Occasionally, we get some wacky emails here in the old Dipsomaniac mail bin. Recently an announcement came across the e-transom touting a special release of Willett Family Estate 21 Year Single Barrel Bourbon. Now ordinarily, this would pique my interest, because the words “single barrel,” “bourbon” and “old” generally mean good things in a bottle.
But then I saw the price tag, which was north of $175 per bottle. Now I’ve paid that much for a bottle of whiskey before, but only if the words “Van Winkle” were also on the label. Reviews of the Willett are very positive, noting its deep color like an old copper penny and depths of flavors that include walnuts, oak and brown sugar along with hints of vanilla and molasses. Sounds more like a Girl Scout cookie to me…
If you’re looking for a barrel-strength bourbon that won’t break the bank but that still exhibits some genuine complexity, take my advice and seek out a bottle of Booker’s Bourbon. This is a Jim Beam product where the master distillers really show off their talents. Uncut and unfiltered, Booker’s comes straight from the barrel when the distillers decide it’s ready.
This means that the proof could be anywhere between 121 and 127 and that the bourbon could be between 6-8 years old. They don’t concentrate on meeting exact specifications like long-run consumer bourbons do. The distillers bottle Booker’s when they decide that it is at the peak of its maturation, at a level where the late Booker Noe, grandson of Jim Beam himself, would have liked it. Noe developed the original Booker’s, and it is still a flagship product of the brand.
At barrel and bottle strength, Booker’s has an intense heat that highlights the tannins of the oak barrels, but still allows the delicate vanilla of the char come through. The sheer genius of the high proof is that Booker’s allows you to cut the whiskey with spring water or a melting ice cube to taste the nuances of the flavors and aromas that arise at different proof levels. It’s like the Everlasting Gobstopper of booze.
And think how much fun experimenting with a bottle will be as you decide what your perfect formulation is. Start with an old-fashioned glass and an eyedropper of water. Taste it straight and then with a few drops of water. You’ll taste and smell a marked difference as the water opens up the clusters of alcohol molecules. Then add an entire eyedropper or two and one ice cube.
Now THAT’s a sipping whiskey. And at less than a third of the price of that crazy Willett’s, you’ll be able to afford to buy a bottle as a thank you for the guy who introduced you to it. That’s Dipsomaniac at Drink Music Cit…oh hell. Jim would just steal it before I got to it in the office. Just buy me a shot next time you see me in a bar.