Knob Creek 25th Anniversary Bourbon Review

I like the Knob Creek lineup, from the standard (now NAS) Small Batch and Single Barrel bourbons to the rye whiskey.  Last year’s limited edition Knob Creek 2001 met with mixed reviews.  I tried Batch 1 and thoroughly enjoyed it, though it hit close to my threshold for acceptable oak impact in a bourbon.  One of the big complaints I’ve read about KC 2001 was its “low” proof.  It was bottled at 100 proof, like the standard Small Batch and Rye Whiskey bottlings.  Maybe Beam Suntory caught wind of the criticism and corrected it for their next release.

Enter Knob Creek 25th Anniversary.  This limited edition release (rumor is about 10,000 bottles total) is an unfiltered, barrel-proof, single barrel bottling.  Barrels picked for Knob Creek 25th Anniversary are between 12 – 13 years old.  Sounds fantastic, no?  

Even though it’s set for a June release, Knob Creek 25th is already proving controversial.  The major concern among some consumers is the price.  People are saying they can grab a 12 or 13 year old store pick of Knob Creek Single Barrel for $40 versus the $130 asking price for this 25th Anniversary release.  They make a great point.  I’m sure there amazing older store picks out there.  However, older store picks aren’t available everywhere.  And keep in mind the palates of the owners (or spirit buyers) who pick out single barrels of Knob Creek aren’t always great.  Some of these folks simply don’t know a good whiskey from a bad one.  This past weekend during the New Orleans Bourbon Festival, Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe told me he is tasting and approving each barrel for this release. I trust his palate.  I don’t think the $130 price tag for a barrel proof, single barrel 12-13 year old bourbon is outrageous at all.  It’s priced about where it needs to be.  I just see Knob Creek Single Barrel as a steal for $40.  

Beam Suntory was kind enough to send out advanced samples to some reviewers and writers.  I received a sample from two different barrels, both filled on 2/11/2004.  I suppose this is more a preview than a review, as we’re still a few months away from the official launch. Once released, the plan is to try it again for a more in-depth look.  In the meantime, here are my tasting notes and some final thoughts.

Sample 1 came in at 121.8 proof.  I picked up dark brown sugar, grilled corn, black cherries, and cigar box on the nose, as well as a hint of dried vanilla pod.  The palate was full of molasses and toasted grain upon entry, developing hints of herbs and roasted nuts on the mid-palate, leading to oak tannins going into the finish.  The finish was warm and long, with cinnamon sticks, caramel and herbs.  8.5/10

Sample 2 was bottled at 125 proof.  This one was a bit sweeter on the nose.  Dark chocolate, dried figs and carmelized sugar led to  hints of dark fruits, oak and spice.  Taste-wise, burnt orange peel and vanilla start things off.  Soon after, some bittersweet dark chocolate, cigar, cherry jam and oak spice develop.  Like Sample 1, things start to become a little dry as the finish approaches.  The long finish features hints of sweet oak, molasses and spice.  9.10

As expected, there is some variation between barrels.  The two samples sent were quite delicious in different ways.  Both feature a fair amount of oak, which is part of Knob Creek’s DNA.  I didn’t find these two samples over-oaked, but like Knob Creek 2001 Batch 1, they just about hit my threshold for oak in a bourbon.  The first sample came across as good as any Knob Creek Single Barrel I’ve had, but not necessarily better.  The extra couple of proof points stood out in the second sample, coming across as a bit bolder than the 120 proof Knob Creek Single Barrel.  I’d easily reach for more of Sample 2 if I had more.

My hope is that quality control is strictly implemented when it comes to barrel selection.  Whether or not it’s “good value” is not a question I can answer for you.  Personally, I think this new release is worthy of purchase, though you’re really paying for a couple of extra proof points versus the 120 proof of the standard KC Single Barrels.  I don’t think Beam Suntory is going to release subpar or over-oaked barrels for this release, but I know some barrels are going to be better than others.   Based on what I tasted, I think Knob Creek 25th Anniversary will sell better than last year’s 2001 release.  Bottom line:  If you’re a fan of Knob Creek, I’d recommend seeking out a bottle of Knob Creek 25th Anniversary when it starts hitting shelves in June.  

Thanks to Beam Suntory for the samples.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch Triple Grain American Oak Blended Whisky Review

New from Casa de Walker is the limited edition Triple Grain American Oak.  It’s the third entry in the Johnnie Walker’s experimental Blender’s Batch series, and first released here in the U.S. The Triple Grain American Oak (TGAO) is made up of three grain whiskies (wheat, barley, and corn) including some from Port Dundas, and two malt whiskies from the Cardu and Mortlach distilleries.  The whiskies here are at least 10 years old, and have matured in American oak casks.  

This blend is said to be inspired by Master Blender Jim Beveridge’s interest in American whiskies.  The last new Johnnie Walker expression I tried, Select Casks Rye Cask Finish, also tried to cater to the American whiskey drinker.  I really enjoyed that blend.  I’d love to see rye whiskey barrels used more in Scotland.  Johnnie Walker TGAO is bottled at 41.3% abv and can be found for about $30 a bottle, while supplies last.

Information from the brand suggests it was designed to be a mixer in cocktails, but it’s really nice on its own.  On the nose, I pick up – no smoke!  A rare deviation for Johnnie Walker.  Instead we get candied fruit, vanilla, caramel and a light floral note.  The palate is creamy, and combined with the vanilla on entry comes across as vanilla pudding.  Some caramel apple and spice follow, with hints of buttered wheat toast and very, very light whisp of wood smoke (maybe I’m imagining).  The finish is short and clean – sweet grain with just a touch of spice.

Add this to my list of Scotch whiskies for bourbon drinkers to try.  Sweet fruit and vanilla are the stars here, and are two notes usually found in bourbon.  There’s virtually zero peat here, which I know seems to turn off a lot people thinking of getting into Scotch.  I have to reiterate that Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch Triple American Oak is a one-time release and very well priced for what it delivers.   8.5/10

Thanks to Diageo for the sample!  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Booker’s Bourbon Batch 2017-01 “Tommy’s Batch” Review

Earlier this year, I was asked to take part in the Booker’s Roundtable selection of the next batch of Booker’s.  That batch, 2017-01, or “Tommy’s Batch”, is now upon us.  Though I took part in selecting this batch, I’ll do my best to be as impartial as I can be with this post.

This batch is named after Tommy Crume, a longtime distillery who worked closely with the late Booker Noe.  Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe said the following about Tommy:

“I’m proud to share the first of four batches in the Booker’s® Bourbon 2017 Batch Collection, Batch 2017-01, also called Booker’s “Tommy’s Batch.” I’m especially pleased to release this special batch as our first, as it is named in tribute to Tommy Crume, who started his career at the distillery as a young man and worked closely alongside Dad for decades. They spent so much time together that we used to joke that he was like a second son to Dad!   

Over all those years, Tommy learned just how Dad liked things to be done around the distillery, especially when it came to his namesake bourbon and eventually worked his way up to Distillery Manager at the Clermont, Ky. plant, helping to make sure that everything continued to run just the way Dad would have wanted.   

After almost 30 years with us, Tommy retired in 2016 and I know Dad would be honored to name the first batch of 2017 after his dear friend. I hope you’ll join me in raising a glass of Booker’s “Tommy’s Batch” in celebration of Dad’s legacy and Tommy’s, too.” 

As for the bourbon, it’s a blend of whiskies from two production dates (January 2009 & July 2010) – making the youngest whiskey in the batch 6 years, 4 months, and 6 days old.  Barrels were pulled from the 6th and 7th floor of three warehouses.  It was a small batch (for Jim Beam, anyway), with 335 barrels comprising this release.  Like all batches of Booker’s, this is bottled at barrel proof (128.5). Also, it’s the first to be priced between $69.99 – $74.99, though a friend of mine saw it on a shelf for $54.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know my thoughts on the price increase.  Agree or disagree, we all have an opinion.

The nose is classic Booker’s – big and robust, with hints of vanilla, molasses, charred oak, kettle corn and herbs.  Taste-wise, right past that intital high octane burn, find toasted sweet corn and light brown sugar, developing into some cigar box, vanilla and toasted almonds.  A hint of chocolate covered oranges appears late-palate, along with a touch of fresh basil.  The finish is long and warming.  Something I’ve come to expect from Booker’s.  Lingering notes of honey nut cereal, molasses, and barrel char make you want to reach for another sip.  

Tommy’s Batch is another fantastic release of Booker’s.  It’s as good or slightly better than recent batches.  The faint ‘chocolate-covered oranges’ note is a welcome surprise.  I know the price increase is a touchy subject with many, and we all have our opinions.  Price aside, this new batch is classic “Booker’s,” and comes with my recommendation.  9/10

Thanks to Booker’s for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.