To me, Knob Creek is best known for their gun range and semi-annual machine gun shooting extravaganza. The area is also well known for distilleries, but I didn’t know a whole lot about the production of the Knob Creek bourbon that has been on liquor store shelves for a while now. Reasonably priced and attractively bottled, it seems like a good option. But of course I needed to test for myself.
Launched by the Japanese owned Beam Suntory company in 1992, this spirit is distilled at the Jim Beam facility in Clermont, Kentucky. Which, coincidentally, is nowhere near either the town of Knob Creek or its eponymous water source.
Originally aged for nine years and bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV), more recent bottlings of the spirit have dropped the age statement — leaving us unsure of exactly how long it is aged.
The bourbon is available in a number of varieties, including a maple syrup flavored version and this small batch bottling.
There’s not much we can tell about this product.
As a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, we know that the grain bill for this whiskey was at least 51% corn and aged for at least a year in new charred oak barrels. Beyond that things are kind of a mystery… but it’s produced at the Jim Beam facility in Kentucky, so we can assume that this is pretty close to the Jim Beam recipe.
As mentioned, when this whiskey first appeared it was stated to age at least 9 years but that statement has since disappeared. These days, Beam claims that the spirit is still aged much longer than their usual products (which gives the bourbon its dark color and sweeter taste) but we have no definitive answer.
The bottle itself is rather plain. The body is a rectangular design, flat and wide while not being very deep. It has a moderate taper to the short neck and is capped by a wax sealed plastic topper.
The label seems to be designed to evoke the idea of a “shoestring budget” production, printed on simulated newspaper and with a piece of branded tape holding it on at one end. Everything about this is trying to look like a small production product despite being made by one of the largest spirit companies in the world.
What I smell here is pretty much the textbook definition of a bourbon whiskey. There’s a sweetness that can best be described as a Werther’s Original caramel with some vanilla mixed in.
The taste is pretty much the same as it smells, sweet caramel and vanilla. There’s no surprises here, which I really appreciate in a mass produced spirit like this.
In the mouth, the whiskey has a good weight to it. It’s also not an overpowering alcohol taste despite the 50% ABV contained within the bottle. That’s higher than Bulleit or Jack Daniel’s, but it’s just as drinkable and with a distinct smooth velvety weight that is enjoyable.
With the added ice, the charred oak barrel flavor starts to come through more clearly. The caramel now tastes like it may have gotten a little burned, and the vanilla is a little less prominent. It’s more like licking a charred piece of oak than just having some of those flavors imparted to the spirit. This is definitely a spirit that’s better without ice.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
It’s damn good.
The spirit on its own is very sweet with definite sweet flavors, and the addition of the orange bitters provides the sourness of the citrus and the bitterness that is needed to balance everything out.
The only thing that might possibly make this better is if there was a bit more spice to the spirit, something closer to the Bulleit Bourbon that I use as a reference point.
Fizz (Kentucky Mule)
It’s good, but it’s not great.
The nice thing about this bourbon is that the bold flavors keep coming through no matter what you stick it in, but not so strongly as to make it unenjoyable. As with the Old Fashioned, it might be improved with the addition of a bit of rye to the mash — but I’m not complaining as-is.
This is an attempt by one of the biggest distillery companies in the world to try and compete with the small batch craft spirits producers. Their product is fine and their price point is good, but to some extent I don’t appreciate the attempt at deception. I like it when the label is a true representation of the distillery and the craft that went into the product; in this case, it seems just a straight marketing push by the distillery to try and squeeze out the small guys.
Knob Creek Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Beam Suntory
Production: Clermont, Kentucky
Classification: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Grain bill: ??
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $35.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
There’s no surprises here. It’s 90% marketing and 10% whiskey.