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.” An additional press release was published for the Frankfort release containing many of the same details.
The company’s Frankfort location has no distillery onsite. Instead, bourbon is trucked in and it is used as an aging and bottling campus. Located on the banks of Elkhorn Creek and containing an abundance of tree coverage, this facility is also more commonly known as the Jim Beam Old Grand-Dad Plant. It contains the oldest of all of Beam’s warehouses, with Warehouse A being built in 1914.
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 with heavy rye spice layered on top of aged oak. Lying beneath is a steady flow of cinnamon and vanilla spice mix along with a scent of baked pie crust. Furthermore, a thin vein of summer fruits flows through. The bourbon's proof is evident and shines through, but isn’t distracting. It’s a nice balanced opening to the sip that is full of defined and very enjoyable scents.
Bright vanilla and cinnamon sticks pop up front and are quickly followed by cinnamon spice and a baking spice mix. Dried notes of charred oak and tobacco align with a light leather highlighting the bourbon's age. Exploring further pulls in an inkling of burnt caramel and dried raisins and the same baked pie crust found in the nose. Taken as a whole, these flavors work hand in hand to create a great midpoint for the sip that keeps drawing you back to experience them again and again.
A burst of cinnamon spice starts off the finish up front, and is joined by light graham cracker. Additional notes of dried oak, leather, and vanilla spice appear adding depth. Throughout all of this, rye spice and heat continually build, contributing to the overall character of the finish. As flavors drop off, the bourbon ends on a lingering peppery rye spice note resting on top of dried oak. Just as the bourbon started, the finish provides a very enjoyable way to end the sip.
I discussed in detail in my Hardin's Creek Kentucky Series: Clermont review the backstory behind the Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series is worth repeating. 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 (and terroir-themed) experiments have been done before, and new ones are popping up such as 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 standard 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.
Compared to the Clermont release, I found the Frankfort release to offer distinct and unique enough variations to feel confident in saying that so far the two releases stand out just enough from each other to offer something new. In our conversation with Noe, he described the Frankfort release as the wild card of the series, and I can see why after spending time with this bourbon. Its nose opens with not quite the same intensity as the Clermont release, however, its palate pulls in flavors that allow it to slightly edge it out in that category. When it comes to the finish though, it slightly bests both Clermont and the Boston releases, combining sweet and spicy flavor notes and ending on long lingering notes of peppery rye spice and charred oak that are very satisfying.
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.
The value for this bourbon falls very in line with its Clermont counterpart almost to a T, which makes sense when you think about how closely similar this entire line is in terms of age, mashbill, and distillation source. Both of these releases fall 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.
I stated this in my Clermont review and want to re-emphasize here, my main gripe with this price tag is that it’s for a single bottle. It became even more apparent when tasting the Frankfort release that 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 200mL 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.
Dubbed the “wild card” of the Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series by Freddie Noe, Frankfort is a good reminder of the impact that different aging locations can have on a bourbon.
Hardin's Creek Kentucky Series: Frankfort could have easily been a bust in several ways. While the most obvious is that it could have tasted horrible given its high age, the next worst scenario is that it could have tasted exactly the same as the Clermont release. This would have not only proved to be the antithesis of what this series set out to prove, but also would have given consumers little reason to fork over another $170 to try the upcoming Boston release. Thankfully Frankfort offers just enough variation from the Clermont release to make this a truly exciting series.
Stated plainly, in a head-to-head taste test, both the Clermont release and the Frankfort release end up being well above average bourbons. However, they tend to lean into their strong points at various portions of the sip. Where Clermont has a better nose, Frankfort provides a better palate. Its finish is also slightly better and indeed I find it to be the best of the series overall. However, what’s more interesting is that the flavor profiles accomplish this using both similar and different flavor components. The end result is a validation of the fact that two bourbons distilled within 24 hours of each other and aged for the same amount of time at geographically different locations, can in fact taste different.
This works very well as a standalone bourbon, but really allows the series to shine when you have a chance to compare it against the Clermont release and the upcoming Boston release. While I do wish Beam would have come out with an easier way for consumers to try all three, those who do manage to get a bottle of each (and not drink through all of them before Boston is released) are in for a treat. This is a fun tasting experience so far, and I’m looking forward to the final Boston series release to come out and be the end cap in the series.