My reviews of the 2020 Booker’s batches do a sufficient job articulating how I feel about the brand as a whole: Absolutely enjoyable whiskey for a perhaps unreasonable price. Despite their batched nature, there are certain expectations with Booker’s, be it the 6-7 year age statement, rickhouse details, 120+ proof range, chewy mouthfeel, lengthy finish, etc. All of this backed up by Jim Beam’s distinct flavor profile results in a product line that, for better or for worse, is decidedly light on surprises. This is where Little Book comes in. An annual release described as Freddie Noe’s own whiskey, Little Book sets out to blend together “different spirits to create something completely new” each year, referring to each release as a “chapter.”
To that end, each release has been distinct from the others, with last year’s Chapter 4: Lessons Honored being a blend of three straight whiskeys: one 8-year high-rye whiskey, one 7-year bourbon, and one 4-year brown rice bourbon. This isn’t the first time Jim Beam have made use of a brown rice bourbon: Their Signature Craft line from a few years ago boasted an 11-year brown rice bourbon that provided some curious results. The age on Lessons Honored isn’t nearly as impressive, but the bottling proof is much higher at 122.8 (as opposed to 90), so perhaps it’s a good trade? Only one way to find out. As with the Hudson Baby Bourbon, a sample of this was provided by David at Whiskey Row.
Nose: Brown sugar and a savory citrus note. Dry wood and a light cinnamon seasoning. Molasses, corn, and lemon/orange. Odd combination of nuts with slight effervescence and floral notes. Toffee, rose, and honey. Reminiscent of honeyed black tea (oolong). Maybe a touch of clove to go with the cinnamon.
Palate: Spicy, like having Chinese or Cajun food. Starts off with a Booker’s-like nuttiness before quickly letting spicy rye notes take over. Black pepper, paprika, savory citrus, and hot jerky. Oak, molasses, and honey. Some orange citrus elements.
Finish: Lingering, building heat from the pepper notes continues. A bit of rye spice, cinnamon, and a bit more of that savory citrus. The floral/effervescent touches return here and there, but it’s ultimately all about the spice.
I’ve rarely had whiskeys that I’d describe as spicy above all else. Even rye whiskeys, which have a reputation for being spicy, tend to be sweeter and more herbal than outright spicy in my experience. By contrast, Lessons Honored is quick to make you aware of its heated nature. It doesn’t exactly get my nose running, but I do find myself thinking about Chinese and Cajun food while sipping this. The experience I get here is truly unlike anything else I’ve had. Although the individual components aren’t completely unfamiliar to me, the way they come together is truly fascinating.
Where most brands seek out various barrel finishes in an effort to make their expressions more unique, the Little Book line seems more interested in unique whiskey blends. Furthermore, these finishing techniques almost always result in sweeter, more indulgent expressions. Lessons Honored feels like a bit of a trend-bucker in this sense, and I’m about it. The main limiting factor for this is (was) the price, which I saw reach $150, but could be found for closer to $120 in certain markets. Either way, you’re clearly paying for the limited edition status and different experience above all else. And for this particular drinker, that experience would be intriguing enough to consider a purchase, since I killed my sample rather quickly and longed for more to revisit, both in the short and long run.