Hardin’s Creek is a new limited edition concept originally launched in 2022 by Beam Suntory. The first release consisted of 2 year old and 15 year, 4 month old bourbons, aptly named Hardin's Creek: Colonel James B. Beam and Hardin's Creek: Jacob’s Well, respectively. The brand follows up last year's release with an ambitious three part release named the Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series, which will be highlighting Kentucky terroir. The company states in their press release that “each expression within The Kentucky Series is a 17-year-old Bourbon, aged at one of three James B. Beam Distilling Company [Kentucky] campuses: Clermont, Frankfort, and Boston. All three liquids were laid down with the same mash bill at the same time seventeen years ago but aged at different campus locations."
The company’s Clermont location is best known to bourbon fans as being the main Jim Beam visitor center. This location has lots of trees and valleys which provide more shade. The barrels used in the Hardin’s Creek Clermont release were aged in Warehouse E, which is located at the center of the campus.
Notably, the company has chosen to label each bottle in this series with an age statement of 204 months, which translates to exactly 17 years. Each release in the series will carry the same age statement and will be bottled at 110 proof.
The bourbon opens on warm notes reminiscent of the fall season. Toasted marshmallows, hints of roasted nuts, and light cinnamon sticks immediately rush forward. Exploring deeper reveals subtle yet defined scents of vanilla bean and caramel. Adding intrigue is a dash of rye spice along with mellow oak which helps to add balance. The bourbon’s proof helps pull out the aromas without going overboard and provides for a really great opening that showcases classic bourbon notes without coming across as over-oaked.
The sweetness found in the nose carries over to the palate, however, the bourbon's age plays a notable role now. A pop of spiced caramel and brown sugar appears which is immediately met with a slightly tannic aged oak note. Noticeable rye spice appears which highlights the bourbon's proof. Exploring further brings out tepid notes of lightly buttered popcorn, tobacco leaf, dried raisins, and leather. While Hardin's Creek Clermont is clearly pushing its limits of how much longer it could have stayed in the barrel, the overall combination still works well. It’s not quite up to the same level that the nose provides for the opening, but it will definitely be pleasing for those who like a more earthy aged bourbon.
Hardin's Creek Clermont’s 17 year age again shines through in the form of dried raisins and dry leather and oak. Light cinnamon spiced apples and dry baking spices weave in and out, although their presence is short-lived. Returning to an incredibly dry oak note with dashes of dried raisins, the finish rides out an undulating heat for a short amount of time. It’s a nice way to wrap things up, but doesn’t provide the same dynamics as the earlier portions of the sip.
The premise behind the entire Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series is really interesting. Having been distilled with the exact same mashbill, laid down the exact same day, and aged for the exact same amount of time, yet aged in different parts of Kentucky, asks the question if the resulting bourbons will carry similar or unique flavor profiles. While terroir experiments have been done before, and new ones are popping up in the form of Russells Reserve’s Single Rickhouse Collection, nothing quite this controlled and long term has been done to the extent of what Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series is doing.
In our conversation with Freddie Noe, it was revealed that all three bourbons were distilled using the mashbill found in a standard bottle of Jim Beam, were laid down within 24 hours of each other, and all were aged on the 2nd or 3rd floor of their warehouses. Normally bourbon distilled at the Clermont campus (which is aged at Clermont and Frankfort) is blended with bourbon distilled at the company’s Boston campus. Instead for this series, the barrels for each release were only blended with other barrels aged in their own respective locations. The barrels used for this experiment were initially identified when they were all 15.5 years old. Seeing as how they use the standard Jim Beam mashbill and were being aged beyond the 4 to 5 years found in a blend of normal Jim Beam, it’s an interesting and unique concept in terms of what impact the location’s terroir has on the bourbon, as well as what really high aged Jim Beam tastes like.
Noe explained to us that the batch size for each of the three releases is about the same, with each consisting of a blend of 55-60 barrels, with the angel’s share percentages all being within 2% of each other. While no exact number was given for how many bottles will be in each of the three releases in this series, he did state that the yield was small.
Unique backstory aside, highly aged bourbon from Jim Beam is still a rarity for the most part. While Hardin’s Creek: Jacob’s Well came in over 15 years old, other higher aged Beam products have usually come in the form of Knob Creek over the last decade including Knob Creek 2001, Knob Creek 15 Year, and Knob Creek 18 Year. The latter which shares the same mashbill and similar age, however, has the flexibility of being able to blend in bourbon from various warehouses to hone in its flavor profile.
While I’ll save my tasting notes and thoughts for full reviews of the Frankfort and Boston batches, I will say that I found Clermont to carry distinct subtle traits by comparison. The bourbon aged at this campus leans more heavily into its sweeter notes. While it's a bourbon that clearly highlights its age, at the same time it highlights sweetness usually found in bourbons aged for a few years less.
At the end of the day, this entire series is one of the more unique concepts that the market has seen as of late. While you clearly need the barrel selection depth of a massive company such as Beam Suntory to pull this off, you also have to give the company credit for greenlighting this. It would have been just as easy to let this bourbon rest a little longer and release it as another higher aged Knob Creek. Instead, consumers now have a fun way to compare and contrast how the landscape of Kentucky shapes a bourbon.
Hardin's Creek Kentucky Series: Clermont falls in line with the brand's pricing for the first release. While Hardin’s Creek: Jacob’s Well was a 15 year, 4 month old bourbon, it carried a $150 price tag. Adding on an additional year in a half of aging, brings with it a reasonable $20 bump in price. This is the exact price that the 2022 Knob 18 Year release carried last year, and I’d be inclined to say that it would be even more if released today. With just a few exceptions, age is costly in today’s marketplace. While age by no means has a correlation to quality, the market has adjusted to the fact that higher-aged bourbons just cost more. A 17 year old Kentucky bourbon being priced at $170 is actually in line with today’s expectations for what consumers should expect to pay. While I wouldn’t call it a value, you’d be hard-pressed to find a 17 year being priced for the same or less.
My main gripe with this price tag is that it’s for a single bottle. In order to really experience the whole series, you’ll need to be lucky enough to track down all three bottles over several months and compare them side by side. As of now, the brand has no plans to release the full series as a three bottle set. I would have preferred to see this series be released as a set of three 200 mL bottles, as the number who will actually get to try all three next to each other as is intended by this series, will be on the low side.
An ambitious experiment in Kentucky terroir starts off on an intriguing foot with a bourbon that delivers more sweetness than expected for its age.
You have to give it to Beam Suntory and specifically Freddie Noe. Hardin’s Creek is an interesting new brand extension for the company and with the Kentucky Series, expands on its original idea with a fascinating bourbon-focused take on terroir. While the bourbons in last year's release were good, in Jacob’s Well’s case really good, it wasn’t anything groundbreaking. However, in just its second year, Hardin’s Creek came out swinging with one of the more ambitious experiments by a major Kentucky distillery in years past.
With Clermont being the first bottle in the series, it’s hard for consumers to compare it to the others in the series. That said, its sweeter scents and notes found in the nose and palate bring intrigue to a bourbon aged 17 years. Yes, the amount of time the bourbon spent in the barrel clearly impacted the flavor profile, particularly the bourbon's finish, but it never veered too far off course to derail it either. This is a bourbon that uses its age to its advantage and delivers a sip that brings with it a wide array of interesting flavors that come together to deliver a solid sip.
I find Clermont to be fascinating in what it delivers, but it doesn’t quite reach the same level that last year’s Hardin’s Creek: Jacob’s Well did. And bluntly, that’s okay since these are two very different concepts. What it does do well, is set a solid stake in the ground for what users can expect for the rest of the series. I’m excited for the company to release the rest of the line to consumers in the coming months and allow others the ability to see the difference the different aging locations had on the bourbon. For those who buy a bottle of Clermont, make sure you save a little to compare to the Frankfort and Boston releases. You’ll be pleased you did.