Handle The Proof: Booker's Bourbon

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I must confess that Booker's is one of my favorite bourbons, so buying a bottle for this piece was hardly a chore.

Part of the Knob Creek line, it is aged up to 8 years and bottled uncut at its natural proof, generally around the 125 mark. This makes Booker's an acquired taste, really, as it becomes hard to avoid the sharp aroma and vicious sting of alcohol.

Without a splash of water, the bourbon hits your nose with burnt caramel, freshly lacquered oak, charcoal, saltwater and--if you concentrate--the vaguest hint of vanilla. Sip it and you find more oak, along with an intertwined black pepper-coffee-tobacco smoke sensation. This is followed by more wood in a long and quite powerful finish.

Complex, yes; intense, certainly; for everyone? hardly. Yet what makes Booker's so interesting is the way it takes to a splash or two of cold water. It is easy to adapt, without watering it down.

One splash--about a ice cube's worth--of water softens the threatening aroma of alcohol. You begin to pick up on vanilla, clover and a clean balsa wood smell, in addition to the smoky, sugary oak.

Just that little amount of water smooths out the flavor, as well. The alcohol disperses, leaving a salty, floral taste followed quickly by pepper and vanilla. Surrounding this is the distinct smack of bourbon, which means burnt wood and caramel. More water tames the best ever further.

So Booker's can be what you want it to be.

The brand was introduced in 1992 as a gift for friends of then Bourbon Ambassador (that's what it said on his business card) Booker Noe, bottled straight from the barrel. It soon worked its way into the Knob Creek, Basil Hayden's, Baker's lineup you see on shelves today.

Taken neat--which is generally how I drink it--the burn of 60-plus percent alcohol does tend to interfere in the long run.

No matter. I still consider it one of the best.

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