By Richard Thomas
Updated April 9, 2015
Knob Creek is arguably the most well-known of Jim Beam’s line of signature small batch bourbons (the others being Baker’s, Booker’s and Basil Hayden). Each label of that signature line has its own distinctive character, with Knob Creek representing what is probably the most old fashioned and traditional of the four. Knob Creek is the type of bourbon one can imagine hard-bitten Southern politicians imbibing, and I can easily picture a bottle gracing the office of Sam Rayburn and being dolled out to the likes of Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson. In making Knob Creek, old Booker Noe cooked up a bourbon whiskey with some spark in it, and it consequently tends to attract saucy characters.
Knob Creek comes in rectangular bottle reminiscent of a 19th century medicine bottle, only larger, with a black wax seal capping a plastic and cork stopper. The bottle complements the bourbon whiskey within perfectly, showing off its coppery color. The label fits Knob Creek’s old fashioned style as well, as it smacks of 1940s newsprint. However, the pull-tab for undoing the wax lid is undeniably on the cheap side, and hard to manipulate compared to, say, a bottle of Marker’s Mark. I’ve had more than a few opening pull-tabs on bottles of Knob Creek tear apart only a quarter of the way around the bottle, forcing me to use a pocket knife to cut away enough wax to free the tab again and finish the job.
The bourbon is a small batch, so it is made in small, high-quality batches, but the whiskey in the individual barrels are blended at the end to achieve a consistent product (as well as to save whiskey that might be just a little bit off). It is aged for nine years (a long time even for a small batch bourbon) in white oak barrels. The whiskey is bottled at 100 proof (50%). Jim Beam recommends drinking it either with an ice cube or two or straight up (the latter is my choice), so do not add a splash of water.
What makes Knob Creek distinctive is how light it is on bourbon-style sweetness, which leaves behind a stronger sense of bourbon’s charred oak. Knob Creek’s scent is thick with oak and grain, with hints of toasted nuts. On the palate, the whiskey is full-bodied with woodiness and smoke, and the strength of the bourbon comes across as a slight, fiery bite. The finish goes down with glowing warmth. Overall, it is an excellent bourbon, although its pre-Prohibition qualities mean only a bourbon snob will truly appreciate its virtues.
Knob Creek still goes for $35 in some parts of the U.S., but $40 to $50 is not uncommon. In Europe, the 70 cl version is often priced at €28-32, and in the UK £30 seems to be the norm.
Knob Creek has won numerous plaudits from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, including a double gold, two golds, a sliver and a bronze.