Knob Creek is one of the premium bourbon brands put out by American whisky maker Jim Beam. It is aged longer than most bourbons (currently stated as 9 years on the label), and is bottled at a higher proof (50% ABV).
Supposedly, the spirit for Knob Creek comes off the stills at a lower proof than standard Jim Beam, thus retaining a little bit more spirit character (i.e., the esters and congeners that give whisky its core characteristics). See my Source of Whisky’s Flavour page for a detailed discussion of how wood barrel aging turns this into finished whisky.
It is also an example of a typical “low rye” bourbon – although there is no universally-agreed level for what proportion of rye in a mashbill qualifies as such (and most makers don’t publish exact levels anyway). Nevertheless, most enthusiasts would place Knob Creek in same relatively low-rye category as the other Jim Beam brands, Elijah Craig, Evan Williams and the main mashbill used by Buffalo Trace/Eagle Rare/Stagg, etc. This is in contrast to bourbons which have a higher amount of rye flavouring, like Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, Woodford, 1792, etc.
Let’s see how Knob Creek compares to other low-rye mashbill bourbons in my Meta-Critic database:
Baker’s: 7yo 8.79 ± 0.29 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Basil Hayden’s: 8.38 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Booker’s Small Batch: 8.88 ± 0.29 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Buffalo Trace: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.71 ± 0.23 on 15 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams BiB (White label): 8.32 ± 0.53 on 9 reviews ($)
Evan Williams (Black Label): 8.18 ± 0.40 on 14 reviews ($)
Henry McKenna: 8.07 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($)
Henry McKenna 10yo Single Barrel BiB: 8.89 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Black Label: 8.21 ± 0.42 on 15 reviews ($)
Jim Beam Devil’s Cut: 8.05 ± 0.51 on 16 reviews ($)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.61 ± 0.40 on 21 reviews ($$)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve: 8.80 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Stagg Jr (all batches): 8.57 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Standard Knob Creek gets a good score for the price in this class of bourbons.
I recently sampled this from a 50mL sample bottle while on my travels in the US (glass bottle, shown on the right). A nice miniature scale reproduction of the larger bottle, right down to the engraved lot code on the back (which are rare to see on miniatures).
Colour: Red delicious apple juice
Nose: Classic bourbon nose, though not too strong. Woody (oaky), with caramel and vanilla notes, plus pancake syrup. Earthy. A bit of cherry (which I often get on bourbons). Light rye spices (nutmeg mainly). Melted butter. Touch of acetone at the end, but subtle. A sweeter and fuller-body version of Basil Hayden’s comes to mind.
Palate: Classic bourbon presentation again, with caramel and vanilla to the fore. No real fruits to speak of. Nutty (peanuts in particular, which I gather is a Jim Beam hallmark). Tobacco leaf and a touch of dark chocolate. Pepper joins the nutmeg (plus some cinnamon too now). Chewy texture, with a bit more kick than typical (thanks to 50% ABV). Pretty decent bourbon, with a good range of straightforward flavours.
Finish: Medium. Toasty, with wood spice and some vanilla. There’s a slight sourness here – its also dry, with a mild mouth-puckering astringency at the end.
Surprisingly easy to drink neat, despite the slightly sour/dry aspect. Quite a respectable bourbon, especially for the price. I would put it on par with Elijah Craig in terms of quality, although it is perhaps a touch less flavourful. Personally, I still prefer the Buffalo Trace/Eagle Rare/Stagg juice (the latter two are under-rated in the Meta-Critic database, in my view).
Given its quality – and bonafides described earlier – Knob Creek is a good choice for both sipping neat and in mixed drinks.
For further reviews of this bourbon, Lew of Whisky Advocate is very keen on it, as is Jim Murray. More moderately positive are Nathan the Scotchnoob, Josh the Whiskey Jug, and Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer. Ralfy is less of a fan of this one.