Cigar Aficionado

A Bottle for Booker

Jim Beam Brands has issued a commemorative bottle of Booker's Bourbon, the whiskey created by former master distiller Frederick Booker Noe II that led its Small Batch category. Noe, who died in February, was the grandson of Jim Beam and was often credited with being a driving force behind the revitalization of the Bourbon market and an ambassador of the quaff.

The limited-edition (2,900 bottles will be sold) packaging has a label that depicts the distiller as he samples whiskey in a barrelhouse. The classic Booker's wooden box has a sliding transparent door in the front and an engraved brass plaque that indicates the number of the bottle. The box is stained ebony and includes a commemoration from Booker's "family" at Jim Beam Brands.

Noe's son Frederick Booker Noe III, or Fred, picked the batch for this special bottling -- the first time he has personally done so. Some of the proceeds will be donated to the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, near the Clermont, Kentucky, distillery.

The elder Noe deemed his namesake whiskey a "true barrel Bourbon" as it is bottled uncut and unfiltered from small batches of handpicked barrels that have been mingled together. As much a raconteur and weaver of homespun aphorisms as he was an accomplished distiller, Noe considered that this method retained "more of the goodies in the liquor." He guaranteed the taste of the fiery whisky, which comes in varying percentages of alcohol that hover around 125 proof, saying, "If you're not completely satisfied with Booker's Bourbon, send us the unused portion and we'll drink it."

Booker's Bourbon was introduced to the market in 1988 when Noe was asked to produce a whiskey to rival the connoisseurship of single-malt Scotch. He countered with a spirit in the style of that which he had already been giving to friends for years at Christmas. The ultra-premium quality of Booker's Bourbon is reached by finding what are sometimes called "the honey barrels" among the thousands of casks that age in a warehouse. Temperature fluctuations make whiskey mature at varying rates and quality. Booker, having grown up in the industry, knew just where to find the best barrels. They came from the middle floors of the warehouse, which explains why he often referred to Booker's as the "center cut."

Fred Noe assures us that while the label is changed on the commemorative bottling, the Bourbon inside remains the same high quality as the original Booker's. Nevertheless, we felt a need to make absolutely certain he is right. After repeated tastings, we found that, yes, it is still an exquisite mélange of orange, vanilla, leather, pecan, honey and cherry notes with a forever finish that goes on for minutes, reminding the palate of its charms while warming the innards. Booker always advised diluting the whiskey with some water to cut the liquor's kick and open up the flavor.

We're not returning the unused portion. There isn't any.


Return to the Drinks Page.