I’m not sure how to start this one other than by saying that I’m nervous. I’ve never been nervous while writing a review, and to be honest it’s not a great feeling. It’s early on a peaceful Sunday afternoon, I’m sitting on a comfy couch, the dogs are sleeping on the floor, and Kate is reading a book while relaxing in a papasan chair, yet anxiety washes over me.
The source of today’s stress is one of the things that normally relaxes me the most: whiskey. On the coffee table in front of me sits an incredibly fancy looking bottle of whiskey complete with a classy green label full of script-y gold writing, an offset gold label full of information about the whiskey contained therein, and a gold ribbon hanging from a stamped ‘B’ which is affixed to the neck via hunter green wax that coats the top third of the bottle. The bottle is displayed in a dark brown box with a clear plastic front boasting the words “Limited Edition Booker’s Rye” in elegant reflective gold. It’s a beautiful sight.
Now on to why this gorgeous bottle of Rye stresses me out. Well, it cost us $300. I’ll admit that for most whiskey collectors out there, $300 isn’t a big deal. Good scotch is incredibly expensive, and there are a lot of folks out there that are willing to pay secondary market prices for coveted American Whiskey, but this isn’t Scotch, and this wasn’t purchased on the secondary market. For Kate and I, on the other hand, $300 is a very big deal, so this bottle better be damn good.
Jim Beam isn’t messing around this year and has released two limited, one-time releases in the last month or so. First was Knob Creek 2001, and now Booker’s Rye. Both releases were among the last produced by Booker Noe himself, and this Rye is the first (and only) of its kind released under the Booker’s brand. This Rye differs from the typical “barely-legal” Jim Beam recipe with a 51% rye mash bill, and clocks in somewhere closer to the 70% rye range according to multiple sources. It was aged for exactly 13 years, 1 month, and 12 days, which is quite a long rest for a rye. 100 barrels of this juice were laid down by Booker Noe in 2003, a year before his death, and due to heavy evaporation only around a rumored 8,000 bottles were produced. To put that in perspective, the 2015 release of Willam Larue Weller came in at 7,780 bottles. This rye is uncut and unfiltered, meaning it pretty much went straight from the barrel to the bottle, and should be one of the biggest, boldest American Ryes to date. I don’t think I’ve met a Booker’s I haven’t liked, and I’m hoping that trend continues with this one.
To mark the occasion Kate and I decided that we would make an awkward video of us cracking the bottle for our Instagram followers so our friends and internet whiskey pals could join in on the moment. So now that we’ve nervously opened this bad boy, let’s see if it’s worth it.
Company: Beam Suntory
Distillery: Knob Creek Distillery
Location: Clermont, KY
Mash Bill: ? (rumored to be around 70% rye)
Age: 13 years, 1 month, 12 days
ABV: 68% (136.2 proof)
Released: June 2016
Color: DEEP ruby-ish amber
Nose: The aroma is eye-wateringly bold (new word!), which is to be expected. A word of caution: you can burn the nose right off your face if you get too close to this one. It’s not overly hot or anything, there is just so much going on and the proof is so high that it can be overwhelming if you aren’t prepared. You’re welcome. Anyways, it leads off with with rich oak, cigar smells, toffee, cherry, and leather. As it opens it mellows a bit and some nice brown sugar, butterscotch, cinnamon, and just a touch of anise.
Taste: On first sip it singes the tongue, but in a good way. Not sure how that’s possible, but it is. The texture is rich and oily and it immediately coats your entire mouth with flavors like burnt sugar, orange peel, green apple, dry oak, cinnamon and leather. The oak char is intense but not overpowering like I expected, although Kate did make a comment about it being like licking the inside of a barrel. There is also a prominent cigar/tobacco thing that is really nice and joins some fruity barrel notes to taste like a cherry tobacco or something. The cherry flavor reminds me specifically of Luxardo cherry syrup, which is amazing.
Finish: One word: spicy. The cinnamon and baking spice thing come in strong here and the age really shines in the form of super dry oak and leather. I don’t smoke cigars, but I have in the past, and the finish is very reminiscent of lingering cigar smoke.
Overall: While this is unmistakably an old rye, the spice and oak are balanced incredibly well by the sweetness and fruit. The complexity on this is ridiculous, and I feel like I could sit here all day and pick out every flavor I’ve ever gotten out of a Bourbon or Rye from this one pour. For science I hit it with a couple drops of water and it served to round off the barrel and spice a bit and bring the sweetness forward, but honestly the balance is better straight up, so that’s how I would recommend enjoying it.
Now the burning question: Is it worth $300? I’ll start by saying it’s hands down one of the best, if not THE best, ryes I’ve ever had. The balance and complexity are amazing, it’s super rare, there won’t be a second batch (according to Jim Beam, anyways), and the story behind it is really nice. I would gladly pay $100-$150 for a bottle of this all day, but in my opinion $300 is just plain too expensive. Don’t get me wrong, I love this stuff, it’s going to get the highest rating possible and will join Four Roses LE Small Batch 2015 as the only other 5 on our little site here, but guess what, that Four Roses expression was less than $100. So there.