Kentucky distiller Jim Beam has not laid down a single barrel of Booker’s Rye whiskey—the award-winning limited edition bottle released in 2016—according to Master Distiller Fred Noe.
During an exclusive interview with The Bourbon Review earlier this year, Noe was asked when we’d see another release of Booker’s Rye. Noe said that as of now, they have not produced a any barrels to those specifications, or intended for a Booker’s Rye Release:
“[Booker’s Rye] could possibly come back. I mean we’ve got to lay it down, and you know [Freddie] he’s got that recipe his pocket and we’ve talking about it. It’s just a matter of doing it.
The Bourbon Review:
Have you done any yet?
It’s going to be years then.
I mean, it will be a while. We haven’t got any more in the hopper right now aging. We’ve just got to sell the brand team on it, which that shouldn’t be a very hard sell, I think.
Noe went on to explain that the issue comes from planning and designating still time, which can be difficult as the company continues to focus on meeting demands for the rest of the portfolio.
“Just getting the still time that’s the hard part because everything’s kind of allocated right now, and bourbon’s hot,” he said. “I mean it’s hot all over the world… back in the old days you could take a little time and make some more. Not now. Everything is lined up for the year, and then boom. Now if you’re ahead a little bit, then maybe they can make some on the tail end of the year, if I see they’re ahead by a day or so. Sometimes they make up time, make a little more than you planned, which is good—don’t have any breakdowns, you know.”
The issue is with barrel entry proof. While the brand’s rye mashbill has been produced frequently since 2016, the Booker’s brand is known for being uncut and unfiltered, and does not have water added before it is placed into the barrel. All of the batches made since have been watered down to a more traditional entry proof that does not qualify for Booker’s.
A source with Beam Suntory confirmed that they are “aging the exact same unique high rye mash bill that was previously distilled and aged into Booker’s Rye. So, distillate from that mashbill is aging, but there are no barrels laid down specifically intended for Booker’s Rye. We have the same mash bill (high rye that’s unique to what we’ve released in the past), however the distillate may vary based on distillation level and barrel entry proof.”
This likely has serious implications for the secondary market. Booker’s Rye was a monster bottling at the time, though not an instant classic. Released at 13 years of age, it was bottled at 136.2 proof, and retailed for around $300. Only 10,000 bottles or so were released at the time, and in the two years since Jim Murray crowned it World Whisky of the Year, it has doubled in price on the secondary market.
Booker’s Rye has never been a top-tier collector’s item necessarily, but the news that it could be more than a decade until we see another batch could potentially add digits to the secondary market value.
Bill Thomas, vintage whiskey expert and proprietor of Jack Rose in Washington, D.C. (one of our Best Bars of 2018), described Booker’s Rye as somewhat of a cult classic. “The funny thing about Booker’s Rye is that it got off to a slow start,” says Thomas. “I think we got nine bottles from the wholesaler, because people weren’t into it. It sat on liquor stores shelves for a while as well.”
Thomas’s bar is one of the limited number of locations outside of Kentucky where you can guarantee yourself a pour these days. “We actually just put a new bottle out this week,” he says, “I locked on to it from the start, so we are in pretty good shape here at Jack Rose Dining Saloon. It has finally taken on that iconic status that you would expect. For whiskey drinkers it is still one of those must-try pours.”
Beam will hopefully get around to putting more away soon. Until then, ration what you have.