Saturday, May 26, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

I saw yesterday that Richard's Liquors was running a weekly special on Baker's Bourbon, one of the four Bourbons in the Jim Beam Small Batch Bourbon Collection (along with Knob Creek, Basil Hayden's, and Booker's). It was about $4 cheaper than it typically is, and I had wanted to try it; so I bought a bottle.

Jim Beam is the largest producer of Bourbon in the world, and I imagine that just about all of us were introduced to Bourbon by their 4 year old white label flagship product. I haven't bought a bottle of that in years, but what I remember is that it was decent but thoroughly unexciting. Baker's is much more than decent, and it is very exciting (if you're a geek).

To me, one of the interesting things about modern Bourbon making is how much variation distillers can get not by varying the mashbill or the char level of the oak barrels used for aging but just by selecting different barrels from their rickhouses. When Baker's comes off the still and goes into the barrels, it's the same whiskey as the Jim Beam 4. (Jim Beam claims that Baker's uses a special yeast strain. I suppose that could be true, but I am skeptical. It would be uneconomical to make unless lots of whiskey, including lots that will never be labeled Baker's, were fermented and distilled using the same recipe. Most distillers have more than one recipe, but it's rare that they use one recipe for one brand exclusively.) The difference between the two is the length of aging (7 years instead of 4) and the location of the barrels in the rickhouses. Rickhouses are these huge, 8 story warehouses filled with Bourbon in barrel, and Bourbon will age differently depending on how high up and how close to the outside of the warehouse the barrels are. It used to be that distillers would routinely rotate their aging barrels in an attempt to get all of them the same aging experience, but most, Beam included, have abandoned that practice as uneconomical.

After some time in the glass, the dominant aromas from the Baker's are butterscotch (heavy on the butter) and brown sugar. Going down, there's some minerality and burn (it's 107 proof; of course there's some burn going down), but also some pleasant graininess and spice. Not too much vanilla here, despite the deep coloration. All-in-all, a very pleasing drink of Bourbon. Good job, Jim Beam!

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