This month’s Flight Club monthly tasting event features a full spread of recent Knob Creek Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey releases.
Knob Creek is a Jim Beam (Beam-Suntory) branded Kentucky straight bourbon. Beam’s original Knob Creek Small Batch 100 proof, 9 year age-stated bourbon (reviewed below) was first introduced in 1992 as part of Jim Beam’s then introduced Small Batch Series. That series consisted of Booker’s (a barrel strength small batch bourbon named after then Master Distiller Booker Noe), Baker’s (a 107 proof small batch bourbon named after an earlier Beam family distiller), Basil Hayden’s (named after the distiller more commonly known as Old Grand Dad) and Knob Creek.
Knob Creek is named after Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home, the Knob Creek farm in Kentucky. The creek runs nearby Beam’s Clermont, Kentucky, distillery. But the origins of the brand and the name go back much further than 1992. Knob Creek was once a brand utilized by an Ohio distiller owned by the famed National Distillers (Beam bought out National Distillers in 1987– or more properly, National Distillers was merged out of existence).
This odd selection of the name (keep in mind that Beam normally only names things after “Beams”), Knob Creek shares a recipe with all of the other Jim Beam Products (except the higher-rye Old Grand Dad/Basil Hayden lines acquired from National Distillers, which also use a different yeast strain). Knob Creek is believed to “taken off the still at a lower proof and they manage the Knob barrels differently, knowing they’re going to age for at least nine years.”
In 2010, Jim Beam released a barrel strength single barrel edition of Knob Creek. Shortly thereafter, Beam launched the Knob Creek Single Barrel Select Experience.
In 2016, Beam pulled the nine year age statement off the standard 100 proof Small Batch bottles. It has since been without an age statement.
Now, this sort of behavior has become fairly common in the bourbon market. But Beam did this in only a way Beam could do. It was not because Beam couldn’t produce enough 9-year product to satisfy demand. It is that Beam had too much product for demand. Beam had a glut of older Knob Creek (which may also explain why Beam has pushed the older Knob Creek Single Barrels so heavily in the past few years). It “found” a way of disposing of them and dealing with its inventory but taking the “Aged Nine Years” off the label and blending younger and older bourbons together. According to Chuck Cowdery: “You don’t get a 9-year-old flavor by mixing half 10-year-old with half 8-year-old, but that is a shorthand way to describe the process.”
In 2016, Beam also released the 2001 Limited Edition release, commemorating the transfer of master distiller reigns from Booker Noe (who laid the barrels down in 2001) to Fred Noe (who bottled them over 14 years later).
In 2017, Beam launched the 25th Anniversary Limited Edition bourbon, celebrating the 25 years since Booker Noe first released the Knob Creek bourbon. It is the only barrel strength Knob Creek ever released. There were purportedly 300 barrels released, with proofs ranging from 120-125. Each barrel released is around 12-13 years.
Before we begin our tasting, we first shared a cocktail.
The Attorney Privilege Cocktail
2 oz Knob Creek Small Batch 100 Proof
.5 oz Orgeat
2 dashes Angustora
2 dashes Black Walnut Bitter
2 Brandied Cherries
In a mixing glass with ice, add bourbon, orgeat and bitters. Stir thoroughly. Strain into a coupe. Garnish with skewed brandied cherries.
Tasting Notes: Following the cocktail, we elected to sample each of the five Knob Creek bourbons semi-blind. Each participant knew which bourbons we were tasting, but did not know the order of the pours. With this exercise we hoped to help alleviate the price bias, given the price range of $25-$150 for the bottles. The listing below is merely in proof/then age order.
Each of the Knob Creek bottles in today’s lineup was purchased from our friends at R&J Discount Liquor in Wichita, Kansas.
Knob Creek Small Batch (9 Year) (100 Proof) (Note – while the 9 year has been discontinued, it is still readily available in our market) ($25)
Nose: Caramel; some ethanol; brandied cherry; orange; cardboard; leather; more dull than the others.
Palate: Melon; brown sugar; caramel candy; less ethanol; medium bodied.
Finish: Peanut; caramel; apple peel.
Overall: This bottle was well received in the blind sampling. It was sampled forth in the lineup, with only a Store Pick Single Barrel to follow. Many debated whether this was in fact the 2001 Limited Edition or the standard Small Batch. We will thrilled to see this much flavor and maturity in a standard $25 offering.
Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition – Batch 3 (14 Year) (100 Proof) ($140)
Nose: Caramel apple; vanilla; orchard fruit (pear and apple); oak; dark grape; thyme; very little ethanol and no acetone.
Palate: Smooth approach; dark chocolate; grape; cream soda; honey.
Finish: Long; chocolate; salted caramel; cocoa.
Overall: This bottle was sampled second after a fairly bland Single Barrel. It shined brightly against that Single Barrel. The reduced proof and the additional age made this stand out as incredibly drinkable and enjoyable. Most guessed this to be the 2001. It was probably the most enjoyed bottle of the lineup. Notwithstanding, none of us agreed that it was worth its price (maybe it would be a strong $70 bottle?).
Knob Creek Single Barrel (9 Year) (120 Proof) ($45)
Nose: Wet wood; dry milk chocolate; bacon grease; cherry; strong acetone; orange zest.
Palate: Peppery; salty, almost briny (carrying forward some of the bacon grease character); sawdust; cedar.
Finish: Very little and short; brown sugar; pepper; maple syrup; dry.
Overall: This bottle led off the blind sampling lineup. Most believed this was the standard Small Batch 100 proof bottle, simply because the flavors were a bit more dull than expected. This did not necessarily drink under proof, but the flavors didn’t pop as expected. No one disagreed that the price was right on this bottle standing alone, but when compared to much more flavorful store pick bottles, this particular single barrel should stay on the shelf.
Knob Creek Single Barrel R&J Store Pick (12 Year) (120 Proof) (we previously discussed the selection process here) ($40)
Nose: Sweet; deep musty oak; caramel; earthy character (much more than any of the others); no notable fruit; furniture polish.
Palate: A slow crescendo; grape soda; fudge.
Finish: Long; rich and powerful oak; caramel; cherry.
Overall: This was the last pour of the evening. It was one of the overall favorites. The guesses were all over the places, some believing it to be the standard Single Barrel, while others were certain it was either the 2001 or the 25th Anniversary. Confusing this for a bottle costing 3-4 times as much is quite the compliment. A great buy at $40.
Knob Creek 25th Anniversary Single Barrel (13 Year) (121 Proof) (Barreled on 2/25/2004) ($140)
Nose: Similar notes on the nose to the 2001 Limited Edition, with caramel apple and orchard fruit; more floral; earthy wine tones; dark raisin; plum; leather; melon. Complex.
Palate: Oily; dark chocolate; salted peanut; orchard fruit; creme brûlée; maple syrup.
Finish: Very long (ultimately the longest of the evening); some barrel char; dried banana chip; nougat.
Overall: Many were certain this was the R&J store pick. It felt older than many of the others, and was otherwise well liked. Some expected more from a $150 limited edition, while others were overall very pleased. One commented that this took the best attributes of many of the individual bottles and combined them – it included fruity notes, chocolates, oak, rich sweetness and overall full body and long finish. The consensus is this came in a close second to the 2001 Limited Edition, as an overall favorite.