Baker’s is named after Baker Beam, its namesake creator, a former distiller at Jim Beam and the grandnephew of Jim Beam himself. Alongside Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s and Booker’s, it rounds out the last of Jim Beam’s small-batch bourbon series. Of course, one tends to be skeptical of small-batch bourbons produced by big-name liquor companies. But I gave Baker’s a try, seeing if small-batch taste and feel can come from a voluminous operation.
There’s nothing about the Baker’s bottle that hints at the remarkable. A standard 750-milliliter long-neck bottle with a wax seal over the stopper elicits little drama, though it likely saves Beam a few cents in manufacturing. The medium-brown caramel-colored bourbon is 53.5% ABV and aged for seven years in American oak casks, so the expectation for both smoothness and strength is not unwarranted. Baker’s supposedly uses the Jim Beam standard sour mash recipe in this whiskey, described as “jug yeast”. “Jug” refers to the jugs of yeast Jim Beam would bring home with him at the end of the workday; rumor has it that was his insurance against something going wrong with the yeast at the Jim Beam plant.
My first pour coats the inside of the glass nicely and before even hitting it with a splash of water, the first nose is a bit on the alcoholic side, followed by noticeable hints of citrus, caramel, cedar and vanilla. Without cutting it or airing it out sufficiently, the first sip is somewhat harsh and unwilling to release significant flavors. It’s not overpoweringly strong, and the alcohol burn comes with a bit of sweetness trailing in the back half. The finish is on the dry side and fails to taper pleasurably, ending in abrupt fashion. After a few minutes and a small cut with filtered water, things change dramatically, and for the better
Mild creaminess, tart cherry and oak-cask tannins join in mid-palate, along with a peppery spice that bites the tongue pleasantly.
What was once almost one-dimensional in flavor gets the gift of nuanced complexity that belies the 107 proof label. Mouthfeel is quite good in spite of the cutting; woodiness and a gentle push of sweet fruit opens up. The alcohol burn takes a back seat to the harmony of multiple flavors. Mild creaminess, tart cherry and oak-cask tannins join in mid-palate, along with a peppery spice that bites the tongue pleasantly — and it’s all far more balanced than before. The finish loses its abruptness, drawn out longer with vanilla, orange peel and some brown sugar mixed in for good measure, none of it overly sweet as you may expect from a bourbon. The finish lasts a bit less than 30 seconds, capping off a surprisingly complex whiskey.
As good as sister whiskey Knob Creek is, a drink from the Baker’s bottle is slightly deeper, with a richer flavor profile. Baker’s gives up two years of aging to Knob Creek, but tacks on seven more proof points for more oomph. Baker’s more surprisingly qualities, when cut, make it worth the extra cash — however, Baker’s isn’t for bourbon novices, with its high ABV and nuance that may be lost on greener drinkers (a Woodford Reserve might be better suited to novices, what with its consistency and lower 90.5 proof). It’s a gift to find the transformative nature of Baker’s when conventional wisdom about big brands says it’s hard to find. Baker’s might use a standard mash from Jim Beam, but the result is a whiskey that’s far from standard fare.