Exclusive: Booker’s Rye Could Return as Early as 2021

Booker's Rye. Courtesy Beam Suntory.
Booker's Rye. Courtesy Beam Suntory.

After five years, a sequel to the 2016 release of Booker’s Rye could be on its way. Another batch of Booker’s Rye could potentially come as early as this year, based on information gathered from an exclusive interview with eighth generation Beam distiller Freddie Noe. 

In a conversation Noe after the release of the fourth chapter of Little Book, Noe admitted to me that the 8-year-old “high rye”—one of the component whiskeys of his latest batch, “Lessons Honored”—was the same mash bill and entry proof as the now-legendary Booker’s Rye. 

Noe admitted that the component—officially labeled as “8-year-old High-Rye Rye Whiskey” was “the Booker’s Rye recipe.” Noe confirmed having used a 6-year-old version of the same stock in Little Book Chapter One, and said that the 8-year-old used in the 2020 release was actually distilled the year he joined the company.

For those of you keeping score, that means Beam could currently be in possession of Booker’s Rye stock aged a decade or more.

Booker’s Rye is a high rye variant of the Jim Beam rye whiskey. It has two specific variations: the mash bill includes some 15 percent more rye, according to Noe, and it also comes off the still and into the barrel at a staggering 125 proof—no water added.

Booker's Rye. Courtesy Beam Suntory.
Booker’s Rye. Courtesy Beam Suntory.

It seems that the folks at Beam were a little premature in 2018 when they said there was no second batch of Booker’s laid down, although technically that was not a lie. While the whiskey had in fact been distilled, none of it had (or has yet to be) marked for a batch of Booker’s Rye. 

It should be noted that, even at this point, there is not an actual plan to release batch two of Booker’s Rye—but Noe is confident that was never a one and done project.“I mean,” Noe said in the interview, “I would say yeah, you probably will see it again.”

It’s his second comment, however, that gave more context for why we haven’t seen it already.  “My question to you is, does it have to be 13 years old? Can it be younger,” asked Noe, “Or older?”

It should be noted that, after he asked these questions, I did personally reply “No, yes, and yes.”

“I would rather avoid the exact same year,” Noe explained, “because I think that one set a bar in certain things.” 

He’s right. It did. Booker’s Rye has a benchmark of quality, flavor, and intensity within the whiskey world, and batch two would likely be very different even if they released a similar age and proof. Look at the variations in flavor of just this past year’s Booker’s bourbon releases, for example. 

It turns out Noe asked this same question of some whiskey lovers over a Zoom call earlier in 2020. “So I kind of pitched it on a zoom call to some guys,” he explains, “they were freaking out. They didn’t want to answer.”

This, essentially, is the problem Beam and the Noe family are currently working through: how to make a great second release. 

Sequels are rarely as good as the first film, after all. Just ask a Star Wars fan how they feel about the sequel trilogy, or take a look at the second Exorcist film for yourself. Things can go awry when creative talent second guesses itself after a big success. 

But here’s the thing—that 8-year-old component was delicious (and still is—I have a few mL left in a vial). But it’s not yet ready for the iconic bottle according to Fred and Freddie. 

That may change this year as existing stock evolves. 

“Monitoring it,” explains Noe, “it’s kind of like watching a garden grow, honestly. You can pick it younger and it’s a little bit different. Sometimes it’s not any good when you pick it too young… same if you let it go too long. Some whiskeys, it’s just old. Some of it’s really good old. Some of it, in that six to eight [year] range, you’re picking very ripe things. You’ve just got to kind of monitor it, and when it’s telling its best story, I think that’s the best time to let it out.”

Whether we see it this year or not, no one should worry about interesting bottles coming from Beam. In fact, the only thing I’m worried about is whether we’ll see another batch of Old Tub in 2021. Here’s hoping.

G. Clay Whittaker
Clay is Editor at Large of The Bourbon Review. He has written about whiskey, food, drink, and culture for Esquire, Playboy, Men's Journal, Popular Science, Southern Living, Maxim, among others.