Knob Creek as a brand is often hard to go wrong with. Want a bourbon that’s available, affordable, versatile, and high quality? The standard Small Batch has you covered. Want the same aspects but with stronger flavors, variety from bottle to bottle, and a reasonable bump in price? Look no further than the Single Barrel (pick or not). On their own, these two expressions give most bottles on the market a run for their money, which is all the more impressive when we consider the Knob Creek brand has only been around for 29 years. Yet Jim Beam have done well to tap into the brand since its inception, introducing limited bottlings and new permanent bottle additions.
This brings us to Knob Creek Straight Rye which, unlike its bourbon brethren, carries no age statement, but otherwise shares the same proof, small batch moniker, and similar price tag of around $30. The mash bill is undisclosed but believed to be of the “barely legal” rye classification. Does it live up to the strong standards set by the aforementioned sibling? Let’s find out.
Nose: Sweet, gentle herbal spice essence, and a touch of dryness. Earthy, but also developed. Lemon and lime zest with some dry mint and basil. Hints of vanilla, unripe banana, and black pepper. Feels respectably aged with being “oaky.” Post-sip brings slightly more robust vanilla and citrus notes. Anise and hazelnut eventually emerges.
Palate: Medium mouthfeel. Initially vegetal, followed by light caramel and brown sugar, then overshadowed by black pepper and herbs. Has a savory quality, like salted basil to go with the light brown sugar. Citrus notes abound with lemon becoming more lime-like while orange lulls until setting the stage for the finish.
Finish: Fairly lengthy pepper notes. A whisper of vanilla cream accents the lime and orange residuals. Mellows out nicely with an increased presence of licorice after a few sips.
Knob Creek Straight Rye checks almost all of the boxes I look for in a solid whiskey. It smells good, tastes good, has a bit of robustness from the proof and aging to help it stand out, and feels like something that could easily be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail. I will say that this strikes me as a whiskey meant to be used in cocktails, which may come across like a complaint when it’s absolutely not. Think of it this way, if I were to order a Manhattan and noticed the bar normally makes it with Rittenhouse or Woodford Reserve Rye, I’d ask if they have this to substitute.
Ultimately, Knob Creek Straight Rye is a stellar option for those looking to branch out of bourbon and into rye whiskey, or for those who gravitate toward barely legal ryes. The whiskey? Solid. The price? Just right. Availability? Good. And I’ll reiterate: versatility is this whiskey’s greatest strength.