Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Beam Suntory
Distillery: Jim Beam
Release Date: Ongoing
Age: 12 Years
Mashbill: 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
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 12 Year was originally positioned as a limited edition bourbon when it was released in late 2019. Since its initial release, Knob Creek 12 Year now joins Knob Creek 9 Year, as part of the standard Knob Creek small batch lineup.
An expressive nose starts things off. Toasted oak, vanilla, caramel, and fresh baked Bundt cake are present. These scents come across as rich and creamy with a very pleasing delivery. In addition to the flavors, a slight amount of ethanol is also present. While it’s not enough to put a damper on the nose, it is enough to hold it back from being truly fantastic. Even with the ethanol, the rich scents play great together and make for a really excellent way to start things off.
The extra time in the barrel is positively noticed right away. Rich oak combined with a hint of leather pops right away. Searching deeper are sweeter touches of vanilla and marshmallow along with a sprinkling of white pepper. It’s a refined and complex palate that tames the ethanol found in the nose, yet uses every bit of its 100 proof to pull forward the flavors that are present. The palate exemplifies what Small Batch Knob Creek is capable of delivering by spending more time in the barrel.
The finish ends the sip by pulling forth drier and spicier flavors of black pepper, tobacco leaf, leather, and oak. These drier flavors transition to a lingering peppery oak that’s dotted with a touch of vanilla and peanuts. The flavor combination may seem like a weird one, but it works very well in this case. While the finish doesn’t quite deliver to the same level that the palate does, the pleasingly long combination of oak and spice helps to end on a high note.
Knob Creek 12 Year is a throwback to double digit age statements, which used to be more common just a few short years ago. While the most common 10+ year small batch bourbon used to be Elijah Craig 12 Year, which was sold for around $30, that bottle now seems like a distant memory and not just one that was common to find on the shelf five years ago. Fast forward to today, and age stated small batch bourbons are rare to see. There are of course Eagle Rare and Russel’s Reserve 10 Year coming in right at 10 years (and 10 proof points lower), however non-limited edition small batch bourbons aged over 10 years old are an even bigger rarity.
From its initial release in 1992 up to late 2016, Knob Creek carried a 9 year age statement. In 2016, Beam removed the age statement saying that they could not guarantee all barrels would be aged to 9 years due to inventory issues. Beam then reverted, announcing that the age statement would return in 2020. In spring 2020, NAS Small Batch bottles were phased out with newer 9 year age stated versions.
Comparing the outgoing NAS Small Batch to Knob Creek 12 Year, it’s immediately evident that the 12 year brings back some of the shine that Knob Creek NAS lost. The result of the extra time in oak is prominent as the additional age shows through in a more complex and deeper sip that highlights rich oaky flavors throughout. Where the NAS Small Batch left you wanting just a bit more oomph throughout the sip, the 12 Year hits in all the right areas and is a great example that you don’t need to be a high octane barrel proof bourbon to deliver a fantastic sip.
In current times, any bourbon with a double digit age statement comes with a price premium. While Knob Creek 12 Year’s price of $60 may seem high, in comparison to others on the market, especially for the flavor profile delivered, it seems like a downright bargain. Now you may say to yourself that you can find 14 year old Knob Creek Single Barrels for the same price or less that are higher in proof and also taste great. What needs to be remembered here is that not all single barrels are the same and not everyone wants such a high proof. Sure some of these single barrels can be standouts, but others can be duds. What Knob Creek 12 Year delivers for the price is consistency. And in this case, a consistent flavor profile that is the best non-limited edition Knob Creek Small Batch to date. That is a rarity and what more distilleries should strive to emulate nowadays in regards to delivering a great age stated bourbon for a price that won’t break the bank.
Knob Creek 12 Year is a reminder that a bourbon doesn’t need to be a high octane barrel proof pick, a limited edition special release, or even a single barrel to offer a fantastic sip that is available year round.
Adding age to their Small Batch Collection is a route that Beam has been taking in the last few years. Sometimes it comes in a permanent fixture like Baker’s 7 year age or Booker’s varying age statement and the return of Knob Creek Small Batch’s 9 year age statement, and other times it comes in limited edition forms like Baker’s 13 Year Single Barrel or Basil Hayden's 10 Year. Sometimes this extra age, along with the associated extra price, works in the bourbon's favor, and other times it makes you scratch your head.
In this case, Knob Creek 12 Year is a testament to the fact that sometimes it’s worth paying a premium for an age stated bourbon. Compared to standard release Knob Creek Small Batch bourbons of the past, 12 Year delivers the richest flavor profile to date. That flavor comes at a premium price however, and I would expect its higher price may make many pause. In this case however, the price justifies the sip and is worth the time to seek out a bottle.