Brown Sweetness Vol. 1: Bottling a Private Barrel of Knob Creek

As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I run a small whisky tasting group in our town. We’ve been meeting for near-monthly tastings for going on a decade now. Our focus is almost entirely on single malt whisky but from time to time we have been known to drink bourbon as well. For a while now I’ve harboured a fantasy of bottling a private cask of single malt whisky for our group. Alas, living in the U.S it is all but impossible to do this. I mean, you could, but getting the bottles to the US legally would be difficult to say the least, and the cost would be prohibitive. However, bottling a private barrel of bourbon is not as much of a challenge. That’s not to say it’s easy. Private citizens cannot buy directly from distilleries here; so you have to work through a store that has a private barrel program of their own and is willing to assist you. If you know such a store and if you have enough takers, you are in business. I eventually gave up my single malt cask fantasy and realized that I might know such a store*. Herewith the saga of actually getting to the point of writing this post. Continue reading


Knob Creek Small Batch

After Monday’s discontinued Heaven Hill 6, Bottled in Bond, and Tuesday’s single cask release of Heaven Hill 9, here’s a widely available bourbon: the Knob Creek Small Batch. As you may know, Knob Creek is one of Jim Beam’s fancy lines. It’s made from a low rye mash bill (75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley)—the same mash bill that produces the regular Jim Beam, I think, and also Booker’s. The difference with the more downmarket Jim Beam presumably is age—the regular Knob Creek is in the 8-9 yo band, I think—and cask selection; does the difference with Booker’s go beyond Booker’s much higher abv? People who actually know about bourbon can write in and answer/correct/expand as necessary. I’ve always enjoyed Knob Creek, both as a casual sipper and in cocktails and am glad to finally get to writing up some tasting notes.
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Booker’s Noe Secret

Booker's Noe Secret
As I don’t really follow bourbon news I didn’t know anything about this oddly named release of Booker’s, not even that it existed, until Florin (a man who owns many red sweaters) sent me a sample. It turns out that this is one of several batches of Booker’s released last year to commemorate the career of Booker Noe (the man who created Booker’s back in 1992 and whose name is on every bottle). I had a terrible suspicion that “Noe Secret” was a pun on “no secret” and I am sorry to have to inform you that this is in fact true: apparently the man had no secrets. Well, I guess that’s better than a story claiming that this was a batch made from one of his secret recipes. Anyway, it’s at as high a strength as most other Booker’s releases (a very specific 64.05%) and is apparently six years, eight months and seven days old—which is a long way of saying that it is six years old. Let’s see if it’s as good as the regular batch of Booker’s I reviewed last weekContinue reading

Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon

So far my reviews of Beam’s extensive line of bourbons have not extended past two expressions of Old Grand-Dad (the 80 proof and 114 proof versions). Booker’s is at the other end of their product line in terms of status. Along with Knob Creek, Baker’s and Basil Hayden’s it is part of Beam’s “small batch” collection. And where Old Grand-Dad is made from Beam’s high rye mashbill—shared by Basil Hayden’s—Booker’s is made from a mash bill that is only 13% rye. It’s a high octane bourbon though, bottled at barrel strength (though not from single barrels), and regularly comes out in the early-mid 60s abv-wise. It is said to be routinely 6-8 years old. Until recently the year of distillation could be easily derived from the batch code on the bottle. My sample, for example, comes from the CO5-A-12 batch, which apparently means it was put in barrels in 2005 (I guess the entire batch is always from the same vintage). The newer batch codes are apparently harder to decipher but that’s neither here nor there. Booker’s probably has the strongest reputation of all of Beam’s high-end bourbons among bourbon aficionados, and its high strength in particular often seems to me to be part of its appeal—it’s not unusual to come across bourbon drinkers who never seem to add any water to their implausibly strong bourbons (whether Booker’s or George T. Stagg). I’m afraid that’s not going to be the case with this review.  Continue reading

Old Grand-Dad 114

Old Grand-Dad 114
Hey, it’s America’s birthday today and since no one has named a bourbon after Bernie Sanders yet, here I am with a review of Old Grand-Dad 114 (so called because it is bottled at 57% abv). You may remember that I recently reviewed the 80 proof version of Old Grand-Dad and pronounced it both an unremarkable whiskey and a remarkable value. Well, this high-octane version might be an even better value: I got my bottle for $25 and it’s the rare market where you’d be asked to pay very much more. Quick: name all the single malt Scotches you can buy at 57% abv for $25! By the way, it’s not just the strength that is higher in the 114 proof version: the gent on the label also has a more elevated expression and is presented in the form of a classical bust; on the 80 proof label he looks altogether cheerier (and more alive) and seems like he’s been knocking back a few. So, you know before you pour that this is more serious stuff.  Continue reading

Old Grand-Dad, 80 Proof

Old Grand-Dad, 80 Proof
No, my nose and palate are not back in action (though I’m close): I just realized that I’d never actually published these notes on my bottle of Old Grand-Dad that were taken a long time ago (the picture is of the current state of the bottle, which is nearly empty). Here they are now with a newly-written “introduction”.

As you probably know, the Old Grand-Dad line is one of several put out by Beam. Other than their eponymous, and most famous, Jim Beam label, the distillery also puts out a number of premium “small batch” brands (Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, Baker’s and Booker’s); Old Grand-Dad is at the other end of the price spectrum (but is made from the same mash bill as Basil Hayden, which makes sense as the old grand-dad referred to in the name is the actual Basil Hayden). This 40% abv version can be purchased by the liter for less than $15, a Bottled in Bond version at 50% abv  goes for not too many dollars more and the 114 at 57% comes in shy of $30 in most markets. The cognoscenti will tell you that it’s the latter two that you should buy, and they’re not wrong, but as a man of the people here I am with a review of the lowliest in the line.  Continue reading