Even in the face of the vodka invasion of the 1960s, Booker Noe never strayed from the vision of his grandfather, Jim Beam, and his American whiskey. Noe told executives to ignore vodka and the vodka-leaning light whiskey craze. As others were distracted chasing younger consumers, Jim Beam rose to the top with advertisements that mocked Russian vodka, and its whiskey earned the world’s bestselling bourbon title, a designation the brand never relinquished.
Noe helped popularize “small batching,” a technique used throughout whiskey history, but never previously marketed. Instead of dumping hundreds of barrels into one batch, Noe curated and mingled choice barrels. For the whiskey initially called Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon, the whiskey came straight from the barrel, uncut and unfiltered.
Noe’s larger-than-life self was most apparent when he was speaking about his namesake whiskey, Booker’s. “It’s got a particular taste you don’t have with the others that are chilled, charcoaled, and filtered and all that,” Booker Noe told The Age, an Australian newspaper, in 1993. “Back 100 years ago, that’s the way my grandfather, Jim Beam, sold whiskey.”
Noe passed away in 2004 and today, Jim Beam’s Booker Noe statue is one of the most visited tourist sites.
Liquid Legacy: Booker’s Rye
Released in 2016 to wide acclaim, including Whisky Advocate’s American Whiskey of the Year, this 13 year old Kentucky straight rye whiskey was Booker Noe’s final project. It’s layered in crème brûlée, sultry smokiness, raw honey, and nutmeg.
Find it: Reserve 101, Houston; Radiator Whiskey, Seattle; Sanfords, Astoria, New York; Butcher and the Rye, Pittsburgh.