Tasting bourbon the Booker Noe way

Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe began a private tasting for members of the Bourbon Women Association (and a couple of spouses) by sharing the four-step bourbon-tasting process he learned from his father, Booker Noe:

1. Observe the color. Generally, the lighter the color, the lighter the taste.

2. Part your lips as you nose the bourbon and inhale with both nose and mouth. That way, you don’t pull in as much alcohol.

3. “Chew” the bourbon. Don’t toss it back like a cowboy; swirl it around and cover all the tastebuds. A reporter once observing Booker at a tasting dubbed this “the Kentucky Chew.”

4. Notice the finish, the flavor left behind.

We tasted four Jim Beam products, from lowest proof to highest (from left in the photo at right).

Basil Hayden. This 80 proof bourbon is named for the man pictured on the Old Grand-Dad label. “He once said that if the South lost the war, he’d never leave his house again,” Fred said. “Luckily, he lived at his distillery.” Basil Hayden (the bourbon) is light on the nose and the palate, with a spiciness from the rye in the mash bill.

Knob Creek. Named for the area outside Hodgenville, Ky., and not the site of the annual machine-gun shoot, Knob Creek is the top-selling ultra-premium bourbon in the world. At 100 proof, it has a little more heat than Basil Hayden, but also more sweetness. It’s good in a Manhattan, Fred said.

Baker’s. Bottled at 107 proof, this bourbon is named for Fred’s cousin Baker, the last of the Beams to live in the T. Jeremiah Beam House, where the tasting was held. Stored in the “upper half of the house,” it ages fast, achieving an intense flavor in just seven years. This bourbon packs some heat.

Booker’s. “This is my dad’s baby,” Fred said, an unfiltered, uncut bourbon whose high proof (this batch was nearly 130 proof) belies its smooth drinkability.

However, Fred added, no one should be ashamed of adding a little water or an ice cube to bourbon. “If you taste a bourbon and make a face, it’s too strong,” he said. “I’m giving you permission to drink my bourbon any damn way you want to.”

That includes mixing it with something else. “Someone once asked Booker what he thought about mixing bourbon with Coke,” Fred said. “He said, ‘If you take the best bourbon in the world and mix it with Coke, you got the best bourbon and Coke in the world.’ “

To see more photos from the Bourbon Women’s “BBQ & Bourbon” event, click here. And make plans to join us next time!

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