The 2020 Booker’s Bourbon batches have come to a close with this month’s release of the final batch of the year, “Pigskin.” And now that we’ve tried them all, it seemed like the perfect time to rank them.
Ranking batches of Booker’s is, to a certain extent, a ridiculous exercise. They’re all good—which is part of the reason that demand has outpaced supply, and a bottle is now a little harder (and more expensive) to come by.
But the task of trying each bottle is just the kind of burden we’re willing to shoulder for you folks out there, who may be tracking down things to drink at the close of the 2020 year.
And ranking them isn’t exactly a navel-gazing exercise, because Booker’s batches are not all the same. In addition to variations in proof and age, Booker’s batches can also be differentiated by what floors and warehouses their components come from, and how those differences create variations in flavor.
Speaking to Master Distiller Fred Noe earlier this year, he explained that, well, that’s the whole point. “We try to make them a little different if possible, because, if you don’t it’s just the same thing. Then what’s the point of naming the batches? Some people, some loyal fans, they like to go back and compare one to another.”
With that in mind, we tasted this year’s releases side by side and ranked them below. But first, some interesting notes and observations about this year’s releases.
What You Should Know about the 2020 Booker’s Batches
Every year, beam is kind enough to provide details on the batch ingredients for these bourbons, and it’d be wrong not to take advantage of that information, so here are some interesting anecdotes about this year’s batches:
Warehouse H is the only warehouse to be represented in all three batches this year. Granny’s Batch took 22 percent from the fourth floor, Boston Batch took 27 percent from the sixth floor, and Pigskin took 15 percent from the sixth floor. Warehouse H is one of Beam’s nine story warehouses.
Our ranking didn’t have much to do with high floor placement; 29 percent of Pigskin came from the sixth floor, 34 percent of Granny’s came from the sixth floor, and just 27 percent of Boston came from the sixth floor.
Third floors, however, might make a difference. The only batch to represent a third floor was Boston, which contained 11 percent from the third floor of Warehouse 5 (a 7-story warehouse).
Weather matters when it comes to Booker’s, and this year it feels like the cold was a pervasive theme. Boston Batch was selected “on an unseasonably cool and rainy day,” according to the notes from Fred Noe. Noe recommends drinking Pigskin, though, “as temperatures start to drop a little and you’re watching your favorite football teams this season. Granny’s Batch recalls a woman famous for her highballs and nut cakes at Christmas time.
We’re always curious if some warehouses get used more frequently than others, and that definitely happened in 2020. This year the most used warehouse actually came down to a tie. Both Warehouse H and Warehouse L accounted for 64 percent of batch ingredients across all three batches.
What’s most interesting is that while Warehouse H is represented across all three batches, Granny’s Batch is literally 50 percent Warehouse L, including floors four, five, and six. If you liked Granny’s Batch then congratulations: you now have a favorite warehouse.
Now that you know the details, here are our rankings for 2020:
No. 3: Batch 2020-02 “Boston Batch”
The “worst” batch of Booker’s this year is still one of the best bourbons on the market. Boston Batch is described as a “history-making” batch of Booker’s because it’s the first time Freddie Noe assisted his dad on the selection (formally, anyway). That’s likely why it’s the most traditional batch of the year. Rye and baking spices on the nose carry through to the palate, where they shift pleasantly in “herbal” direction. It’s a predominantly grain forward batch (and the youngest of this year’s releases by about a month), but it still manages a gorgeous transition out of those grain notes and into a finish of soft vanilla custard. “Boston” batch is a reference to the first distilling site where Booker Noe worked—in Boston, Kentucky—but it wouldn’t be a surprise if it was also in reference to the finish’s Boston cream filling finish.
No. 2: Batch 2020-01 “Granny’s Batch”
Our number two pick for this year is an untraditional Booker’s with a familiar Beam flavor. Granny’s Batch has a distinct note that I’ve occasionally referred to as “Beamnut butter:” a peanut aroma and flavor note, which can vary from fresh roasted peanuts to peanut butter fudge. But Granny’s Batch takes this note back in time for some nostalgic treats from grandma’s house. This bourbon has a decidedly oily texture, but hints of cocoa and touches of vanilla sweetness push that peanut butter note into the peanut butter cup space. The finish is slightly brief, but it’s mostly light, focusing in on oaky dryness and a hint of orange peel.
No. 1: Batch 2020-03 “Pigskin Batch”
The best batch of the year turns out to be the last release of the year. Well done, Pigskin. This delicious Booker’s batch has the structural grandness of a skyscraper. Lacey sugars, round candied orange peel and rye spice notes, and a vanilla and oak sugar finish that begs—pleads—for several satisfying smacks of the famous Kentucky chew. In all Pigskin is a custardy spice bomb with so many of the flavors that made the now-legendary Booker’s 30th so great. Sure, it lacks the age (and thankfully, the price tag), but Pigskin is a showcase for why Booker’s has always been such a beloved and respected bourbon—even at 6 years and change.