As I observed when writing about Baker’s Bourbon back in mid-2020, it doesn’t take a whiz to note that this brand has always been the oddball black sheep of the Jim Beam Small Batch Bourbon Collection. It bears that title thanks to the way it falls perfectly between established, major brands—the standard Baker’s has an age statement that is younger than the cheaper, high-value, 9-year-old Knob Creek, but is simultaneously lower in strength than the more expensive Booker’s. As it existed for years, Baker’s seemed designed to appeal to an extremely small slice of the Jim Beam bourbon demographic, people who weren’t served by Knob Creek, its 120-proof single barrel version, or Booker’s. Perhaps fittingly, Baker’s was named after a guy who also tends to fly under the radar, Jim Beam grand-nephew Baker Beam, who worked as a distiller for the company for 38 years, now at age 85. Suffice to say, it was clear to many people for a long time that Baker’s needed some kind of additional feature to help it stand out.
Thus, the brand’s 2019 redesign and transformation into a single barrel bourbon, which added the allure of single barrel variation while keeping a 7-year age statement and 107 proof point. Although I doubt this truly moved a needle in a huge way for the Baker’s brand, it was a welcome expansion of what “Baker’s” truly signified, and something that helped give the brand a rationale for its existence.
Now, we have a new special release in the Baker’s lineup, one that experiments with a significantly higher level of maturation. Specifically, this release retains the 107 proof point but bumps the age statement up to 11 years, 8 months, with the whiskey purportedly coming from “some of Baker Beam’s favorite warehouses on the James B. Beam Distilling Co.’s campus in Clermont, KY,” according to the company. It’s dubbed “Baker’s Bourbon Exclusive Selection,” a limited edition release with an MSRP of $100. That’s an unsurprisingly decent jump up from the roughly $60 price tag of the standard Baker’s—notable, especially when you compare it to the similar $60 price tag of the Knob Creek 12 Year. As in the past, the Baker’s brand demands a bit of a premium for its single barrel nature.
Can it justify it, though? Well, let’s get to tasting and find out.
On the nose, this is instantly identifiable as some well-aged Beam, and that’s a good thing. Hints of sweetened peanut butter and almond brittle swirl around cocoa and a little oak funk, along with caramel candies and some very dark fruit. It does indeed smell like a significantly more oak-accented version of the standard Baker’s, and the nose calls to mind certain aspects of the Knob Creek 12, which makes sense given the similar proof point and age statement, in addition to the obvious fact that they have the same mash bill.
On the palate, though, the brands start to diverge a bit more. Here I’m getting more of that very dark fruit, a slightly tart strain of something like blackberry/currants, along with slightly bitter molasses sweetness. There’s some peppery spice, and more sweet baking spice notes emerging over time, but what quickly becomes more dominant is the deeper and more commanding oakiness. The wood here has contributed minor tannins but significant bitterness, drying out the finish of this dram in a way that makes it perhaps less universally easy to appreciate, and more aggressive on the palate. Tasting side by side with the Knob Creek 12, I found the Knob Creek to maintain a more pleasing balance of wood, spice and caramelized sugars—its oakiness works in a more subtle harmony than the showier oak notes of the Baker’s Exclusive Selection. Rather, I’m reminded more here of the Knob Creek 15 limited release from last year, which I felt may have pushed past the point of diminishing returns.
With that said, this dram was one that continued to improve as I let it sit in the glass, with the dark fruitiness and caramelized sugars becoming more accessible over time. This might be a bottle that therefore benefits from a few weeks or months of being open, but I can’t say for certain at the moment. I can say that this is a significant change from the 7-year-old standard Baker’s product, more in line with a significantly more mature Beam flavor profile, but considering the difference in price points I’d be hard pressed to go seeking this rather than Knob Creek 12, or a single barrel, cask-strength Knob Creek release.
Distillery: Jim Beam
City: Clermont, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 53.5% (107 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $100 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.