Classification: Blended Straight Whiskeys
Company: Beam Suntory
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Release Date: September 2023
Age: NAS (Blend of 4, 5, 9, 10, 17, and 18 year old whiskeys)
Mashbill: Undisclosed percentages of blend of one malt whiskey, two ryes, and four bourbons:
-18 year old Kentucky straight bourbon
-17 year old Kentucky straight bourbon
-10 year old Kentucky straight rye
-9 year old Kentucky straight Bourbon
-5 year old straight malt finished in applewood smoked barrels
-4 year old Kentucky straight bourbon
-4 year old Kentucky straight rye
MSRP: $150 / 750mL (2023)
Little Book Chapter 7 “In Retrospect” is the seventh chapter in the Little Book Whiskey series. “In Retrospect” is a blend of seven cask strength American whiskeys – one from each of the brand's previous six released chapters and a seventh new addition. According to the company’s press release, “The release is a reflection on [Freddie] Noe's past creations since the inception of his blended whiskey series and a nod towards what's ahead as he continues to explore new horizons of American Whiskey in his newly minted role of Master Distiller, Fred B. Noe Distillery."
Freddie Noe was announced as the 8th generation master distiller in 2022. He states, "Being named Master Distiller was a humbling moment for me, and it inspired me to reflect on the whiskey journey I've been on so far. Little Book is a big part of that journey. Looking back on previous chapters' liquid streams with fresh eyes to create something entirely new was an incredibly rewarding challenge – and a testament to the fact that there are so many possibilities yet to be uncovered in American Whiskey."
Beyond a strong initial impression of caramel, the aroma offers an elaborate array of red fruits. Their effectiveness cannot be understated as they are further enhanced as bubble gum, coconut, and floral notes arrive. Adding even more depth are scents of walnut, clove, and corn grain, creating a heavy-handed backend. It isn’t the most coherent aroma but it continually adds layers of interesting scents making you thoroughly engaged.
The palate begins fruit-forward with apricot, passion fruit, and apple combining to effective results. This is when a delicate maltiness begins to pull through adding a degree of lightness to the sip. Soon after, caramel sweetness begins to take over and this is when the palate is at its most straightforward. The palate’s intensity never revs up too strongly, which allows the whiskey to drink much more tempered than its proof suggests it should. This surprising delicateness keeps the whiskey from making an immediate impression, yet allows its flavors to gently simmer and stew.
This whiskey’s proof is most noticeable during its finish as rye spice takes hold. It draws out notes of dry oak, clove, and cigar box, which are more traditional in nature compared to what the palate offers. A touch of smokiness can be found throughout, though it is careful to never overextend. There is also a low-grade mustiness found near the end of the finish that lingers. The whiskey’s higher aged components come out most at this time and provide a happy contrast to the palate’s fruitiness.
Blending with just a few components is difficult - even if they are of the same type of whiskey. Now take that and blend with three different types of whiskeys, and add in a 14 year age range between the youngest and oldest whiskeys which includes a finished whiskey, for a total of seven different blended components. It’s a tall order, and it's surprising any company regardless of its size would attempt it, let alone release it as one of their high profile limited edition releases for the year.
Little Book Chapter 7 “In Retrospect” is an amalgam of components of each of the Little Book Chapters that came before it. It’s unknown if this was by design from the start, though there is little common thread between each of the Chapters that pulls this concept together thematically. Perhaps it's an idea that developed on a whim or a personal challenge Noe put on himself to see if he could pull it off. Although it comes across as a “kitchen sink” style of whiskey blending on paper, in reality, pulling off this kind of blend with its one malt whiskey, two ryes, and four bourbons isn’t for a faint of heart would-be whiskey blender or master distiller. The complexity of this blend took an incredible amount of skill, determination, and likely, good ole Kentucky grit.
With a blend of this magnitude, it's important to not make it muddled and allow as many of its components to stand out on their own, but also play nice with each other. And that is the truest takeaway from “In Retrospect,” Noe used the whiskey’s components to not only shine individually, but to build off one another. These layers of fruit found on the nose and palate likely have to do with the malt and rye components, and the rye is also harnessed for its spice during the whiskey’s finish. Likewise, the bourbon components add layers of caramel sweetness throughout and its aged bourbon components are most prominent at the tail end of the sip. Noe was also able to dial back the overall intensity of the sip and allow the flavors to be distinguished from each other despite its 118 proof. There aren't many blenders that can pull this off with the notable exceptions of Four Roses and Barrell Craft Spirits, which finds “In Retrospect” among small and respectable company.
First and foremost, Little Book saw a $25 increase over the previous year’s edition. That’s a big jump, but as we’ve been saying in our Four Roses 2023 Limited Edition Small Batch and Old Forester 2023 Birthday Bourbon reviews, 2023 is the year of big price jumps and brands playing catch up when it comes to MSRP and what the market is willing to pay.
Regardless of what others are doing, is Little Book Chapter 7 “In Retrospect” worth its asking price? Going into this whiskey you must be aware, like 2023’s Daniel Weller Emmer Wheat Bourbon, this isn’t a showstopping whiskey at first sip. “In Retrospect” is a complex and much more sophisticated whiskey than most currently on the market. Many customers like to be instantly wowed, especially in the higher price ranges, and producers hoping to continually satisfy need big, intense, and overtly flavorful whiskeys that immediately make an impact.
“In Retrospect” is not that kind of whiskey. It’s a sipping whiskey through and through, and if the idea of taking time to dissect a whiskey to identify its parts and how they interact and enhance or distract for its other components sounds daft, this style of whiskey simply isn't for you regardless of its price. What you are offered with “In Retrospect” is a master distiller pushing himself (perhaps to a new threshold even), to a place American whiskeys rarely venture to. A whiskey containing seven different components from three styles of whiskeys, with a 14 year age range just doesn’t happen. As such, its asking price is more than reasonable and then some.
A fascinating blend of seven whiskeys finds a perfect sweet spot in the Venn diagram of complexity and depth.
If you find yourself in a store and happen to see “In Retrospect” on the shelf and you glance at its neck tag, you may see its list of blended components and think it's a recipe for disaster. In truth, I wouldn’t fault you as this “kitchen sink” style of blend rarely comes out great. “In Retrospect” is a notable exception, and when you take this whiskey as a whole, it truly shines. Like many Little Book releases, it goes for sophistication, both in how it presents itself and in its delivery. It wants you to spend time with it and isn’t trying to make an immediate impression. It’s gentle in almost every aspect of its sip despite its 118 proof. In actuality, as varied and storied as the blend looks on paper, the whiskey largely plays it safe. There aren’t wide swings of odd flavors here. It’s tight and surprisingly controlled. Newcomers may be bored, while seasoned drinkers will probably get the most out of it given that they’re willing to put the time in to dissect its parts. It goes equal in its depth and complexity, which is exceedingly rare in modern whiskeys. Every distiller and producer wants to make an immediate impact due to the increased competition and the sheer number of limited releases on the market. “In Retrospect” as its name aptly suggests, asks the drinker to slow down and reflect on what it offers. And in today’s rabid whiskey market, that’s not a bad thing.