By Richard Thomas
The sheer sucktitude of 2020 is the stuff of memes and jokes, and I’m left to wonder if the year will go down as a watershed to be fictionalized, romanticized and studied or if it will become the kind of thing we’ll all be so eager to forget that we never speak of it hereafter. Yet 2020 wasn’t all bad, especially if you are a fan of Jim Beam’s handiwork. This was the year that saw them break out of the gloomy bourbon shortage storyline by bringing back Knob Creek 9 Year Old, introducing Knob Creek 12 Year Old to the regular line-up (previously an annual limited release), and then crowning it all with a new annual limited release, Knob Creek 15 Year Old.
In most respects, KC15 is a straightforward story. Knob Creek 9 Year Old was part of the seminal Jim Beam Small Batch Collection in the early 1990s, which included Booker’s, Baker’s and Basil Hayden. It’s a late middle aged version of their staple 77% corn, 13% rye, 10% malted barley recipe, bottled at 100 proof.
Knob Creek 15 is a middle amber pour, with a look that could pass for tea. The nose leads with oak, presenting a woody, nutty character that occupies center stage, but leaves some room for traditional bourbon notes of candy corn and caramel, plus a hint of raisins.
The flavor opens on those traditional bourbon notes of candy corn, brown sugar and vanilla, supplemented by hints of red fruit and berries, before being washed over by a wave of cedar and spearmint. The woody age continues to dominate on the palate as much as it did on the nose, but the nature of that woodiness has pivoted away from oak and nuts and to something that compliments that red fruit and berry note marvelously. The finish is minty at first, but as it fades it winds down to its roots of candy corn and vanilla.
So, despite leading with oak, being predominately woody and consequently a little out of balance, that wood-forward character evolves as the drinking experience progresses, eventually fading from the picture altogether to end on a sweet note. If Knob Creek 15 lacks a little something in balance, it gains from that in sophistication, and is a delicious pour for it.
Knob Creek 15 officially goes for $100. I fully expect a great many retailers will demand more for it.