Behind The Scenes Of A Booker’s Roundtable

I’ve been a Booker’s bourbon fan for a long time. When I got into bourbon, Booker’s was one of the first bottles I spent more than $30+ on. Booker’s was also the first barrel proof bourbon I tried and it has been a go-to of mine ever since. Last month I was invited to participate in a Booker’s Roundtable Tasting, and I jumped at the opportunity.

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The process makes more sense if I introduce the batch first. Here is Fred Noe introducing Booker’s batch 2016-03 “Toogies Invitation”:

Batch 2016-03, ‘Toogie’s Invitation,’ is named in honor of Marilyn “Toogie” Dick and her longstanding friendship with my parents, Booker and Annis Noe. With a bond that goes back to their high school days, Toogie has been part of the family since before I can remember and, when Dad first introduced Booker’s Bourbon, Toogie had a standing invitation to gather at our kitchen table, along with friends and family, and select batches of Dad’s namesake bourbon. Later in life, Toogie joined Dad and Mom all over the world during their travels, and she could always be found making Dad’s favorite meal, her famous fried chicken, for him and any guests that he invited to dinner after a long day at the distillery. Toogie herself, along with the Booker’s Bourbon Roundtable, helped me to select this batch at her restaurant in Bardstown, Ky. I know Dad would be proud to have this batch of his bourbon named after his dear friend, Toogie.

This year’s roundtable was comprised of the following people: Fred Noe (Beam Master Distiller), Toogie, Chuck Cowdrey, Tony Sachs, John McCarthy and myself. After arriving at Kurtz Restaurant in Bardstown, Ky, we get straight to it. The table was square, but I wasn’t going to nitpick. There are three bottles lined up on the table labeled A, B and C. With each bottle Fred runs through the batch make up. Each batch includes close to 350 barrels pulled from different warehouses and levels. All barrels ranged in age from six to eight years.

Each bottle is passed around the table for everyone to take a pour. Then, the fun begins. Everyone starts to taste and gives their thoughts. This was my first roundtable, but I quickly found out an ongoing debate persists. “This is good but is it the most “Bookeresque” from the group?” A spirited discussion continues while everyone tastes through the bourbons again. We make closing arguments for the bourbon we liked best. It reminds me of the blind scoring done at BBQ competitions. We taste and make our notes, but the discussion is reserved until everyone has had a chance to form an opinion. Fred could easily say “I like this one best, and that’s what we’re going with” but he doesn’t. He guides the tasting and welcomes the discussion.  Finally, a blind vote is taken.

Bookers dinner

After voting everyone moves from the tasting room to the dinner table. Ms. Toogies famous fried chicken is served along with country ham (cured by Freddie Noe IV). The food is excellent and plentiful. Halfway through dinner, the stories begin to flow. First, from Fred and then from Toogie. Bourbon marketing has gotten so inflated that we forget a lot of these stories are real. Toogie tells stories about Colonel Sanders coming by Kurtz sell her mom “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Then she tells stories about traveling with Booker and Annis. According to her, Booker loved to be around people and would often have her bring the leftover meals from the restaurant, and he would invite friends from the distillery to the house. I have to assume there was some bourbon involved. This portion was the real treat of the whole experience.

After dinner, the winner is announced. Bottle “B” is the batch selected for the next Booker’s roundtable batch. Turns out it’s one of the youngest Booker’s ever released. I’ve always wanted more info about Booker’s batches, so I hope y’all will find this interesting. This batch has around 375 barrels in it. For batch 2016-03 here is the break down (I wasn’t able to get the exact age for each barrel but they were 6-7 years):

  • 13% came from “G” house stored on the 7th floor of a 9 story house that was 133.29 proof
  • 11% came from “D” house stored on the 4th floor of a 9 story house that was 124.10 proof
  • 25% came from “E” house stored on the 5th floor of a 9 story house that was 125.85 proof
  • 7% came from “P” house stored on the 5th floor of a 7 story house that was 124.98 proof
  • 34% came from “H” house stored on the 7th floor of a 9 story house that was 130.39 proof
  • 10% came from “F” house stored on the 6th floor of a 9 story house that was 125.42 proof

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I look forward to seeing the reviews of this bourbon (mine is coming tomorrow). This was great experience and I’m grateful that Fred and the Beam team let me be a part of it.


    Great read, I have always been curious of the process that goes on behind the scenes. Look forward to the review, bluegrass was great but not big man, small batch great.

    Legendary families in the bourbon world. You are one lucky dude to have this life time memory!

    PS: I’m not jealous!?

    I could smell the bourbon and fried chicken as I was reading. I’m sure it was definitely a good time, just picked up a bottle of another bottle of Bookers! Love hearing these stories and I’m glad that bookers is very available…

    Great article! Always love your blogs and this one is great as well. My wife and I are huge fans of Kurtz fried chicken and stop there each time we’re through Bardstown. What an amazing experience to sit down with Fred Noe himself and taste samples of one of my all time fav bourbons. You’re a fortunate man my friend and I look forward to your next blog.

    If they made scented candles that smelled like Booker’s, I’d burn them night and day. It is in my opinion the most fragrant pour out there, not to mention the rich, complex flavor. Looking forward to the review…

    I’m confused. Where all three bottles/batches fully batch processed prior to the tasting? If so what happens to the batches not selected? Do they simply release these at a later point in time?

    Yes, they were all fully blended batches. The barrels go back for other bottlings but since some of the barrels overlapped with other batches that specific batch will never be released.

    Many thanks for the article and this answer, in particular. I’ve often wondered if the non-roundtable Booker’s batches were just the batches that a roundtable passed over.

    Great article and it answered three of the questions that I had last night when tasting my bottle of Toogie’s Invitation. Thank you!

    I’m 67 but just started whisky a few years ago. One of my first in the cigar lounge after several scotches previous weeks was bookers recommended by bartender. It wasn’t till third one he told it was about 128 proof. Loved it ever since. Got nice bottle in the box last Christmas. This was informative to this new guy. Congrats on once in lifetime event. I subscribe to Chuck Cowdrey blog. Bet he also was neat in person.

    Great writeup, Blake! It might be time to revisit your Booker’s Rountable article from a couple of years ago. Especially after the small handful of roundtable releases over the past 15 months or so. Cheers!

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