Taking Knob Creek Vertical: Tasting The 9, 12 and 15 Year Old Bourbons

By Richard Thomas

Knob Creek Small Batch, 12 YO and 15 YO

(Credit: Richard Thomas)

No news sells like bad news, so it was a good news day for the doom-singers when Knob Creek dropped its age statement in 2016. They crowed “I told ya so,” and pointed even more forcefully to an ever grimmer future.

But then an interesting thing happened. Earlier this year, Knob Creek brought back the 9 year old age statement for its small batch bourbon. As if that weren’t enough, the company then went on to introduce a regular version of the 12 year old version and a limited edition, annual 15 year old version. It’s as if Fred Noe decided to spend 2020 telling bourbon enthusiasts, “See, things aren’t so bad after all.” It’s been a pretty craptastical year overall, but there was a major bright spot for fans of things Jim Beam.

Leaving aside how the creation of a 9-12-15 line of Knob Creek bourbons upends the gloomy bourbon shortage storyline, it also raises the question of how well does Knob Creek age. The answer is an interesting one, because in my estimation it isn’t exactly linear.

Starting with the original Knob Creek 9, I poured from a bottle that predated the replacement of this expression with the NAS version. This is because I take it at face value that it’s the same thing as the revived 9 year old version, seeing as how it’s made by the same company, the same people, and it’s been off the shelf for less than four years. Also, I’m not a conspiracy theorist.

As a classic from the 1990s “small batch era,” the qualities of Knob Creek 9 Year Old are well known. It’s a 100 proof, reasonably priced, properly mature staple of the Jim Beam line-up, serving as a benchmark for what bourbon at that level ought to be. The flavor profile has a rich, but traditional blend of candy corn and caramel sweetness, balanced by cinnamon spiciness, and rounded out with an earthy and charred quality that endows it with heft.

Knob Creek 12 Year Old is very much in tune with what one would expect from an extra three years in the cask. It’s earthier, woodier and spicier. Yet at the same time, it also brings along an indistinct, modest note of red fruitiness. So, in addition to going deeper into its familiar territory, the 12 Year Old also branches out into new territory, if only by a single step.

That becomes important for the 15 Year Old, because while the bourbon is unquestionably leathery, it also builds on that fruitiness. The spiciness and woodiness have evolved as well as deepened, running to spearmint and cedar, which compliments the fuller note of red fruit and berries much better than oak and cinnamon. It’s not as balanced as the 9 and 12 year old whiskeys due to the stronger wood profile, but then again, older bourbons are rarely all that balanced, and this one is perched right on the line between middle aged and truly old. Even so, the 15 Year Old is very far from being a woody bourbon, and the cedar-herbal twist that developed allows it to retain a fair and even character.

Generated by Feedzy