Whiskey Review: Booker’s Bourbon Bluegill Creek Batch

By Jordan Morris / September 29, 2016

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.

In the 1980s, the first bottles of Booker’s bourbon were hand-bottled Christmas gifts given out by Booker Noe, then master distiller at Jim Beam. Booker selected barrels from the middle of the warehouse, and bottled the bourbon at barrel strength.

When Booker’s became publicly available in 1992, the bourbon remained pretty much the same as those early Christmas gifts – barrel strength, unfiltered, six to eight-year-old bourbon. Booker coined the term “small batch” to reflect the fact that he was selecting a limited number of barrels with which to make his namesake.

Upon Booker’s retirement, Fred Noe replaced his father as the master distiller at Jim Beam, with instructions from Booker to not let anyone “mess with my Booker’s.” Message received, as the only changes of note are mostly packaging changes. The label still even resembles the original Christmas gift bottles with a faux-handwritten label.

One of the packaging changes that started last year was the naming of various limited release batches, including the fourth batch of 2016, named “Bluegill Creek Batch,” which is the subject of this review. In years past, Booker’s simply included a year and batch number on the label. Every batch of Booker’s is generally a little different, so naming the batches does make it a bit easier to keep track of a batch you particularly liked.

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For the Bluegill Creek Batch, Fred Noe selected barrels from four different warehouses and five different distilling dates. The youngest bourbon in the batch is six years, five months, and 28 days old. In selecting the barrels, Fred noted that the hot and humid day (a pretty typical description of just about every summer day in Kentucky) reminded him of days spent fishing a creek for bluegill with his father.

Booker’s Bourbon Bluegill Creek

image via Whitney Harrod Morris

Tasting Notes: Booker’s Bourbon Bluegill Creek Batch

Vital Stats: As mentioned above, the Bluegill Creek Batch is aged six years, 5 months, and 28 days. In addition, the batch clocks in at 128 proof with a suggested retail price of $59.99. While the exact mash bill proportions are not disclosed, Booker’s is a corn, rye, and malted barley mash bill. Another interesting thing to note regarding the whiskey making process at Jim Beam is the use of wild yeast in fermentation.

Appearance: The Bluegill Creek Batch appears dark red-amber in the glass. As can be expected, the high proof and lack of filtering leads to the dark color, even for a six-year-old whiskey. Since alcohol evaporates in air, legs on a whiskey are always a balance between water content and barrel impurities (the color and flavor the barrel imparts on the whiskey) on one end, and the alcohol content on the other end. In the case at hand, Booker’s is very high proof and unfiltered, which leads to thick legs.

Nose: Strong notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and honey lead off the aroma. A return visit to the glass reveals a caramelized sugar undertone. Adding a few drops of water (my preferred method for Booker’s) discernibly changes the nose. Instead of the cinnamon, a light herbal note joins the vanilla and honey.

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Palate: Toffee and vanilla can be found on the front, along with what I often describe as toasted hazelnut. Light pepper, citrus, and floral notes follow, but vanilla remains the driving flavor. The finish is a touch dry and moderate in duration with strong oak notes. With a few drops of water, the slightly bitter notes of hazelnut are really toned down, and the sweeter notes include caramel through the front and mid-palate. The duration of the finish is slightly shorter with a few drops of water added, but the flavor is mostly unchanged.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve been a long-time admirer of Booker’s, and the Bluegill Creek Batch hits the mark. To me, Booker’s is the quintessential barrel-strength Kentucky bourbon, and I always try to keep a bottle on hand. Booker’s with a touch of water or neat is always a good time. If you’re looking for a high-end Manhattan or Old Fashioned, the high-proof Booker’s will make a very strong cocktail. In short, at about $60 a bottle, Booker’s Bluegill Creek Batch is a solid choice to stock the home bar.



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