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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Knob Creek 9 year old Single Barrel Reserve Small Batch Bourbon (barrel 106, exclusive to The Party Source)

To celebrate the official end of summer (and the beginning of the Southern California heat) I'm reviewing four bourbons this week.  Bourbon highballs feel much better than any drink, besides beer and (probably) water, during this heat.  If the nights actually cool down then a good bourbon neat isn't the worst idea, either.

I'm starting off with the bourbon that's the hardest to find of the four.  And I'm not sure if the specific barrel is still available.  You're welcome!

Knob Creek is a Beam Suntory brand, sort of a sub-brand of Jim Beam bourbon.  There's the regular "Small Batch" 100 proof 9 year old bourbon, an NAS or "patiently aged" straight rye (of which I am not fond), another "small batch" bourbon that is "patiently crafted" with "natural" Smoked Maple flavoring, and finally there's a 9yo Single Barrel Reserve Small Batch(?!) bourbon which punches in at 120 proof.  Wording complaints aside, I've been most interested in the single barrel but didn't want to put down $40 in return for a bottle of hot burning.  Luckily, Friend Florin saved a sample of this bourbon for me.

There's a subset within the Single Barrel Small Batch Reserve bourbons, known as the Private Barrels.  These are barrels selected by specialty retailers (from amongst a number of barrel samples) to sell exclusively in their store.  The Party Source, being Kentucky's darling retailer, sold this barrel #106 at their store.  I don't know if this is the barrel they're currently selling, but I can tell you with quite some confidence that The Party Source no longer ships alcohol.  So the relevance of this barrel may be limited if you, the reader, don't live in TPS's neighborhood.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Knob Creek
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: Standard 15% rye (probably)
Age: minimum 9 years old
Barrel#: 106
Exclusive to: The Party Source
ABV: 60% ABV
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

Its color is very red very dark gold.  The nose starts out *whew* WOOD and paint fumes.  After airing it out for a few minutes, I find some cinnamon and caramel candies.  Maraschino cherry fruitiness and cherry lollipops.  Soft on the vanilla bean, yet not so soft on freshly cut lumber.  Hints of mint and rye here and there.  Ah, the vanilla does get louder with time and the fresh lumber turns to dusty wood beams (pun unintended).  Wood, cherry juice, and cinnamon red hots take up dominate the palate at first, though it's not as sweet as those notes suggest.  On the second sip, I find some nice MGP-like rye notes to go with the fruit.  Ginger beer.  It does get sweeter with time.  The finish begins mildly sweet with cherry candy things. Toasted and charred oak alternating.  Some salt, some orange peel.  Like the palate it gets sweeter with time, but also oakier.  Lots of heat.

WITH WATER (~45-50%abv)
Nuts in caramel in the nose.  Sawdust and salty vanilla (if that's a thing).  The palate is sweet and spicy.  Woody around the edges.  Very Beam.  The palate gets aggressively sweet and woody.

Firstly, it was much better at 60%abv than at the lower ABV of its stable mates.  Secondly, it needs to breathe because it's hot and closed when it first hits the glass.  After that, nothing really offends.  I like the fruity notes and the rye moments.  Otherwise the oak takes front stage.  So if you're oak phobic then this isn't for you.  But then again, if you're oak phobic you probably want to stay away from bourbon in general, especially older ones at high strength.

I like this much more than the Knob Creek rye because that one felt half-baked.  If anything, this one might be over-baked.  But again, this isn't bad at the $30-$35 range, if it's priced above that then it's out of its league.  If you're looking for something cheaper, less oaky, and milder then I recommend its cousin Jim Beam Black in 8yo form.

Availability - This barrel was only sold at The Party Source, other non-private selection Knob Creek single barrels are sold at probably all specialty liquor retailers in the US
Pricing - $30-$60
Rating - 80


  1. It's interesting to see you wording my exact thoughts on the Knob Creek range. We don't get any private barrels in Europe, but I fully agree on the KC Rye being less than okay.

    The Single Barrel is a bit of a conundrum. I had a bottle which I thought of as fire water at first, but after I emptied it about half way down it started getting good. Some oxidation worked miracles for that one.

    Still, I love the regular 50% 9yo and that's my go to bourbon at home. I always have that around since it's just plain awesome in my book.

    Good review.

    1. Thanks! I was really disappointed about the KC Rye. I'm not saying that Old Overholt is necessarily better, but when taking price into consideration, I'd recommend the OO first. In any case, the Beam ryes don't do it for me. Next summer maybe I'll give the regular 9yo bourbon a try. They sell 375mLs of it out here which make for less of a risk.

  2. I always had trouble even with the standard Knob Creek, even when I used to like Jeam Black. Found it hot and unapproachable, and not improved by dilution.

    As for the TPS bottle, I liked it just a little better. My notes from back then (2012) say:
    "It has the signature Jim Beam bitter rye note. Some nice dark chocolate; burnt ash, peanuts. Not very exciting, more of the same Jim Beam juice. I would definitely drink it on a desert island. Here - not so much. 2.5*."

    1. We're pretty close in our overall ratings/conclusions. To me it's a borderline C+/B- whisk(e)y, which is one of my highest scoring bourbons this year. Though that says more about my opinion of bourbon right now than this particular item.