I once went on a date with someone who said they categorically, completely flat out, doesn’t like animals. I mean, I can understand so-called “cat people” and “dog people,” but all the animals? This was a new one. He said the reason is they don’t surprise him. Needless to say, this was our only date, and it barely lasted one round of drinks. I still think about that meeting sometimes, though – not only because I very much hope a pigeon shat on his head or he got attacked by an escaped zoo orangutan on his way home – but because I often meet whiskey drinkers who can also be that closed-minded. People who don’t drink American whiskey often say it’s because it’s all the same and there are no surprises. Not only is that so not true about the category, that isn’t even true about the kinds of whiskey a single brand can produce!
Case in point, three new whiskeys from Jim Beam that were all released this summer. Not only are these limited editions quite different from the rest of the brand’s considerable portfolio, they are entirely different as examples of the American whiskey species period! As the Editor in Chief of this publication, I get to taste a lot of whiskey. These three collectibles truly impressed.
Booker’s Batch 2018-02 “Backyard BBQ”: Every release in the batch selection series honors the late master distiller Booker Noe and stories from Noe family history. This one was selected in memory of Booker’s love of hosting barbecues for friends, family and distillery employees in the family’s own back yard in Bardstown – what he referred to as ‘Bourbon-ques’. His sizzling flambéed pork chops were legendary, as was the amount of good bourbon to go around. Speaking of grilling, there is indeed some heat to this batch – both in the throat burn sense and on the peppery bent. It’s more pronounced than in past releases, but I happen to like my high proof whiskey to show some fire. The burn is nicely balanced with tangy citrus, sharp green apple and root beer spices. The barrel selected for this release was aged 6 years, 2 months and 10 days, with a final proof of 128.8. $75
Little Book Chapter 2 “Noe Simple Task”: If you tasted Chapter 1, then you’ve gleaned that when Freddie Noe – son of master distiller Fred Noe – took up the art of whiskey blending, the apple didn’t fall too far from the family tree. However with Little Book, he differentiates his craft by opening up possibilities beyond bourbon, and with this new chapter, even beyond American whiskey. Blending is akin to cooking, and a good blender understands that the characteristics of individual whiskeys all contribute to a final blend the same way a little of this and little of that makes up a tasty stew. This time out he went further north to source ingredients, like, way further (keep going…), adding bits of a delicate, floral 13 year old Canadian rye (111.9 proof) to a more robust and spicy 8 year old Kentucky straight rye (119.8 proof), along with scant amounts of very intense and leathery 40 year old Canadian whisky (at a whopping 137.8 proof) for extra zest. The whiskey definitely pushes boundaries, and if taste buds had eyebrows, they’d be raised within a couple of sips as they try to identify what’s going on, but that’s all part of the fun. Whiskey is supposed to taste like what it is, not what it’s supposed to be. 118.8 proof, $100
Basil Hayden’s Two By Two Rye: Two ryes + two bourbons = big, hot whiskey! It’s hard to sip this whiskey and not actually say “WHOA!” out loud, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s made up of 4 Kentucky whiskeys – 5 year-old straight rye, 7 year-old “high-rye” straight rye, 13 year-old straight bourbon and 6 year-old straight bourbon. If you’re wondering how it can be labeled as a “rye” with those two bourbons, it’s because rye comes out as the dominant grain once the math is done (and with all that math, you’ll want some whiskey anyway). This one also whoa-ed the judges of the 2018 NY International Spirits Competition, taking home a gold medal. If you’re the type who likes a little chili pepper and cinnamon added to dark chocolate, you’ll be very into this whiskey. 80 proof, $45.
Amanda Schuster is the Senior Editor in Chief of Alcohol Professor and the author of NEW YORK COCKTAILs available from Cider Mill Press. Certified sommelier, former retail spirits and wine buyer - she likes to think of herself as "bi-spiritual." Please don't ever offer her a Pickleback. Complete bio here.