When Knob Creek first hit store shelves in 1992, it was an anomaly. At a time when most bourbons were unremarkable - more suitable for cocktails than imbibing on their own - Knob Creek was a pre-Prohibition-style bourbon bottled at 100 proof and aged for nine years as an in-your-face, full-flavored whiskey chock-full of woody, nutty, spicy and cinnamony notes.
Knob Creek reflected the type of whiskey that legendary Jim Beam master distiller Booker Noe II liked to drink, says his son, Fred Noe, who is Beam's current master distiller. "Dad liked his whiskey big and bold," he says.
It was also remarkably consistent, which isn't surprising given that it was blended, filtered and then bottled in bond.
"Dad didn't like single-barrel releases because he didn't like to showcase the variations between the barrels," Fred Noe says.
Yet, despite the whiskey's historical ties to Booker Noe II, Knob Creek's 25th Anniversary Bourbon stands in sharp contrast to the original release. While Knob Creek has sold single-barrel releases in the past, the 12- to 13-year-old bourbon featured in the 25th Anniversary Bourbon is the distillery's first-ever unfiltered, cask-strength, single-barrel bourbon, which comes with the suggested retail price of $129.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle.
Given that the release stems from roughly 300 barrels, that means there are 300 different versions of the 25th Anniversary Bourbon.
"There are so many variables that contribute to the flavor of the liquid inside the barrel," Fred Noe says. "Where it's stored - whether it is out by the wall, the center of the house, what floor it's on - all contribute to the bourbon's differences. If you did a chemical analysis, you'd probably have 300 unique variations because there is no way that any two would be identical."
Some are woodier, while others have more pronounced vanilla notes. Some have a longer finish; others are stronger. Even the proof ranges, from 120 to 125.
Twenty-five years after Knob Creek's initial release, the bourbon market has grown increasingly crowded. But the 25th Anniversary Bourbon manages to stand out, given the bourbon's depth of flavor. The whiskey hits you at first with pronounced caramel and honey notes that give way to spicy cinnamon and nutmeg flavors. It's distinct and worth checking out.
Zak Stambor is a freelance writer.