Reader Question: Why No Fourth Booker’s Bourbon Batch for 2020?

Bookers Batch 2020-03
Bookers Batch 2020-03 "Pigskin Batch." Courtesy Beam Suntory.

Booker’s lovers are a different breed if you ask me. No sooner had I posted my ranking of the 2020 Booker’s batches this week than I got the question from a reader about whether there was going to be a fourth Booker’s batch. 

Booker’s Batch No. 3 (Pigskin) is just hitting shelves now, and some of you want another one to, what, come out on the 28th? Slide into those shelves on New Year’s Eve?

To be fair, I asked the same question earlier this week, when I was gathering some information for my story. A press contact for the brand sent me back a prepared statement from Master Distiller Fred Noe.

Here’s what it said: 

“When I took over as Master Distiller, Dad made me promise to never touch his Booker’s Bourbon, and I can honestly say that I haven’t. We’re still crafting it the same way Dad did—in small batches, uncut and unfiltered to create a robust, bourbon full of those vanilla notes he always looked for. I keep a close eye on our bourbon to ensure it is up to Dad’s standards and aim for four batches each year, but ultimately it comes down to when the liquid is ready.

With that said, we have decided to only release three batches this year. The third and final batch for 2020, “Pigskin Batch,” will be released ahead of the holidays, and we look forward to sharing it with you.”

—Fred Noe, Beam Family 7th Generation Master Distiller

Typically when Fred speaks his peace, there’s an understood closing line of, “I have spoken.” But I can be bold enough to extrapolate out some things here, there’s a clear implication in this statement about the supply: Fred didn’t think it was ready.

Aging isn’t all science—there’s a bit of art and a bit of faith to be factored into the equation. The reality is that sometimes a six year bourbon only tastes five years old, and sometimes a ten year bourbon tastes like it’s fifteen. When the latter happens, great, send me a bottle. When the former happens, well, there’s a problem. 

This has happened to distilleries in the past. Typically when you see a production halt, or an announcement that a batch is being skipped, it’s because something wasn’t ready yet. Michter’s does this all the time with their older bottlings. There’s a reason you don’t see 25-Year every year: sometimes the 25-year isn’t right until it’s 26. 

Now, back to the Booker’s Batch question. 

If the bourbon wasn’t ready for 2020, Fred likely had four options:

  1. He could deliver four batches in 2020, and skip one in 2021.
  2. He could deliver three batches in 2020, and resume four batches for 2021.
  3. He could make several significantly smaller batches, shrinking the production of Booker’s for 2020.
  4. He could bottle something that wasn’t tasting right. 

I would not be so bold as to call myself a friend of Fred Noe, but I’ve shared enough meals, drinks, and honest conversations with the man to know that option four was never really an option. If it’s not ready, it’s not shipping. In the words of Tony Stark, “That’s how Dad did it… and it’s worked out pretty well so far.” And I know enough to know that everyone at Beam Suntory is smart enough not to argue with Fred—most certainly not when his father’s name is on the line. 

Beam doesn’t share a lot of numbers, so it’s possible that this year’s three batches were larger than the average—maybe there’s almost as much Booker’s on the market as usual. Maybe not. 

Sure, we can all complain like petulant children about not getting a fourth 2020 Booker’s batch. I might do that this afternoon—It’s something to do until the new year brings us Booker’s 2021-01. (And for the record, I’m not suggesting the reader question was petulant—like I said, I had the same thought). 

But the decision not to bottle a fourth batch this year is the same decision making that gave us that delicious Booker’s 30th a few years ago without an age statement. It would have been easy to take 16-year-old stock, slap an age statement on it, and sell it like crazy. But Fred decided to blend in some 9-year-old stock to balance it immaculately, at the sacrifice of that tater bait branding (I’m sure the 16-year-old whiskey was delicious, regardless).

There are plenty of good bottles to buy still in 2020 if you’ve got money to spend, now that a fourth batch is out of the question. Buy a few bottles of Old Tub, the $23 surprise value that came out early this year. Track down some Knob Creek 12 or 15. Or just keep it handy for next year.

Got a reader question for our editor-at-large to answer? Message Clay on Instagram @gclaywhittaker or email him at clay at gclaywhittaker dot com.

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.