Beam’s original Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon (pictured below) was first introduced in 1992 as part of Jim Beam’s new Small Batch Series. That series consisted of Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon (a barrel strength small batch bourbon named after then Master Distiller Booker Noe), Baker’s 7 Year Small Batch Bourbon (a 107 proof small batch bourbon named after an earlier Beam family distiller), Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon (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 Jim 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; National Distiller was thus closed, but today whiskeys actually produced there have developed a cult-like following).
Knob Creek shares a recipe with all of the other Jim Beam bourbons, except the higher-rye recipe Old Grand Dad/Basil Hayden lines acquired from National Distillers. Despite the same recipe, Knob Creek is believed to be distilled at a slightly lower proof than the others, and is stored at select areas of warehouses, all to develop a specific Knob Creek flavor profile.
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 (Read more about it in the drop-down below).
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, meaning there is no indication on the bottle indicating exactly how old (or young) the particular bourbon may be. The Single Barrels all retain a 9 year age statement.
For those who may not know, most bourbon products are a blend of multiple barrels of whiskey from (usually) a single distillery. The blend is created to create a specific flavor profile, as barrels housed in different locations (and for different lengths of time) may have very different characteristics and tastes.
A “single barrel” bourbon, in contrast, is bottled from a single barrel. What this means is that while one bottle of a batched whiskey is likely to taste exactly like the next, one bottle of whiskey from a single barrel may taste very different from a bottle from another barrel.
Jim Beam allows select liquor stores, bars/restaurants, and even some “whiskey clubs” to select their own barrel of Knob Creek bourbon, which they call the “Knob Creek Single Barrel Experience.”
Knob Creek has simplified this process by sending out barrel selection kits, like that pictured above. The process provides for sampling of three different barrels from three 100ml samples. The kit contains specific information on each barrel, note sheets, and even “Knob Creek water” that can be used to dilute the bourbon down to closer to the 120 proof strength that the bottles ship.
In the drop-down below captioned “The Selection Process” we will describe our experience in selection this particular barrel.
We sampled the bottles in order as provided by Jim Beam – A, B then C. We smelled, tasted and commented. We sampled straight from bottles without dilution, and we would later add a drop or two of water. While each bottle was offered straight-from-the-barrel at a higher than final proof (remember, the Knob Creek single barrels are diluted down to 120 proof before bottling), we wanted to mimic what the final product would smell and taste like.
We woud sample each “blind” or without information about the specific barrel (like age) that might unfairly influence our judgment.
Sample A: March 5, 2008 – 9+ years (126.2 proof) (Warehouse E, Floor 5, Rick 17, Tier 1)
Nose: Fruity; brown sugar sweetness; a very subtle amount of peanut smell (often referred to as “Beam funk”); a surprisingly little amount of alcohol burn on the nose for a high proof bourbon.
Palate: Nutty, but with a softer dry-roasted peanut than the usual Beam funk that remind us of some Heaven Hill bourbons; fruity; soft wood notes that indicated some age but not much beyond 10 or so years.
Finish: Medium in length; a slight bitter oak at the very end, which subsided a bit with time in the glass.
Overall: We all agreed that this barrel fit the traditional Knob Creek profile, but with a twist on the sweetness/nuttiness that made it stand out as quite enjoyable. The caramel and oak were well balanced by the fruitiness. A low amount of alcohol burn would be a positive to most consumers. While this pulled away as an early favorite, being the first barrel tasted we marched on.
Sample B: June 8, 2007 – 10+ Years (129.3) (Warehouse J, Floor 6, Rick 37, Tier 1)
Nose: Older than sample A; traditional Beam funk; brown sugar; more oak; green apple; stronger alcohol burn.
Palate: A bit hotter, with more alcohol burn; brown sugar; oak; caramel.
Finish: Lingers longer than Sample A, more oak.
Overall: A tough competitor to Sample A. This sample lost some of the rich fruit sweetness (it substituted green apple for some of the orange, cherry and plum flavors in Sample A), but gained some additional oak/age flavor. Compared to A, it did have a bit more burn, but the finish lasted just a slight bit longer. This barrel was also an enjoyable bourbon.
Sample C: March 5, 2008 – 9+ Years (126.6) (Warehouse E, Floor 5, Rick 17, Tier 2)
Nose: Sweet vanilla; floral; reminded us each of a dark Caribbean rum; graininess.
Palate: Sharp sweetness, almost like a cotton candy; white sugar; much more alcohol burn, as this tasted higher in proof than it actually is.
Finish: Medium in length; a bit of a wet cardboard note crossed with oak that reminded us more of a younger Jim Beam Single Barrel product than Knob Creek.
Overall: Most interestingly, this barrel was filled on the same day, placed in the same warehouse on the same floor, on the same rick, but a single tier above the Sample A barrel. However, it tasted nothing like it. While this barrel would have been much “different” than most other Knob Creek picks, the white sugar/cotton-candy sharp sweetness just didn’t quite feel right.
After little debate, Sample C was eliminated. But in doing so, each of us were quite amazed with how different two barrels could be, despite an identical age and nearly identical placement in a rick house.
Sample A and Sample B would be a tough debate. Ultimately, Sample A’s fruit/brown sugar/oak won out over the slightly less fruity but more oaked Sample B. With each of us having sampled numerous different Knob Creek Single Barrels, we concluded that while the additional oak might be interesting to some, many picks available offer quite a bit more oak for those who really desire that characteristic. Sample A was much more balanced, and would be well appreciated by those who enjoy a QUALITY Knob Creek Single Barrel that matches the traditional Knob Creek profile.