Near the end of 2019, I suggested Baker’s Bourbon — a spirit few people knew, despite its acclaimed family — was about to become a whiskey darling. Being a part of most major bourbon discussion places online, I can tell you that has not happened (Google isn’t reporting increased search traffic around the bottle, either). While this may not be good news for the folks at Jim Beam, it’s good for me.
Baker’s Bourbon was once the redheaded stepchild of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection. Basil Hayden’s unique bottle design and low proof have lend it popularity as a gift and for those who are just getting into premium bourbon. The polar opposite, Booker’s is a heavyweight bourbon, often clocking in north of 130 proof; it’s earned a healthy reputation with veteran whiskey drinkers. And then there’s Knob Creek, which is perhaps the best value bourbon in America. Until late 2019, Baker’s was a small batch bourbon like all the rest, but priced and proofed so awkwardly most shoppers couldn’t tell who it was really for.
New Baker’s is about $60, 107 proof, at least 7 years old (most bottles I’ve found are closer to 9) and a single barrel product. Depending on how you look at it, that makes it a juiced-up Knob Creek with a chance to be something special or an easier-drinking Booker’s that’s appreciably more affordable. Because it’s a single barrel product, pinning down consistent profiles isn’t easy, but the three bottles I’ve rushed through generally offer a blend of nutty spiciness and a fair helping of vanilla and oak. That said, the order in which those flavors appear changed from one bottle to the next, and a final bottle shared with my dad over the holidays was closer to anise-infused maple syrup than bourbon.
Fanfare is minimal for now, apart from some notable whiskey reviewers and bloggers giving the new and improved Baker’s high marks. For the sake of my wallet, I hope it stays that way.
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