Twenty years after Booker Noe, sixth generation distiller and grandson of Jim Beam, introduced Knob Creek bourbon, we will soon see their first ever single barrel bottling. Those of you who live in the Twin Cities will have a chance to taste this new whiskey at a release party being held during happy hour this Thursday at Prohibition in downtown Minneapolis. Like the Maker’s 46 party last year, this event is open to everyone of drinking age and is a great way to sample something new as it enters the market.
Normally, the flavors associated with a particular bourbon are achieved by carefully combining whiskey from many different barrels. This process allows master distillers to create the same flavor profile year after year, maintaining a consistent and recognizable product. The single barrel concept is exactly the opposite: individual barrels of aged whiskey are tasted for specific flavor characteristics. Once selected, the barrels are dumped and processed for bottling without blending them together. Depending on the barrels selected, the result can be similar to the regular product, or it can emphasize certain aspects of flavor taking the brand in a new direction.
Single Barrel bottling isn’t new. It was developed somewhat in response to the success of single malt Scotch and has added some fantastic bourbon to store shelves over the years. Like wine or even beer, it’s important to recognize that whiskey is an agricultural product that is subject to change over time, not only from the grains that comprise the mash bill, but also from the seasonal affects of barrel aging. Regular bourbon distillers accommodate such variations by adjusting the proportions of mixing barrels, but for single barrel bottling, consistency relies upon the abilities of the master distiller to choose the right barrels that most represent the flavor profile the distillery is trying to achieve. Slight variations are expected and embraced as an exciting aspect of the hand-crafted production process.
Like their regular bourbon, Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve has matured no less than nine years in charred American white oak. This allows the wood to contribute a deep amber color in addition to rich flavors such as vanilla, caramel, spices and smoke. It is bottled at a whopping 120 proof! That’s only slightly less than the maximum strength allowed for cask aging, and it’s definitely higher than most bourbons. We have not tasted the Single Barrel yet, but according to the Knob Creek website, it is surprisingly smooth for packing so much heat. We won’t be able to attend the release party, but if you are there, or you get a chance to taste Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, let us know what you think in the comments below.