The second Booker’s Bourbon release of 2023 is upon us, and this one dives deep into the Noe family archives for its naming inspiration.
According to the official release notes for Booker’s “Apprentice Batch”:
This batch pays homage to the beginning of Booker Noe’s distilling career when he first learned the art of making bourbon under the guidance of his cousin, Carl Beam … Booker’s apprenticeship under Carl helped him become the Master Distiller and legendary innovator he is remembered as today.
While 2022 brought four distinct — but distinctly good — batches for Booker’s fans, 2023’s first iteration (“Charlie’s Batch”) fell just a tick short by our measure. Booker’s Apprentice Batch is extraordinarily similar to Charlie’s Batch in both age and proof, with just a few days and 1.1 proof points separating them, respectively.
The Apprentice Batch release was aged 7 years, 1 month, and 2 days, and it’s bottled at 125.5 proof. Let’s dive in.
The nose is heavy on the ethanol, and it’s clear this immediately lacks some of the aroma depth and nuance from more recent Booker’s releases (including all from 2022). But there are still elements to savor. A first dominant note is, surprisingly, menthol, and hiding beneath that are layers of dark caramel, hot cocoa, and clove-laden tea. Medicinal apple is also present, though fruity notes are somewhat subdued by the strong ethanol kick. There’s a tiny savory note toward the back of the nose, but it’s generally missing the woody, BBQ, mesquite/charcoal aspects many enjoy in these releases as they creep up over the seven year mark. Barrel char is present, but you have to sift through the pungent ethanol to dig for those woody notes, and it left my nostrils a bit dry in the search.
While this whiskey noses even above its robust proof, the palate is thankfully more subdued; there’s actual flavor on first sip as opposed to complete ethanol dominance. A first taste brings a thick, lasting wave of vanilla, reminiscent of melted ice cream, as well as medjool dates and blackcurrant. Again, searching for the fruitier notes (that medicinal apple) yields middling success. Instead, this is far into the sweet caramel/vanilla territory without much of the lighter fruit and even the savory notes. Elements of lightly roasted nuts complete the midpalate, interestingly leaning a bit more toward walnut or pecan than classic Beam peanut.
The finish here is lengthy, with sweetness and alcohol dancing down from the back of the tongue to the gullet. Some water helps temper the heat and brings out a bit more fruit — leaning into both the date and apple notes — and helps make the finish a highlight of this whiskey on the way down.
Overall, Apprentice Batch is much more sugar cookie than complex treat, with a welcome sweetness but a bit less depth than 2022’s releases. This release leans into the sweeter side of the Booker’s spectrum with reduced nut notes and almost absent savory flavors. Its weakest aspect is the nose, though the palate improves noticeably with both time and water, and the finish is plenty long and warming.
Still, Booker’s Apprentice Batch doesn’t quite ride the highs of last year’s releases. I look forward to seeing where they steer the flavor profile from here.
B+ / $90 / bookersbourbon.com