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.