The Story of the 1986 Booker BottleThis past winter while being stuck in the apartment while we were building our new house; I had started buying bottles of Bourbon for my new bar. I was hitting all the raffles of allocated bottles hoping to score a unicorn. I got lucky and picked up several Eagle Rare and Blanton’s, but never really scored the top bottles in the raffles.
After seeing one of my Facebook post about my search for Bourbon I was pleasantly surprised when Tom, an old friend reached out to me stating he had an old bottle of Bourbon and asked if I wanted to buy it. He told me it was an old bottle of Brooker’s and that it was signed by Booker Noe and dated 1994. Tom and I agreed on a price, based off MSRP of the 2022 Bookers. When I met Tom to buy the bottle he asked if I had time to hear the story of how it came into his procession.
The Back Story:
I had met and known Tom as the lead singer for the Spectors (a 50-60’s band) that Sharon and I followed and loved to dance too. Besides Tom, I worked with a couple of the other guys in the band. I think the reason we became friends with the band was they enjoyed watching us dance while they played. Tom was always around or in the car business. He was a salesman at Winnie’s Harley Davidson where I bought all three of my Harley motorcycles. When we moved to Texas in 2015, I had kind of lost track of Tom. Tom had recently been invited to become the lead singer for the Classic IV. They are currently out on a 62-city tour as part of the national “Happy Together Tour”. So back in the day when Tom wasn’t playing gig’s he drove a bus part time for Greyhound, as did the keyboard player at the time. I can’t remember his name, but let’s call him Eddie. One Monday Eddie called Tom and asked if he wanted to drive a bus full of liquor salesmen down to Jim Beam outside of Louisville KY. Tom jumped at the chance. Eddie started in Chicago, picked up guys along the way (Kankakee, Pontiac) coming down to Bloomington. Tom started in picking up guys in Peoria and then met up with Eddie in Bloomington. They picked guys up all the way through Illinois; Champaign, Urbana, Springfield, Effingham… you get the idea. They ended up with about 75 guys. When they got to the Jim Beam campus, their main marketing person jumped on the bus and told them that they had a special day in store. The guy proceeded to direct them to Booker Noe’s house in Clermont Kentucky. Booker and his son stopped traffic and all the liquor guys piled out for an old-fashioned BBQ in Booker’s backyard. Tom and Eddie started to leave when Booker asked where they were going. They said they were going to go find a place to park the busses, get some food and take a nap. Booker wasn’t having it and asked Tom if he thought they could back the busses down the alley beside his house. So that is what they did. The liquor salespeople all went to work mixing, mingling, and hob knobbing with the Jim Beam folks. Tom and Eddie headed up on the back porch and got some food. There was a three-piece band playing live music, during the BBQ. When the band took a break, the band came up to where Tom and Eddie were at to get some food and eat. Eddie asked if they minded if Tom and Eddie did a few songs while they were on break. They were pretty hesitant to allow them to use their gear, but finally agreed. So, they took the stage; Tom on the microphone and Eddie on keyboards. They started off with Blue Suede Shoes. They played 2 more songs and then one of the liquor distributor guys asked if he could play drums with them. After 5 – 6 songs the house band decided they better get back to work. The crowd booed them and begged Tom and Eddie to keep playing. Tom and Eddie ended up playing the next 2 hours until the event was over!
When they were done and time to load the busses up for the trip back to Illinois. Booker called Tom over. “What in the world are you doing driving a bus?” Tom explained they are touring in a band and drive busses during the week to stay out of trouble. Booker then called his son Fred over to go into the cellar and get a bottle in a crate, not a cheap bottle in a cardboard box. “That was some of the best Rock and Roll I have ever seen and heard!” exclaimed Booker. Booker signed the crate / bottle with “Thanks, you were great! Booker Noe 4/22/1994”. Booker sadly died 2 years later in 1996. The Bottle came from Booker’s basement from his own personal collection, never intended for the public.
That is the story of how the Tom got the bottle. Tom doesn’t drink alcohol, and took the bottle home and put in in the kitchen cabinets where it stayed for 29 years. The first time the bottle had been taken out of the box and the tape on the wrapping paper broken was to send me photos of the bottle. As Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story.
I was super excited to have my hands on a bottle of Bookers and took it out of the box and was studying my find and was ready to open it up, when curiosity got the better of me. They didn’t start selling bookers to the public at first. It was only for Jim Beam executives or as a very special barging tool, like a bottle to the CEO of Binny’s to get a new product into their stores. My bottle was 1986, and they didn’t sell to the public until 1988 in very limited amounts. My spider senses were up, and I knew I had something special and worth way more than I paid. I had told Tom that if I sold it, I would split the profits with him. I am a consumer, not a collector. I reached out to a couple well known Bourbon collectors and they valued the bottle at $2,500 to $3,000. I still wanted to drink it. I decided to reach out to Jim Beam to see if they had any interest in having the bottle back in their archives. I filled out a generic web form and within 30 minutes they were emailing me they wanted the bottle. I was happy they wanted it. I explained that I thought it was up to a $5K bottle and that I was a consumer not a collector and it belonged at Jim Beam. They were quick to let me know they valued it at around $2500, not 5K. 20 – 25 emails back and forth we agreed on the find deal. I didn’t want the money I wanted product that I can drink and share. Worked out great for them and me, and they had product.
I ended up with 2 bottles each of the following: Bookers, Baker’s 7, Baker’s 13, Knob Creek 9, Knob Creek 12, Basil Hayden 10, Basil Hayden Subtle Smoke. 1 of each signed by Fred and Freddie and 1 each to drink. A private VIP tasting, tour, and dinner at their restaurant.
I had mostly been working with their Historian Jim. Jim called us the morning we were driving down to make sure we were would be there and to apologize that he wasn’t going to be able to meet us, but that Marsha Beam, the director of hospitality, would be taking care of us. Marsha did not want me to leave the bottle in the car and instructed me to please bring it in and not leave in the hot car.
When I walked into the visitor center carrying the crated Bookers, we were greeted by name and that they were expecting us. We had a private tour and tasting. We got to go places on the campus that the normal tours do not. During the 3 years of Covid they built the Booker distillery. As you enter the Booker distillery there is a display case on the wall with bottles of Booker’s from each year. They had a 1984 and a 1987 but NO 1986. Thus, the reason they wanted my bottle so bad. I got to tastes some amazing juice. Knob Creek 18, Hardin Creek Jacob’s Well, Little Book batch 5 & 6, and the current Booker’s release Apprentice Batch. Frank could see that I knew a little and then preceded to go get another very rare juice. I got to tase the 10 millionth barrel that was never sold and they were almost out of. It was extremely good even at 142.5 proof. After the tasting Frank took us back to Marsha that then took us to the Kitchen for an early dinner. Marsha sat and chatted with us and even helped Sharon pick out a cocktail that she enjoyed. We had an amazing dinner and desserts. Then back to Marsha’s office where she had a wagon loaded up with half my bottles and some paperwork to sign. I say half my bottles as the set of signed bottles were locked up in Fred’s office and nobody had a key to be able to get them. They stated they will ship them to me. What a great day and experience!
A 1984 Bottle
A 1987 Bottle, mine will go right between them.
The haul safe at home:
Hope you enjoyed the story of the Booker Bottle.