Seeing as it’s the holiday season and all (gift ideas, you know) and seeing as this bourbon’s called “Booker’s”, I thought I’d recommend a book to go with it. Jim Harrison is a writer’s writer and although you may not have ever heard of him…you’ve probably heard of him. He’s responsible for the book that inspired the film “Legends of the Fall” as well as the screenplays for “Revenge” and “Wolf”. The title of his 1990 book, “The Woman lit by Fireflies”, doesn’t exactly scream rugged bourbon, but one of the three wonderful novellas within, the standout of the three and the reason this whiskey makes me think of this book, is “Brown Dog”. Brown Dog, one of Harrison’s most beloved characters who re-surfaces in 4 other novellas after this one, is a joyously bumbling, hilarious, sensitive and kind, booze-soaked, testosterone-fueled, no account and no prospect Upper Peninsula (That’s Michigan for those outside the U.S) misfit whose exploits are by turns touching, raunchy, ill-advised, and in general, irresistible. It should come as no surprise that Brown Dog likes to drink, he even hides bottles out in the woods so he can slip a way for a reflective moment and needed nip. I’m pretty sure he’s no connoisseur, guzzling more as a means to an end rather than a momentary sip and savor, but I think he would look on a bottle of this Booker’s straight-from-the-barrel, un-refined bourbon and recognize a kindred spirit. Brown Dog, too, seems a bit raw and wild maybe, but in his own way, he’s sophisticated and worldly, riotously so at times. Harrison is an absolutely masterful writer, keenly evoking a sense of place while simultaneously digging deep into his character’s soul in an almost Faulkner-esque way. He is definitely a writer to drink whiskey to. Brown Dog’s story starts here and continues novella style in “Julip”, “The Beast God Forgot to Invent”, “The Summer He Didn’t Die”, and 2010’s “The Farmer’s Daughter”.
(Sure, you can buy these at Amazon, but wouldn’t you rather support your independently owned local bookseller? Of course you would.)
The story of Booker’s Bourbon starts with Booker Noe, Jim Beam’s grandson, who after giving away his straight from the barrel whiskey to friends and family for years, decided to legit in 1992 and sell the stuff to total strangers. One could argue that Booker’s was one of the first small batch, premium bourbons to hit the market, paving the way for the burgeoning small batch/single barrel bourbon trend we have today. In general, Booker’s is aged for 6 – 8 years and bottled uncut and unfiltered at around 120 proof. In particular, the bottle was aged for 7 years and 4 months and packs a mighty wallop at 64.3% ABV.
The Nose: A lush and quietly powerful nose. Honeyed oak and vanilla bean are the main characters but there’s excellent supporting cast of juicy, almost baked orange, raisins, bright cinnamon, roasted nuts, and tobacco leaf. While the oak of the barrel is strong, it’s not overpowering, just really well-integrated, lending an earthiness and just a touch of charcoal.
The Palate: Starts sweet and numbing, with the orange and raisin notes being washed away by great burnt caramel, salted nuts, raw vanilla bean, clove, cinnamon and charred oak tones that grow larger and larger. Maybe it’s the high proof, but this one seems to develop and unveil it’s straight-from-the-cask rawness in a very strong, deliberate, almost menacing way. Towards the end the bitter rye in the mashbill comes out a little more to add another layer of complexity to an already heady palate.
The Finish: Longish because of the alcohol, this just burns right along with nice, mouth-watering acidity, charred oak, and rye notes running along side.
Thoughts: Big, big stuff, and fairly excellent too, tho’ perhaps not for the faint of heart. Even at 64.3% ABV, there’s a subtlety to Booker’s at first that lures you in to a false sense of complacency. The nose doesn’t let on that the flavors are going to grow big and bruising on the palate.
With bit of water, Booker’s does open up a bit and soften. I think the nose loses a little something though it becomes more fruit forward. The palate becomes more honeyed and rye-influenced with a nice, almost Scotch-like tease of charcoal smoke towards the end.
All in all, this is definitely a whiskey to try. An un-cut, un-filtered, right from the barrel, bourbon is an extremely rare thing unless you sleep in distillery’s rickhouse and siphon off a good measure before bed each night. Mature, smooth and balanced yet also bold, raw and adventurous, I love it and I’m pretty sure Brown Dog would as well.
Once again, I have to thank my Dad, he insisted on me reading Jim Harrison in the first place. Wheels, whisky and words, I’ll try to pass those three on to the little quarter cask on the way…