Welcome to a new addition to the blog called the Top Tipple Review. With these reviews I plan on reviewing all of the amazing once-in-a-lifetime samples or bottles that I’ve managed to get my hands on throughout the years. Many of the whiskies that will be featured will either be very far out of the typical bourbon drinker’s budget, very hard to find, no longer be available outside of auctions or personal collections, or a combination of these. I’ll probably never get a chance to try any of these whiskies again, and I cannot think of any better way to enjoy them than to share my experiences of them with my fellow bourbon folk! Sláinte – Paddy
Try and say that title five times quick after having a few pours!
It is undeniable that rye whiskey has quickly become a popular American whiskey category. In the last decade whiskey drinkers have seen the amount of rye whiskies available on the market (and their prices) increase at a pace that’s almost on-par with bourbon. With this new-found attention every big distillery wants a horse or two in the race – which leads us to today’s review! The Knob Creek brand is produced by the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY and is one of Beam Suntory’s four premium small batch brands which target the higher end whiskey drinkers. Having remained mostly unchanged since it was first introduced, 2012 saw the first new whiskey style released under the label Knob Creek Rye. Following somewhat in the footsteps of it’s bourbon predecessor, Knob Creek rye was also offered at 100 proof but lacked the initial age statement that Knob Creek bourbon entered the market with (which was subsequently removed). Since then the Jim Beam distillery has hit the high-end whiskey market hard with a whole range of new rye whiskies under its small batch brands such as Basil Hayden’s rye, Basil Hayden’s dark rye, and the legendary Booker’s Rye. Fans of rye whiskey flocked to these expressions with mixed results but one thing remained clear – the fans wanted more rye. So, when TTB filings and labels of a Single Barrel Knob Creek Rye emerged last year the hype-o-meter almost blew the roof off! With the only real details being the existence of the whiskey itself, the fact that it would be a single barrel rye, and that it would be bottled at a proof of 115, hopes for this product ranged from hoping it was an improvement over the current release to hoping it would be a good candidate for ‘poor man’s Booker’s rye’ or Kentucky Owl rye. Now the time has come and the barrels have started rolling into stores for fans to judge if the hype was just that or whether die-hard fans of Beam brands were right to put their faith in this expression long before it hit the shelves.
The bottle I’ll be reviewing today is a single barrel Knob Creek rye whiskey chosen by Cork ‘N Bottle liquor store in Crescent Springs, KY. A little background on this store is that the man in charge of the spirits section and store picks is Mr Ed Bley. Considered a whiskey celebrity by many in the bourbon world, Ed is well known for his very popular store picks and his successful Old Baldy brand which on its second release pulled record number crowds for a whiskey that wasn’t from a major distillery. On a personal level Ed was a veteran whiskey enthusiast long before he joined this renowned liquor store and having long followed his exploits and notoriety I reached out and asked him if he could tell me more about himself, Cork ‘N Bottle, and this pick. His response was:
I started at Cork ‘N Bottle about 4 years ago. I was a whiskey enthusiast before hand and had a lot of experience on the consumer side. I love pushing the envelope on how people view a liquor store. We put customers first. I try to be fair on how we do our limited item releases and fun at the same time. We are known for our private barrels, private blends and exclusive items. I usually select 40-60 private barrels a year. They don’t last long after release. After gaining a little popularity for the store I focused on giving back. We have helped raise over 200k as a store for charities including veteran charities, sick children, animal shelters, homeless and food shelters and many, many others. It makes me happy to be able to give back.
With regards to this store pick, the barrel was picked from a tier 1, with a barrel proof of 116.4 and just shy of 7 years old – let’s get to it!
Name: Knob Creek Single Barrel Select Rye (Barrel #6309)
Age: NAS (approx 7 y.o)
Proof: 115 proof (57.5% ABV)
Type: KY straight rye whiskey
Mashbill: 55% rye, 35% corn, 10% malted barley (reportedly)
Producer: Jim Beam Distillery, KY
Appearance: Coppery brown with a tinge of red
Nose: On the nose this opens with faint black cherries, deep caramel, baking spices, dark fruit, rye grain and white pepper with a slight touch of alcohol.
Palate: The palate is thick and oily with sweet orange peel and deep caramel wrapped in a layer of spicy white pepper and nuttiness that melts away to reveal rye grain, charred oak spice, and faint dark fruits.
Finish: The finish is long and warming with a wave of sweet and nutty white pepper spice that leaves a tannic charred oak, roast peanuts, and sweet burnt caramel aftertaste on the tongue and cheeks.
As always I tasted this whiskey 3 times to make sure my notes were consistent and fine tuned. On the third tasting I tasted this side by side with the standard Knob Creek rye to see how it held up. The standard Knob Creek rye is a workhorse rye whiskey that hits all those flavour notes you’d want from a rye that’s here to do its job. From the nose to the finish the rye grain sits front and center whilst notes like burnt caramel, sweet corn, and white pepper fall in at the sides to prop it up. It’s solid and has never left me disappointed, until I tried this whiskey. Simply put this whiskey is a flavour beast. If the standard Knob Creek rye was someone talking at a regular volume, this whiskey is an opera singer hitting all those beautiful high notes. From nose to finish you get everything that the standard Knob Creek rye offers but so much more. The flavours and complexity are at full volume, the mouthfeel is thicker, oilier, and the alcohol, spice, and flavours all balanced perfectly. When I taste this it’s clear that Beam really stepped up to the plate with this release and delivered with this rye easily falling into my top 5 of best ryes ever tasted. Another benefit to this whiskey is that it was proofed down to 115 from 116.4, i.e. not a whole lot (a .7% abv difference). This means that what we have here is essentially as close to a barrel proof bottling of Knob Creek rye as we’re going to get (without of course buying Knob Creek barrel proof rye) and with that comes all the added benefits of a more diverse flavour profile, improved mouthfeel, and no subduing of anything by copious amounts of water.
My hope is that Knob Creek continues to let stores do barrel picks of their rye because at 115 proof it’s really something else. As for the Cork ‘N Bottle, going from the quality of this pick, I can see why their store picks are so popular and sell out so quick. My only regret is that I didn’t manage to get my hands on two bottles before they sold out – but here’s hoping there’s a next time!
Try or Buy?
Buy! I know this is a single barrel whiskey and so there’s always room for massive variation between bottlings but with Knob Creek’s solid track record I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say that these bottlings are really something special that rye lovers should seek out.