I've written about Knob Creek Single Barrel several times since rumors of it first reached me in July. Last Friday I finally had a chance to put some in my mouth. The details of this new release, and a picture, are here.
I was in Bardstown, Kentucky, last week for the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival and the kind folks at Beam Global arranged for me to have my first taste of Knob Single Barrel poured by Fred Noe, on the back porch of his dad's house, which was also Jim Beam's house. It was a lovely, warm, late-summer day, so what could be better?
With us was Don McGrew, who works in Research and Development for Beam. How great a job must that be?
They'll do fine with this product because it is positioned as a step-up for current Knob Creek drinkers, just like Maker's 46 is positioned primarily as a step-up or change-of-pace for regular Maker's Mark drinkers. If either product happens to bring new drinkers to the brands that's great, but not the main objective. (It's also about controlling shelf-keeping units [SKUs], but that's a bit too inside, isn't it?)
Fred poured some regular Knob and some of the new Single Barrel. On nosing, the higher alcohol content of the Single Barrel was the first thing I noticed. On first sip, the Single Barrel seemed less flavorful than regular, but that was the alcohol bloom obscuring everything else. It opened up with a little water.
The two are very similar, as you might expect. The Single Barrel also bears a strong resemblance to Booker's, not surprising either as the specifications are very similar. (e.g., Booker's is barrel proof and Knob Single Barrel is nearly so.) There is an earthiness in regular Knob that I did not detect in the Single Barrel. It tastes very clean, like Booker's.
The primary appeal of Knob Single Barrel will be its higher 120° proof (60% alcohol). Think of it as getting 20 percent more whiskey, instead of water. Since that's about the price premium they're really the same price if you think of it that way. You can drink it neat (very carefully) or dilute it to taste. If you're an on-the-rocks drinker the Single Barrel will stand-up much better, although at 100° proof regular Knob is no slouch.
The other attraction is the opportunity to experience slight variations from bottle to bottle (i.e., barrel to barrel). For that you will need to buy several different bottles, but I'm sure the folks at Beam are okay with that.
I asked Fred and Don if the profile for selecting barrels for Single Barrel was different in any way from regular Knob. They said no except with regard to color. They looked for darker whiskey to help distinguish the two bottles on the shelf.
In conclusion, Knob Creek Bourbon is a good thing and Knob Creek Single Barrel is even more of a good thing. Our work concluded, we three just drank and told stories for the next two hours. A good day.