Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon is one of four bourbons that comprise Jim Beam’s Small Batch Bourbon Collection. The others are Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s Bourbon, and Booker’s Bourbon.
Knob Creek 18 Year is a limited edition release and is the oldest Knob Creek release to date. According to the press release, “Three decades ago, Booker Noe, grandson of Jim Beam and Sixth Generation Master Distiller, set out to define the standards for pre-prohibition style bourbon and introduced Knob Creek.” Knob Creek 18 Year “celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Knob Creek.”
Leather and aged oak are most prominent up front, juxtaposed against a complementary caramel sweetness. Hints of tobacco, dark fruit, and nutmeg add depth. While definitely characteristic of older bourbon, with aged oak as its focal point, the aroma has a vibrancy to it that works with its oak forwardness. Overall, this makes for a nicely constructed introduction to the sip.
Burnt brown sugar, caramel, tobacco, and a dash of baking spices mingle over top of an aged oak base. It has a manageable, almost welcome dryness that plays into the bourbon’s aged oak base, assuring you of its high age. While its mouthfeel is a tad thinner than I would like, the palate otherwise does well to highlight the aged oak with an underlying vibrancy similar to its aroma. It’s an excellent classic combination of flavors that focuses on aged oak, but still maintains a high level of drinkability.
Sweet caramel and brown sugar establish a greater presence in the finish, along with a more robust baking spice intensity. Fading towards dry tobacco and oak, the long finish settles on a balance between aged oak and the complementary supporting flavors. It’s very well constructed and maintains just the right amount of dryness that says it’s an older bourbon, but never overdoes it.
Knob Creek has been slowly introducing higher age stated bourbons into its lineup, first by reintroducing Knob Creek Small Batch’s 9 year age statement, then with Knob Creek 12 Year, then with Knob Creek 15 Year, and now with its oldest release to date, Knob Creek 18 Year. With each release clocking in at Knob Creek’s standard 100 proof, and each three years older than the previous, the range of ages gives consumers the opportunity to taste how the bourbon changes as it gets older.
While I often recommend Knob Creek Small Batch as a base option, and Knob Creek 12 Year was awarded our #1 Whiskey of 2020, Knob Creek 15 Year doesn’t handle its oak forwardness as well as I would have liked despite it being enjoyable overall. Knob Creek 18 Year addresses the issues 15 Year was lacking. Most notably, 18 Year offers its oak forwardness with complementary sweet flavors and vibrancy, and manages its dryness better. This combination makes for a quintessential high aged Kentucky bourbon flavor profile, that when paired with its 100 proof point, will appeal to a wide audience of drinkers who want to experience a finely tuned, easily drinkable, high aged Kentucky bourbon with an oak-forward flavor profile. It’s similar to that offered by Elijah Craig 18 Year, but being batched versus single barrel it’s notably more consistent.
Whenever a new Knob Creek product is introduced, it comes with a ready comparison to the existing lineup. Their standard 100 proof Small Batch is 9 years old and lists for around $35. Their standard 120 proof Single Barrel, which also comes in at least 9 years old, is easily found for only about $10-$20 more. Falling right in line, Knob Creek 12 Year comes in around $70 and Knob Creek 15 Year was released (a few times so far) at $100.
Knob Creek 18 Year’s value proposition will depend on your history as a bourbon drinker. If you were heavily involved in bourbon not too long ago, you’ll remember a time when high aged 120 proof Knob Creek Single Barrel selections were plentiful, and typically less than $60 a bottle. It wasn’t unusual to select a 14 year old barrel, plus or minus, and these were some of the absolute best single barrels money could buy. From a value perspective many of these picks were arguably off the chart. Fast forward a few years, and these have all but dried up to be replaced by lower proof, similarly aged, and higher priced mainstream alternatives; Knob Creek 12 Year and 15 Year to be precise. Coming in a bit higher at 18 years old definitely adds some value, but at a lower proof point and for about triple the cost of the high aged single barrels, Knob Creek 18 Year’s $170 asking price is a hard pill to swallow.
But if you haven’t been exposed to these epic high aged, high proof Knob Creek single barrels from the past, and instead have found yourself chasing higher aged Kentucky bourbons to little avail, your perspective will be very different. Similar releases include Elijah Craig 18 Year ($150), Heaven Hill 17 Year ($275), Old Fitgerald 17 Year ($185), and of course Eagle Rare 17 Year ($99), which is part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and nearly impossible to find at MSRP. Considering these competitors, Knob Creek 18 Year’s price point starts to align a bit more clearly. Moreover, 100 proof is probably about as high as most consumers can handle, so despite the fact that a portion of us tend to gravitate towards higher proof options, 100 proof is more than enough for most. If you fall in this group and want a well crafted, high aged, oak-forward Kentucky bourbon, you’ll likely find Knob Creek 18 Year to be worth its asking price. Given the history of past limited edition releases of Knob Creek, I suspect it will be reasonably accessible for a time at or around its MSRP.
The oldest release to date, Knob Creek 18 Year is a well constructed, oak forward bourbon with an undeniable vibrancy and complementary sweetness, but doesn’t quite hit the high point the company’s high proof, high aged single barrels have achieved in the past.
Knob Creek is a tried and true brand, and their lineup is a solid recommendation across the board. The stairway of age statements across their bourbon lineup, from 9, to 12, to 15, and now 18 years, offers a chance to taste their bourbon at three year intervals where there is a meaningful difference from release to release that adds more noticeable oak influence at each interval. This style of release is similar to the Old Rip Van Winkle lineup, which is released at 10, 12, 15, 20, and 23 year old ages. Unfortunately, for many the Old Rip Van Winkle lineup is very difficult, or expensive, to obtain. And for now, we don’t know if there will be additional 15 or 18 year old Knob Creek releases in the future.
With Knob Creek, the bourbons are priced very reasonably, ranging in value from exceptionally priced to fair…at worst. Better yet, the bourbons have been historically accessible. While Knob Creek 18 Year’s 100 proof and $170 price point might make bourbon enthusiasts familiar with a time when high aged 120 proof Knob Creek single barrels were plentiful at around $60 a bottle, today it’s a fairly priced bourbon and not a surprising move for the brand. Moving pre-conceptions of Knob Creek based on past experiences with their epic single barrels aside, Knob Creek 18 Year is a well constructed example of high aged, traditional-style Kentucky bourbon. It offers up plenty of oak, but delivers it with just the right amount of complementary flavors and underlying vibrancy.