Booker’s and Baker’s can often be found side by side on the back bar, and even seasoned Bourbon fans are apt to confuse them. This is understandable. Allow me to explain.
For starters, there’s the name thing. Baker’s. Booker’s. You might think one was attempting to mislead drinkers by tricking them with a sound-alike, but these are actually both products of the same company: Jim Beam.
Baker’s and Booker’s are two of the four Bourbons in Beam’s “Small Batch” series. The other two are Knob Creek and, continuing the confusing panoply of B’s, Basil Hayden’s. But at least Knob and Basil look immediately different on the shelf. Baker’s and Booker’s are both even bottled in Burgundy-style wine bottles and sealed with black wax. The only easy distinguishing factor is the label: Baker’s has a giant B, Booker’s has a handwritten-esque script on the label. Helpful if you’re looking at the bar. Not so much if you’re reading a menu.
Beam was kind enough to send both whiskeys for our evaluation and comparison. Here’s how these two are both alike and different.
Booker’s Bourbon is touted as “the highest grade bourbon made by” master distiller Booker Noe at Jim Beam — hence the name “Booker’s.” Noe died in 2004, but his spirit clearly lives on. There’s also a monster statue of him on the Jim Beam grounds that you can check out if you go to visit. Batch age and proof of this uncut, barrel-strength whiskey will vary, but mine (C05-A-12), at 7 years, 5 months old and 128.5 proof, is typical of the brand.
The Bourbon is hot. Though the bottle tag suggests drinking it neat and uncut, this is folly. A healthy splash of water helps Booker’s show beyond the burn. Wood is the primary character here, hefty, chunky, and powerful like a lumberyard. It’s big on the nose and the body, and it takes a good amount of time sipping and savoring for this to fade. Eventually you dig out Booker’s finer nuances. Vanilla and dark chocolate — almost a Mexican chocolate with touches of cinnamon — which rise up on the finish as you finish your first glass. Some fruitiness here — plums, raisins — is in the mix as well. All in all a solid Bourbon, though a bit burly I think for my tastes. B+ / $57
Baker’s Bourbon is stated at 7 years old and a considerably mellower 107 proof. The Baker in question is Baker Beam, a grandnephew of Jim Beam himself. The twist here involves a special yeast used in the fermentation process, proprietary to Baker’s.
Results: A considerably more mellow whiskey than Booker’s. Beam suggests Baker’s is a Bourbon for Cognac enthusiasts, and I think the distillery is onto something with that. There is lovely sweetness here, plenty of vanilla but also rich chocolate pudding, nutmeg, and fruitcake character. Really a gorgeous Bourbon and my hands-down favorite of the duo. A / $47