Tag Archives: knob creek

Basil Hayden’s

basilhaydenBasil Hayden’s is the other of Jim Beam’s top-shelf selection, along with Booker’s and Knob Creek which I’ve written about before.  I’ve heard that BH is a lot smoother and gentler than those other two.  That could be a good or a bad things depending on who’s saying it and what the occasion is, though I have to admit I prefer a bolder drink so I’m a little wary.  On to the stats!

Stats:

  • $30-$40
  • 80 proof
  • Made by the Jim Beam folks

Presentation:

Certainly the bottle reflects Basil Hayden’s relative lighness to an extent.  Soft tones and carefully constructed curves contrast with Booker’s homemade feel and Knob’s bursting angularity.  The labeling is actually pretty interesting.  It consists of a smooth, brown paper tunic over the neck of the bottle and extending down the sides and belted by a band of wood and copper.

I like the consistent soft coloring and relatively minimal look, but the story about George Washington and the four-year-old state of Kentucky is a little schlocky.  I suppose anyone who’s read this blog before could have seen that coming.

Tasting:

Basil Hayden’s immediately lets off a sweet aroma once it is poured.  While strong, further inspection opens up tree bark and dry wheat, but remains powerfully candied all along.  Candied wheat?  Is that a thing?

On tasting, there is a quick hint of the explosiveness of Knob Creek, but it quickly fades into a strawberry mingled with a bit of spice.  Toward the end there’s a slow burn of something like dry corn followed by a very clean and easy finish.

One thing that did surprise me here was the mouth feel – it was much bigger than I’d expect from the lighter end of the Beam small-batchers.

Over all:

Basil Hayden’s was very pleasant.  Just now I’ve poured myself another tasting, in fact.  But ultimately it’s nothing to get excited about.

It would make an excellent introductory bourbon for the uninitiated or those used to lighter fare, but only if it weren’t so pricey.  This will be nice to have around and contrast with some of the rest of my collection, but isn’t my favorite of its immediate family.

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Jim Beam Black

Surely, one of the first bourbons I ever tasted was Jim Beam – probably the white label variety and probably with more attention paid to the effects of the drink than its characteristics, sadly.  This is a classic brand that has maintained its status as the standard for Kentucky bourbon for many years.  As a result, it’s difficult to look at a bottle of Jim Beam Black with a fresh and critical set of eyes.

Presentation:

JBB is aged 8 years – twice that of the white label and one year short of Beam’s Knob Creek.  The packaging strays little from the design of the mainline variety, sporting the familiar signature, family tree, red seal, and typeface.  The marketing copy on the side is relatively understated in both its description of the product as well as in the coy humility inserted at the end: “…we know a little about making exceptional bourbon.”

All in all, the packaging is what you expect from Jim Beam, it is one of the standards against which other whiskeys judge their appearance.  The grabs at nostalgia here seem more genuine than fetish-object: the signature at the bottom was introduced decades ago as a hedge against trademark infringement (forgery carrying a higher penalty than the infringement itself).

What can one really say about this bottle?

Tasting:

There is nothing overpowering in the nose of Jim Beam Black, nor is there anything overly complex.  Notes of floral sweetness, oak, and fruit present themselves and quietly retreat.

On the palate Black is much more assertive.  Immediately the corn-driven sweetness is prominent at first, followed by something akin to berries, fresh legumes, and char.  The finish is largely clean with a hint of lingering spice.

Over all:

The similarity between Jim Beam Black and Knob Creek is certainly clear, yet it seems that Knob Creek’s extra year in the barrel made significant difference in the product.  Black is punchier than Four Roses, more interesting than Bulleit, but falls short of Knob Creek in terms of depth and complexity.  Regardless, with the lower price, this would be a good buy.

Knob Creek

After last week’s screed against nostalgia-based marketing, I chose a bourbon that relies less on grandfather-distillers of yore and focuses more on stuff their grandchildren are making today.

Presentation:

Knob Creek’s marketing material on the bottle is refreshingly contemporary, while not completely eschewing references to less mechanized times. They use sans-serif fonts, irregular angles, and intersecting text while making nod to the past with the wax-sealed top and the singular serrated label edge. The bottle text does not speak of ancient recipes or generations old practices, rather it focus on the care that goes into the product itself: 9-year aging, small batch, straight bourbon.

The one deceiving element, however, is the fact that this presentation would have you believe that Knob Creek is a small-time craft distiller, when in fact it’s an arm of Jim Beam and created on the same stills with similar methods.

Tasting:

Opening the bottle releases a sweet whiff of post-rain freshness, but the real fireworks start after it’s poured. The nose definitely tells you this is an assertive drink – definitely 100 proof: warm, wet asphalt, oak, hard candy.

Knob Creek is even less subtle on the palate. It comes in swinging with sweetness and and almost-citrusy tartness. This is followed by a fruity, meaty depth you can sink your teeth into. It finishes long and slow with spice mellowing into a lingering oak.

Over all:

This is a very assertive drink and equally enjoyable. The extra few years in the barrel seem to have done a lot of good. Knob Creek is perhaps the first bourbon I’ve tasted in the course of this blog that could go head-to-head with many single malt scotches as far as complexity and meatiness go.

Definitely my favorite so far.