Distillers Masterpiece 20yr Open Bottle Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished Port Wine Casks


SPIRIT: Bourbon

VOLUME: 750 ml

ABV/PROOF: 50/100

AGE: 20 years

Booker Noe was the Nostradamus of American whiskey. Decades before uncut, unfiltered whiskey became trendy, he saw where tastes were headed and cleared the path with his Booker’s bourbon. In the early 1990s he created the Beam Small Batch Collection, a portfolio of (relatively, for the time) high-priced bourbons including Knob Creek, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden, long before most people thought of well-crafted American whiskey as anything but an oxymoron. 

These innovations made him a legend. He is less well known for yet another creation, Distiller’s Masterpiece – but he should be. Introduced in 1999, it foreshadowed many of the qualities that define luxury bourbon today. Noe purposely tried to mimic a luxury Scotch: The first release came in a sensuously curved bottle fitted within a bespoke wood frame. The whiskey inside was 18 years old. And it was finished in Cognac casks bought from the famed Fussigny house, a technique common in Scotch but unheard of in bourbon at the time. A year later Noe released another edition, this time at 20 years old and finished in port casks. 

Both releases were only available at the Jim Beam gift shop, and came with a then-unheard of price of $250. Sadly, Noe’s final innovation languished on the shelves. He died in 2004, his legacy secure but Distiller’s Masterpiece all but forgotten.

And then, like a film that gets panned on opening but later develops a cult following among critics, collectors began to seek out Distiller’s Masterpiece. The connection with Booker Noe was irresistible. But so too was the high quality of the liquid inside, as well as the story of his pinpoint predictions about the course of American whiskey. These days barrel finishing and distillery-exclusive offerings are typical, almost expected, and no one bats an eye at a $250 bottle. Distiller’s Masterpiece is truly a whiskey ahead of its time.

Release: Jim Beam Distiller’s Masterpiece Twenty-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Wine CasksSpirit: Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Producer: Jim Beam

Misc.: In 2013 and again in 2014, Noe’s son Fred resurrected Distiller’s Masterpiece with two new releases, neither with an age statement and both finished in ex-​​Pedro Ximenez casks.

Collectors’ tips: Although packaging is sometimes peripheral to a bottle’s value, in this case the custom wood frame is a part of the appeal of Distiller’s Masterpiece – again, a feature rarely seen at the time but now common among higher-end whiskeys.

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