World Famous Bourbon Gets a Delaware Touch

Owners of The Wine & Spirit Company of Greenville, Bethany Blues BBQ help choose new Beam offering

Bourbon season is officially upon us. Snifters by the fire, tulip glasses with a few rocks, and Manhattans all will be filled with the barrel-aged American whiskey.

One particular small batch of the Kentucky spirit will even have Delaware’s fingerprints on it, when Booker’s bourbon, produced by the Jim Beam distillery in the little town of Clermont, is released later this month.

That’s because two local entrepreneurs, spurred by their love of bourbon, plus timing and a little serendipity combined recently to help Fred Noe, great-grandson of Jim Beam, select the next small batch of Booker’s. By most accounts, this is a first for Delaware and its liquor store and restaurant industry.

A Bourbon-Based Friendship

Bill Galbraith, owner of The Wine & Spirit Company of Greenville, and Kevin Roberts, owner of Bethany Blues BBQ restaurant in Lewes, first met during a time when most people do a majority of their experimental drinking: in college—in this case, back in the late 1990s. After graduating from the University of Delaware, both Galbraith and Roberts went on to work in the restaurant industry.

For this particular venture, the two bourbon enthusiasts visited the Jim Beam distillery earlier this year, eager to learn more about the process and meet the brains behind the Beam line of bourbons. During their trip to the Bluegrass State, both men asked their Jim Beam sales representative about the possibility of having a hand in selecting a future Beam product.

Bill Galbraith, owner of The Wine & Spirit Company of Greenville, at a small batch bourbon roundtable in New York with members of the media. (Photo Caitie McCabe Photography)
Bill Galbraith, owner of The Wine & Spirit Company of Greenville, at a small batch bourbon roundtable in New York with
members of the media. (Photo Caitie McCabe Photography)

“On our trip to Kentucky, both Kevin and I expressed a great deal of interest in somehow being a part of the selection process for Booker’s, if at all possible,” says Galbraith, who took over ownership of The Wine & Spirit Company of Greenville in June of 2014. “As a thank-you for our business, and through [Delaware Beam Suntory rep] Bob Rindfuss, we were invited to sit in on their selection panel in New York.”

Roberts says Rindfuss really pulled the strings to get him and Galbraith invited to the sampling at Keen’s Steakhouse, which took place during Whiskey Advocate’s 17th annual WhiskyFest in New York City. “Both Bill and I support the brand heavily, and by establishing a unique relationship, this door was opened.”

Roundtable Bourbon Sampling

For the selection process, Fred Noe and several Beam employees set up three samples of small batch bourbon blended from multiple barrels, all in similar quality, age and proof, around 126 or 127. Booker’s, for the unfamiliar, is one of the few bourbons that is always uncut and unfiltered, something bourbon purists seek out, and the samples were labeled A, B and C.

“We all sat around the table, me and Kevin, the great-grandson of Jim Beam, journalists from the Wall Street Journal and Maxim, and other bourbon and whiskey experts,” says Galbraith. “After sampling all three, and adding a little water to each, as is the tradition, we all voted via secret ballot, and C was the unanimous winner.”

Since each release of Booker’s gets its own specific title – the current release is “Center Cut”—Noe announced that this year’s edition would be called “Noe Secret,” an homage to his father, Booker Noe, who always told it like it is (or was), and didn’t care for secrets or gossip.

Galbraith says the panel selected C because of its overall smoothness and ability to hold its bold flavors after adding water. Sample B, according to the group, withered when water was added, while A was just a little too raw and biting.

Roberts notes that Sample C was very appealing, with strong hints of vanilla, pepper, caramel and even cherry. “It was very palatable and I think it will even appeal to novice bourbon drinkers.”

Booker’s Release in Delaware

Now Galbraith and Roberts await the release of this year’s crop of Booker’s, the first 20 cases of which will be delivered to The Wine & Spirit Company of Greenville, and the following 10 cases to Bethany Blues, in November. Both purveyors are ecstatic that they’ll be the first to get their hands on this year’s release.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, to sit at a roundtable next to Fred Noe,” says Roberts. “Getting to sample and discuss the newest batch of Booker’s, a crown jewel in their line of bourbons, was unbelievable. I can’t wait to get the shipment and offer it to everyone at Bethany Blues while I tell them the story.”

Says Rindfuss, “The stars kind of aligned on this one; it took a little bit of good luck, the right timing and right place, and two high-end purveyors with interest in bourbon to pull this off.”

Galbraith says he’ll be selling the bottles of Booker’s for roughly $59.99 each. Roberts, meanwhile, says he plans on selling snifters of the Booker’s for $9 for a 1.25-ounce shot, and $11 for a standard two-ounce cocktail or snifter.