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Some things are better as an idea. Some things sound great in theory, but don't always pan out in practice. (Insert communism/capitalism/marriage joke here) Knob Creek Single Barrel may suffer from the same trappings.
What is Knob Creek?
Knob Creek is produced by Beam Suntory at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. It is one of the four Jim Beam small batch bourbon brands targeted for the high-end liquor market. There are many references to Knob Creek as a "pre-prohibition" style of bourbon. What does that mean? According to their website:
What is Pre-Prohibition Style whiskey? In short: It’s whiskey that refuses to cut corners. But since you’re still here, we’ll give you the longer version. When the Prohibition was lifted in 1933, bourbon makers had to start from scratch. Whiskey takes years and years to make, but the drinking ban was overturned overnight. To meet their sudden demand, distillers rushed the process, selling barrels that had hardly been aged. Softer, mild-flavored whiskey became standard from then on. Full flavor was the casualty. But we brought real bourbon back. Over 25 years ago, master distiller Booker Noe set out to create a whiskey that adhered to the original, time-tested way of doing things. He named it Knob Creek. We age every batch in maximum-char barrels to pull every bit of natural sweetness from the oak. Then we bottle it at an uncommonly balanced 100 proof. Knob Creek is whiskey the way its supposed to be: full flavored. We make every drop count so that you can make every minute count. Without ever having to cut any corners.
There. Clear as mud.
So 100 proof (50% ABV) is the standard for Knob Creek and the Single Barrel offering is a big, bold 120 proof (60% ABV). And while the standard Knob Creek 100 Proof Small Batch has recently dropped the 9 year age statement, the Single Barrel expression still guarantees the whisky is at least nine years old. I was a fan of the 9 Year Old Small Batch and I still enjoy the NAS, 100 Proof version. So how does the Single Barrel taste?
- Nose (undiluted): Toffee, vanilla, maple syrup and oak
- Palate (undiluted): toffee, vanilla, a little bit of sour cherry chewing gum, oak and a bit of coconut
- Finish: surprisingly short, nutty, more vanilla, coconut and oak
Sipped neat, I would NOT have guessed this bourbon to be 120 proof. There is very little tongue burn or "prickliness" to Knob Creek Single Barrel. Adding some water brought out more oakiness, and made the whiskey surprisingly "hotter" and sharper. Drunk neat, the sweetness isn't overbearing or cloying, and it's pushed a bit further back when diluted. But the balance is just a bit “off”. It tastes like a generic bourbon, but with the vanilla and oak a little too prominent in the mix. It isn’t a gentle, floral vanilla either. It tastes a bit like store-brand artifical vanilla extract.
Despite the 120 Proof, I prefered this one neat.
It's difficult to make any kind of definitive pronouncement on a single barrel whiskey. Each barrel is different, so the next batch could have completely different tasting notes. "Single barrel" is the type of marketing idea that appeals to enthusiasts and purists. But as is often the case, these seemingly great ideas are not without their possible pit-falls. This bourbon was good. Not great, not surprising or incredibly unique. My first impression of it was "This tastes like bourbon". Obvious perhaps, but I was expecting more. Nevertheless, this is a decent product at a respectable ABV. Try before you buy if possible.