Of the big bourbon brands, I’ve said before that Knob Creek with its good price point and nice balance of classic bourbon flavors with a little extra fruit and citrus and an actual age statement has made it a regular in my drinks cabinet. If I’m going to make an Old Fashioned or just sip some bourbon with or without ice without thinking too hard about what I’m doing, I’m likely to reach for the Knob Creek. In particular, I’m a fan of the Small Batch. This is slightly ironic considering that I loathe (Ok, not “loathe”, but I wouldn’t choose it) the standard Jim Beam, which is owned by the same company and produced at the same distillery from the same low-rye mash bill (77% corn, 13% rye, 10% malted barley). For what it’s worth, Booker’s and Baker’s are also made by Beam from this same mash bill.
I like to try different bottlings from a range when possible, to get different perspectives on a brand/recipe, so when my brother-in-law brought around a bottle of the 120 proof (!) Knob single barrel, I eagerly siphoned some to review. In my haste I neglected to jot down the barrel number. Keep in mind that as a single-barrel release, these are likely to vary in quality and character significantly between barrels, and your bottle might be worlds apart from the one I reviewed below.
Nose: Heavily oaky notes of resin, wood stain, and furniture polish. Dark, highly caramelized sugars (burnt caramel), and a deep cherry syrup note, like the liquid/sludge in a jar of real maraschino cherries. Orange peel rounds out the profile. After a rest in the glass, the profile becomes sweeter and rounder, with a vanilla buttercream frosting element.
Palate: Medium body, almost syrupy. Intense unholy tongue burn… ouch… no really my tongue is on fire! After feeling returns to the extremities and the sweat recedes, the flavors largely mirror the notes from the aroma: cherry, burnt caramel, oak furniture polish. I don’t think I have the literary talent to describe this, but if I were to lick an antique wooden desk so hard that the finish came off, I believe it would taste something like this. Having never done so, I can only speculate.
Finish: Medium-short. A nice orange oil note persists after swallowing. Very little bitterness or tannin despite all the oak. Some charcoal flavors remain as it fades.
With Water: Several drops of water release a vegetal/grassy note in the aroma, without substantially decreasing the tongue burn. Ouch again. There may be a bit more nuttiness on the finish (hazelnuts?). Water is optional here.
Overall: First of all, at 60% ABV this is the kind of thing that can strip paint. I can only imagine the number of taste bud cells that sacrificed themselves to the cause of reviewing this whiskey. Severely woody, with deeply oaky notes and a heavy barrage of burned sugar notes, this appeals to a very specific bourbon consumer. If you don’t care about fruity notes, you aren’t interested in the interplay of spice notes with delicate oak-derived sugars, and you really just want something you could fill a kerosene lamp with… this stuff will fit the bill. Otherwise, it’s a little one-dimensional. For my money, I’d rather have the Knob Creek Small Batch 9 year and save $10.