On a recent episode of Pawn Stars, someone brought in a Star Wars figure that was still in its original package. It sold for hundreds. I had that figure as a child. I didn’t stash it away in my sock drawer hoping it’d one day be worth more than what I (my mom) paid for it, I played with it. It made me think of all those poor Pappy 23 bottles out there that’ll never be opened. Never be played with. They’ll just get bounced around from owner to owner to owner. Pappy is made by Buffalo Trace, the distillery that can do no wrong. They could make something that was matured in a sardine barrel and people would line up for it. Meanwhile, perfectly drinkable bourbons are left to slumber on the shelves, waiting for their prince to come.
“Kinda like you in Junior High. Remember when you’d sit on the sidelines waiting for someone to ask you to dance?”
“Thanks for sharing that with the world.”
Baker’s is an overlooked and underappreciated whiskey (at least where I live). It was launched in 1992 as part of Beam’s Small Batch Collection. In the 1990s, bourbon was still deep in the undertow of the great white liquor (tequila, vodka, gin) wave. It was seen by many as a drink for a certain class of people (I wrote that as diplomatically as I could). The small batch range was an attempt to make bourbon look more exclusive, like scotch. The phrase “small batch” came from Booker Noe, Beam’s master distiller for 27 years. Some of you might be wondering what “small batch” even means? It means nothing. Small batch is a marketing angle. A couple hundred barrels were used to make Baker’s Small Batch.
Baker’s Small Batch was 107 proof (53.5%). In the early 90s, bourbons rarely eclipsed the 100 proof (50%) mark. Back then, bourbon wasn’t something you analyzed, it was something you drank from a tumbler with ice. Crafting an optimal sipping experience wasn’t really a priority at the time. Baker’s was made to be enjoyed all by itself, no assembly required. It also had an age statement. 7 years. Very few bourbons come with an age statement, especially these days. It really backs you into a corner. You can’t have a single drop of whiskey younger than the age on the label. This explains why most distillers (in the US) use (at least) 4-year-old whiskey, and leave their labels ageless. In America, you only have to disclose the age of your whiskey if it’s under 4. A few years ago, Baker’s went from a couple hundred barrels to just one.
I find most whiskey websites to be a complete waste of time. Page after page of predictable, mind-numbing clichés. Baker’s is one of the better ones. After you enter your bottle’s serial number (found on the neck), the site will tell you where your barrel was matured, for how long, the fill month, the dump month, and the hottest and coldest temperatures your barrel had to endure.
My Baker’s Single Barrel:
6th Floor, Rack 43
Filled on January 2014
Hottest temp. 98 degrees Fahrenheit
Coldest temp. -5 degrees Fahrenheit
Dumped on February 2022
8 years, 1 month old
Busy nose. Herbal, fresh cracked pepper, crème brûlée. A dash of oak. Reminds me of a Tennessee whiskey, especially on the palate. Decent mouthfeel. Baker’s Single Barrel is a solid product worthy of your time and money. A whisk(e)y enthusiast should be someone who’s interested in collecting experiences, not trophies. Is Baker’s a good whiskey? I think so, but if you want to know for certain, you’re going to have to try it for yourself. In the meantime, I suggest the following:
Walk into a liquor store, close your eyes, and grab a bottle.
It might be good, it might be bad, but at least it won’t be Buffalo Trace. (If it is Buffalo Trace, put it back and try again.)