After “Ronnie’s Batch” and “The Lumberyard Batch” dropped earlier this year, Booker’s Bourbon is back with 2022’s third expression: Kentucky Tea. As with all contemporary Booker’s releases, this one is named for a person, place, or concept near and dear to the Noe family, eighth generation descendants of Jim Beam and Master Distillers at his namesake brand.
But what exactly is “Kentucky Tea” supposed to be? It’s a bit of an off-the-wall concept, even to a long time bourbon drinker, so perhaps it’s best to quote the official press release.
“This batch is named after Booker Noe’s signature drink, which he fondly referred to as Kentucky Tea. As one could imagine, Booker loved the flavor of bourbon, especially his namesake brand, Booker’s Bourbon. Since the flavor still pulls through when mixed with water, Booker would add one part bourbon to four parts water and enjoy his Kentucky Tea with dinner.”
Some people like adding a few drops of water to their cask strength whiskey. Apparently Booker occasionally took it a few steps further. Even as a native Kentuckian, I must admit “Kentucky Tea” is a novel concept to me. Perhaps something to try for the holidays…
But let’s get back to the whiskey at hand. This 126.5 proof batch was aged 7 years, 4 months, and 14 days, making it both the highest proof and oldest batch so far this year. Many Booker’s fans will also be happy to see the age statements continue to progress beyond seven years, as with 2022-02.
Let’s dive in.
Immediately on the nose, I get some classic Booker’s notes, a bit like “Ronnie’s Batch” from earlier this year. The nose carries complexity one might expect with a Booker’s aged over seven years: vanilla and caramel, with bold leather and campfire smokiness. Taking a second whiff brings brown sugar and that traditional nutty scent that’s so common with Beam distillate. Despite the name, I’m not getting much in the way of tea here.
Overall, it doesn’t nose as sweet as “The Lumberyard Batch” (which nosed a bit off-profile to me, but not in a bad way), and this newest expression has a bit of the vegetal component we sometimes see from Booker’s. (I compared this to stewed tomatoes for “Ronnie’s Batch,” though it’s more subdued here.) It’s pretty straight down the middle, with its scents in a lovely balance. At least on the nose, that balance gives “Kentucky Tea” a little more depth and character than the year’s first two expressions. So far, so good.
This is the highest proof batch of the year, but it sure doesn’t feel like that on first sip. Tasting blind, I wouldn’t have pegged this at 126.5 proof. That first taste is thick with vanilla and bread pudding; there’s a characteristic monkey bread note I’m picking up in a big way. The second sip gives off roasted nuts. Since I live in New York City, I can’t help but think of street carts where only the bravest tourists buy bags of seasoned peanuts and cashews.
But then a surprise: There’s ample fruitiness here in the form of baked apples with cinnamon and raisins. The bourbon sits surprisingly light on the tongue for a Booker’s expression, so the mouth ultimately leans a bit more fruity than syrupy/caramel on subsequent sips.
The finish is where an apple pie note really ratchets up, and it’s lighter than I expected; it doesn’t linger quite as long as other recent releases. There’s a slightly bitter coffee note here as well, though that is largely outweighed by the fruit. After a while, green apple peel is what’s left on the palate, along with a bit of baking spice.
Overall, it’s another quality release from Beam. The fruitiness and green apple notes were a pleasant surprise, and that lends some welcome balance. The finish is a touch shorter than previous batches, which just barely holds this back from elevating into superlative territory. The nose is an improvement, and the flavor profile is complex and captivating. It’s just not big enough after the sip to be markedly better 2022-01 and 2022-02, though I was initially hopeful it might be.
Still, this is a fittingly enjoyable pour, hitting on some classic Booker’s notes while exploring a bit of sweet/sour/fruity territory we haven’t seen in a couple years. The recent run of these releases is something to celebrate, and they’re a dependable offering that proves both varied in flavor and consistent in quality.
A- / $90 / bookersbourbon.com