I was not a fan of this when I first opened it. I still remember taking the cork off, pouring a glass, waiting a few moments, nosing it, and dreading what I knew would inevitably follow; this would be a hot one. But nothing prepared me for the massacre my palate would endure next. It was so hot, that I resorted to committing what I consider sacrilege – adding water. Apart from calming some of the obvious alcoholic heat, it did nothing in terms of opening or enhancing flavors and so the only option I had left to tame this beast was time, and I knew i’d need a lot of it. At 128.1 proof this was far from the strongest bourbon i’ve tried in terms of ABV…but this was definitely the “hottest”. Think pure acetonic alcohol soaked barrel char set on fire. It was hardly palatable.
Knowing patience was the only conduit to unlocking this bourbon’s secrets, I let it sit for 6 months.
Six months passed (with a few experimental glasses over this period to monitor the whiskey’s progress), I grab glass, pour another two fingers…the result was night and day difference. I didn’t have a set time that I knew would take to calm Noe’s Secret down as their is no algorithm or reason to when a whiskey will reach its prime after opening – each whiskey is different. The heat was still very much present, but the richness and nuances of what makes Booker’s such a cult favorite were finally able to be heard; here’s what they had to say to me…
Booker’s, Noe Secret
ABV: 64.05% // 128.1 proof
Age: 6 years, 8 months, 7 days
Mash Bill: Jim Beam Low Rye – 77/13/10
Batch: Noe Secret, 2015-06
Producer: Jim Beam
Roundtable: aka Panel of members who selected the batches of bourbon that were selected to produce ‘Noe’s Secret’
- F. Paul Pacult – Editor of F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal & Founder of Ultimate Spirit Challenge
- Geoff Kleinman – Founder & Managing Editor of DrinkSpirits.com
- Jack Robertiello – Spirits Writer & Spirits Competition Judge
- John McCarthy – Spirits Writer & Senior Managing Editor of Men’s Health Magazine
- Tony Sachs – Spirits Writer for Robb Vices & Serious Eats
- Kevin Sintumuang, guest panelist – Digital Director of the Wall Street Journal
- G. Clay Whittaker, guest panelist – Freelance Writer for Men’s Journal and Forbes
(thanks to Josh @ The Whiskey Jug for this breakdown)
Color: Dark Caramel
Nose: Bold and doesn’t mind flexing; be weary of the alcohol and don’t let the sub Hazmat proof fool you…i’ve had 140+ proof bourbons that didn’t nose this harsh. Once past the 128.1 proof, you’ll see that Noe’s Secret has a very honest face. Their’s the classic Jim Beam peanut, but even bigger Pay Day candy bar with a light glazing of golden syrup and a few cashews thrown in. You also get Jim Beam’s second signature – corn, white corn in fact, dried and pestled along with the husk. The nose turns slightly sour and musty a little deeper in with freshly tossed straw and light herbaceous notes mingle with dusty old oak. Some fruit cuts through all the dusty, mustiness with lemon and oranges, but the dried apricot speaks the loudest. The back of the nose is whispers of lightly sugared kettle corn.
Definitely an “Old Time-y” bourbon which is where I feel Jim Beam’s charm lies…
Palate: Full bodied, viscous and hot, much like the nose. Quite astringent, so let this sit for at least 10 minutes before going in. Huge, rich, coarsely ground black peppers, dark vanilla, dark cherry syrup, lacquer thinner & crushed dried cayenne pepper. The Jim Beam peanuts are now roasted – slightly burnt in fact with some additional grainy notes including wheat and dried yellow corn. As with most barrel proofers, theres a ton of bitter barrel char which acts as the transition to the finish. Rounding the palate out is heavily charred wood straight out of a fire pit with heavily steeped black tea.
Finish: Very long and dense. The crushed black pepper & dried cayenne pepper jets through the finish, soaring over an ocean of caramel. Dark, melted chocolate – double dark fudge brownies actually. The corn from the palate sticks around too, now mixed w/ the nuts from the nose. The dark cherry syrup also shows up for the finale, drenched now over the brownies. Bitter barrel char, more peanuts, over burnt caramel and pounds of saw dust.
Bourbon and House Rating: 90
I hate to admit this, but apart from Old Grand Dad, Jim Beam has, until this Booker’s release, always taken a back seat to me. I’ve always thought Baker’s was so-so & Basil Haydens is overpriced (not to mention virtually watered down OGD). Knob Creek is solid, but I haven’t come across many single barrels here in the Bay Area. As usual though, I find solace, confidence & reassurance in the barrel proof expression(s) of a bourbon producer’s portfolio.
Enter Booker’s, Noe Secret and I can firmly stand behind Jim Beam.
I don’t need to go into the history that I’m sure many of you are well aquatinted with but in short, Booker’s is named after the late Booker T. Noe, the father of the current Master Distiller of Jim Beam, Fred Noe. Booker would pick the very best barrels of bourbon and blend them together at barrel proof to create we know today as Booker’s.
Although it took (more or less) 6 months, I was very happy with how this bourbon turned out in my glass. Patience paid off and the result is a hearty sipper. I’ve stated that I prefer Jim Beam’s high rye mash bill – 63/27/10 because I generally like a high amount of rye in my bourbon, but Bookers, which comes from Jim Beam’s standard 77/13/10 mash bill, is no slouch. At barrel proof the 13% rye, along with some very carefully selected barrels, has given us the purest form of Jim Beam’s juice. I would put Jim Beam bourbon into the category of “unrefined” – to some this may come as an affront or insult, but my intentions are the contrary. There’s a rustic charm, a truly unique character & comforting sense from drinking this. Maybe its just personal nostalgia, or maybe its that you get the most un-cut goodness of what Jim Beam has to offer, unleashed in a cask strength fusillade.
After my experience with this release of Noe’s Secret, I’ll be investing in more Booker’s moving forward. Considering the scarcity of cask strength offerings on the market, and Jim Beam’s decision to slowly increase the price over the near future while limiting Booker’s to a quarterly release – it’s one of the best cask strength Bourbons on the market, and by far the most accessible.