It’s an unfortunate reality of both the beer and whiskey industries that for the majority of each’s existence, they have undeniably been “boys clubs.” The two fields are largely male dominated, not only in terms of brewery and distillery ownership, but on the creative and technical sides of the operations as well. Only in recent years have efforts truly been made to make the space a more egalitarian one, but you can be sure that there are still a whole lot of dudes in beards and flannel at the top structure of most breweries and distilleries.
It’s certainly a step in the right direction, then, to see that the first release in Booker’s Bourbon 2018 Collection, “Kathleen’s Batch,” is not only named after a woman but selected by a panel of them. The whiskey is named in honor of Kathleen DiBenedetto, a longtime Beam employee who was instrumental as a brand manager of the Small Batch Bourbon Collection, which includes such well-known Beam brands as Baker’s, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s and Booker’s. The last was of course named for Booker Noe, the brand’s legendary master distiller, who worked closely with DiBenedetto as Beam first brought its Small Batch Collection to the public, altering the American whiskey landscape in the process. DiBenedetto is one of only a handful of women who has been inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, and today still works for Beam Suntory as Senior Director of On-Premise and Luxury Marketing.
Together with seventh generation Beam distiller Fred Noe and a panel of female whiskey writers invited to partake in a selection process, DiBenedetto chose the liquid that would become “Kathleen’s Batch.” According to the disillery:
Like all batches of Booker’s Bourbon, “Kathleen’s Batch” is bottled uncut at its natural proof, of 127.4. The batch was aged for 6 years, 3 months and 14 days and offers notes of robust caramel, leather and floral honey with a well-balanced, strong yet sweet finish complemented by notes of toasted oak. The batch is now available nationwide in limited quantities with a suggested retail price of $69.99-74.99 for a 750ml bottle.
So all that said—and a props to Beam for honoring DiBenedetto—let’s get to tasting.
Sampling neat, Kathleen’s Batch is intense on the nose, offering up syrupy dark sugar notes of molasses and vanilla. Dark fruit is prevalent as well, with strong impressions of cherry and plum. Repeated sniffs present more spice, and a character that is something like “ginger molasses cookie,” with additional notes of clove and hints of fresh grass. The booze, unsurprisingly, is intense and stinging at 127.4 proof. Immediate impression: This is very assertive whiskey, and probably one that will benefit from a little water.
On the palate, the flavors are likewise intense and monolithic in size. Kathleen’s Batch is sweet and rich in equal measure, with ample servings of dusty rye grain, big orange citrus, apricot-like stone fruit and cinnamon spice. I’m getting a whole lot of rye character here, and massive caramel, with some of the same plum and vanilla from the nose. Then there’s the fiery alcohol heat, which is imposing to say the least—you can try drinking this neat, but it feels like you’d only do that to show you can. A splash of water helps tame some of the fire on the palate, but not quite as much on the nose, while revealing some more citrus notes and cardamom, as well as hints of an almost roasty/smoky quality.
Put simply, this is whiskey for when you pretty much want to blow the doors off in terms of the flavor intensity. It’s not particularly spicy, given the ABV—this is more of a bourbon for lovers of very rich, sweet, caramel/brown sugar/vanilla flavor profiles. I can only deduce that Kathleen likes her bourbons big and bold, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Distillery: Jim Beam
City: Clermont, KY
Style: Overproof cask-strength bourbon
ABV: 63.5% (127.4 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $70-75 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.