Freddie Noe, the grandson of Jim Beam’s late master distiller Fred “Booker” Noe, has created his first whiskey. It’s named “Little Book” after a nickname that the elder Noe gave the younger as a child. It is expected to be an annual limited release.
Little Book is an uncut, unfiltered whiskey in the style of the ever-popular Booker’s bourbons. There are some definite differences, though, as this one is not a bourbon. Rather it’s a blend of different whiskeys, including a four-year-old Kentucky bourbon, a 13-year-old corn whiskey, a six-year-old high-rye whiskey, and a a six-year-old 100% malt whiskey. (Apparently those last two ages are approximate.) If I had to guess, I’d say there’s a lot of bourbon in the ratio.
It’s bottled at a whopping 128.2 proof, with an MSRP of $79.99.
Little Book “The Easy” Blended Straight Whiskey, 64.1% ($79.99)
In the glass, this is a deep mahogany color. I’m not sure which of the component whiskeys is contributing such a hue. The nose is a blast of ethanol, but there is some sweetness underlying it, with cherries and marzipan. At first sip, it is very hot, as the proof would suggest. Almost overwhelmingly so. It also has a rough character that I attribute to its youth. With a little water, there is a confectionery sweetness, with vanilla and dark fruit, followed by a brief, drying oak finish with a faint vegetal note at the very end, presumably from the corn whiskey. Little Book is an interesting whiskey, for sure, and not like anything else I can think of. I recommend drinking it on the rocks.
We conducted the second round of our bourbon taste test last weekend. The whiskeys this time all had a suggested retail price of between $25 and $50. (Our first Bourbon Taste Test featured bourbons under $25.) As was the case last time, some of the samples were provided by the distilleries and some were from my own cabinet.
The whiskeys were all tasted blind, so the participants didn't know which bourbon they were drinking. (I poured the glasses, so I had a vague idea of which order a couple of them were in, but I was very close to unaware.)
We tasted eight whiskeys, all Kentucky straight bourbons, ranging in proof from 80 to 120. The prices ranged from $29 to $40. The whiskeys were all drunk neat. With the exception of one, all of them were better than average, and the overall quality was higher than in the first tasting.
You can see the line-up in the photo below.
The bourbons were split into two groups of four, with a short break in between the two groups. Each whiskey was tasted in a 1/2 ounce serving, and then notes were made. We discussed each of the bourbons as we drank, and then discussed them all together once we were finished.
Here they are in the order tasted, with the grades we gave them and selected notes. The grades are based on quality alone, without regard to price.
Basil Hayden's 8 Year-Old Price: $37 80 Proof Final Grade: B- The "sweet smell of vanilla" and toffee isn't matched by the flavor, which is "oaky" and rather plain. Starts off "sharp," but "fades quickly." It has some complexity and some spicy notes, but more would have been welcome. A decent bourbon, but nobody's favorite.
Jefferson's 8 Year-Old Very Small Batch Price: $30 83 Proof Final Grade: B- A faint "slightly fruity" aroma leads to a smooth taste that "uncurls in your mouth." The flavor ends up woody and oily, more reminiscent of Scotch than bourbon. Better than average, but a little too one-note.
Four Roses Small Batch Price: $29 90 Proof Final Grade: C A strong, "antiseptic" smell is followed by a dry, "bitter" flavor. More wood taste than anyone on the panel cared for. Complex and "assertive," but too rancio-like for our tastes. [This was a disappointment, as I've drunk this bourbon in cocktails before and enjoyed it. I suppose it's possible we got a bad bottle this time.]
Eagle Rare 10-Year Old Single Barrel Price: $30 90 Proof Final Grade: A- Now we're talking! A delicious aroma of toffee leads to a sweet and spicy flavor. It's "nutty" and "warm" with a sensuous finish. A near-perfect balance of sweet and spice. This was the stand-out of the first round of four. A delicious bourbon. I could drink this every day.
Elijah Craig 18-Year Old Single Barrel Price: $36 90 Proof Final Grade: A Wow! Eighteen years in the barrel have worked magic on this whiskey. It begins with a fruity, spicy smell and then gets even better on the tongue. The flavor is a mix of sweet caramel and vanilla, with enough oak — but not too much — to give it complexity. It closes with a finish that is warm and succulent. This bourbon is so good it's practically decadent.
Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select Price: $33 90.4 Proof Final Grade: B+ Opens up to a gorgeous, sweet, "fruity" aroma — this is a wonderful smelling bourbon. The taste is "oaky" and "nutty," well rounded and dry rather than sweet. It starts off smooth, but then kicks in with a long, spicy finish. A very interesting bourbon. Definitely worth exploring further.
Baker's 7 Year-Old Price: $37 107 Proof Final Grade: B+ "Earthy" and "nutty" (peanut brittle and toffee?) on the nose. The taste is likewise nutty and spicy, with enough heat to make you wake up and pay attention. There's some vanilla sweetness in there, but mostly dry overall. A complex, distinctive bourbon that demands to be sampled again.
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Price: $40 120 Proof Final Grade: B Whoa! This is powerful stuff. A sweet, "candied" smell paves the way for a sweet and "bold" taste. (Did I mention this is strong?) It "dances around your mouth" with flavors of grain and fruit, and has a robust, spicy finish. [Editor's note: If I were to taste this again, I would dilute it so that more of the flavor would be revealed. I think it would score higher than.]
The Four Roses Small Batch didn't find favor with the panel, but all of the rest of the bourbons were greeted with open arms. The two that ranked the highest — Elijah Craig 18 Year-Old and Eagle Rare 10 Year-Old — were superb. But the bourbons that scored just under those were likewise outstanding.
This collection of whiskeys shows more than anything else how skilled and sophisticated the experts at the country's major bourbon distilleries are. Their mastery of crafting fine spirits is nothing short of outstanding. Bravo!
Red Stag Spiced Bourbon Whiskey Flavored Bourbon Whiskey Final Grade: B Price: $18 (750ml)
Red Stag Spiced builds on the popular line of flavored whiskeys that Jim Beam began with their original Red Stag product, Black Cherry Bourbon. For this new spirit, the distillers start with their flagship four-year-old bourbon (Jim Beam White label) and infuse it with cinnamon and other spices.
At first whiff, it's all cinnamon. Upon further review, it's still cinnamon, and lots of it. That flavor carries over into the spirit itself. A somewhat artificial, but not unpleasant taste of cinnamon candy. Kind of like a Red Hot, but without the overpowering spiciness. It makes itself known, for sure, but it doesn't overstay its welcome.
Red Stag Spiced is warm and sweet with a touch of oakiness, but I found that the bourbon got lost in the background. You can taste a little of the whiskey in there, but not as much as I'd hoped for. I don't think that's a drawback for a lot of consumers — after all, you don't buy a spirit like this if you're expecting fine bourbon. But I was hoping for a little more of the whiskey to assert itself.
The finish is fleeting, ending on a somewhat funky (musty?) note that, fortunately, fades quickly. This is where the flavor really leaps out as being too artificial. It's possible that this would not be as noticeable if you drank it mixed with something else, perhaps Coke.
I had a conflicted reaction to Red Stag Spiced. On the one hand, it's a successful version of what the distillers (apparently) set out to do. It's uncomplicated bourbon that tastes like cinnamon. On that basis, it's a success. But even so, I don't see myself drinking it very often. However, if it sounds like the kind of thing that you'd enjoy, you should definitely give it a try.