohol, though it's not nearly as flavourful. Booker's is named after Booker Noe, the Master Distiller for Jim Bean for over 40 years. Noe was the first to bottle bourbon straight from the barrel without filtering, and it was also the first in Jim Bean's Small Batch series.
Booker's distinguishes itself by being the only bourbon that's unfiltered, doesn’t add water and is straight from the barrel. Aged from 6 to 8 years, this is certainly a unique drink that should be enjoyed on special occasions. I would say, however, that unless you're comfortable drinking cask-strength Scotches this is probably not the drink for you. Keep in mind that all bourbons are watered down post-aging, so with Booker’s you’re getting the true out-of-the-barrel experience. With this in mind, watering down this drink is certainly within reason if you prefer an easier sipping drink.
Tasting notes will vary depending on how many drops of water you include, but you'll get the traditional caramel, vanilla, oaky notes common with bourbons. As you can imagine, this is an intense drink all the way through, and the finish is surprisingly well tempered and not excessively sweet like on other similar drinks. On the nose and all the way through you'll get the oaky smokiness, but I would say this is almost an after-thought by comparison to the sharpness of the alcohol.
Booker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon is definitely a polarizing experience: you’ll either appreciate this drink, or despise is. For me, I quite welcome this unique bourbon to my whisky cabinet.
Note: Originally published on Spotlight Toronto