All September on VinePair, we’re turning our focus to America’s spirit: bourbon. For our third annual Bourbon Month, we’re exploring the industry legends and innovators, our favorite craft distilleries, new bottles we love, and more.
Booker’s Bourbon had several things going for it when it broke onto the scene in 1988. Its proximity to the iconic Jim Beam brand made it one to take seriously, but Booker’s has proven itself as a brand to watch with its attention to high- quality, barrel-proof bourbon.
Booker Noe, the founder of Booker’s, brought exciting innovation to the bourbon world by popularizing his small-batch beverage and leaning on his storied history and years of experience in the industry. Booker’s packs a punch, both in its flavors and with its rich history, which has made it a success among many whiskey lovers.
Here are nine things you should know about Booker’s Bourbon.
BOOKER’S AND JIM BEAM SHARE BOTH A BLOODLINE AND DISTILLERY.
Booker Noe, the aptly named brainchild behind Booker’s, was master distiller Jim Beam’s grandchild. He grew up in Kentucky, where he began helping out at Jim Beam Distilleries when he was a teenager. The grandchild and grandfather now share a production facility. Jim Beam and Booker’s are both produced by the Jim Beam Distillery, and there’s even a Jim Beam Booker Noe plant that was named as an ode to the late bourbon makers.
BOURBON HAS BEEN IN THE FAMILY FOR A LONG TIME.
Seven generations, to be exact. Noe’s son, Frederick Booker Noe III, is the most recent family member to step into a leadership position in the business. The family is fiercely protective of its craft, too. Upon his retirement, Noe purportedly made one request to his son: “Fred, make sure they don’t mess with my Booker’s.”
YOU CAN THANK BOOKER’S FOR THE TERM ‘SMALL BATCH.’
Noe is widely regarded as having coined the phrase in the 1990s to describe a bourbon he was making from a relatively small number of barrels. It stuck, though the term’s meaning has become more convoluted with time. With no federal regulation to determine what qualifies as “small batch,” bourbon makers largely use it as a marketing buzzword to signify an air of quality.
NOE LOVED TO SHARE HIS BOURBON WITH LOVED ONES.
In fact, it’s how the brand was started. Noe made and gave bourbon to friends and family as holiday gifts. Eventually, he recognized that his barrels were beloved enough to bottle and sell to the masses. In his retirement, he once again focused on sharing his creation with the people he loved most, hosting dinners and parties during which Booker’s was always poured.
BY KENTUCKY BOURBON STANDARDS, BOOKER’S IS STILL RELATIVELY YOUNG.
The bourbon was first introduced in 1988. While Booker’s has over 30 years of experience under its belt and has established a name for itself, the long history of bourbon production in Kentucky makes the brand, in many respects, a young one. In comparison, Maker’s Mark broke onto the scene in 1953, Elijah Criag’s distillery was founded in 1789, and the 1792 distillery — ironically — opened in 1879.
THE BRAND RE-POPULARIZED BARREL-PROOF BOURBON.
As the name suggests, barrel-proof bourbons are bottled at the same proof, or ethanol content, as when the liquid was distilled in the barrel. There were barrel-proof bourbons that preceded Booker’s, but they weren’t exactly top sellers. The Jim Beam legacy and a passion for barrel-to-bottle bourbon helped Booker’s break through the noise and establish itself as a modern barrel-proof brand. That means no water is added to dilute the drink and no chill-filtering is done. The bourbon in the bottle is as strong as it is in the barrel, which makes for a significantly stronger drink.
YOU WON’T FIND BOOKER’S ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
Go ahead. Search Instagram, Facebook, or your social feed of choice. Booker’s is nowhere to be found. The company prefers to keep a low profile online and instead lets their bourbon do the talking IRL.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME ON YOUR HANDS, YOU MIGHT WANT TO DRINK SOMETHING ELSE.
In a 2017 Chicago Tribune interview, Fred Noe, Booker’s son, emphasized that the barrel-strength bourbon is meant to be savored. A couple gulps from your whiskey glass might leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Watering it down a little, throwing in some ice, or letting the drink breathe for a moment will help some of the sweet wood and vanilla undertones emerge — just as the Noe family intended.
YOU CAN EXPECT SEVERAL NEW BATCHES OF BOOKER’S ANNUALLY.
Booker’s releases around four batches of bourbon each year, each clearly labeled with the year number, batch number, and batch name so bourbon drinkers are up to date. For example, the current batch reads: 2021-2, “Tagalong Batch.” There are no firm release dates announced for yearly batches. As the site proclaims, each batch is “ready when it’s ready.”