Bourbons touting double-digit age statements are clearly in vogue. The sheer prominence of bottlings such as Calumet Farm 14/15, Sam Houston 14/15, Blue Note 17, Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17-Year (and Bottled in Bond), Russell’s Reserve 13-Year, and Remus Repeal Reserve V are ample evidence to this trend. Jim Beam’s ever-popular Knob Creek brand has absolutely benefitted from consumer interest in high age statements, particularly with regards to their Single Barrel picks. These could often be found with impressive age statements (up to 16 years) with barely a price increase to speak of. For the shopper who wanted well-aged whiskey above all, they really couldn’t find a better value than those.
The word appears to have spread far and wide with these picks, if their seeming disappearance over the past couple years is any indication. And as if on schedule, Jim Beam introduced Knob Creek 12-Year and 15-Year, both closer in spirit to their traditional 9-Year with the “small batch” designation and 100 bottle proof. I recently got the chance to try samples of both thanks to a fellow whiskey fan and have already shared my thoughts on the younger (feels weird calling it that) 12-Year. Now we’re going to examine the 15-Year, which marketed itself as a limited release and came packaged in a Booker’s-style box, complete with a $100 price tag to boot.
Nose: Strong, drying oak and black cherry. Burnt orange and vanilla. Has something of an antiseptic undercurrent floating around. Maybe some lemon and almond butter. Eventually get some cream soda to complement the cherry notes.
Palate: Mild viscosity. Vanilla extract and almond butter upfront. Instead of being overly bitter, the oak manifests as a slight to moderately dry leather and tobacco.
Finish: Soft but lengthy. Age reveals itself more here with a developing oiliness. More lingering vanilla and surprisingly soft wood notes, bolstered by creamy semi-sweet chocolate. Chocolate Lovers Reese’s.
Sipping this whiskey puts me in a familiar place. It’s a place where I’m simply happy with what I’m drinking and occasionally pick up on something a bit more as I spend time with the pour. Compared to the 12-Year, this is deeper, darker, richer, and overall more fulfilling. What makes this pour even more enjoyable is the lack of overly tannic notes. Putting out a bourbon with this high of an age statement is always a risky play, between the lower stocks and increased chances for a drinking experience that loses the sweet, pleasant flavors that many of us look for in our favorite bottles. I’m happy to report that this particular sample of Knob Creek 15-Year avoids such fate.
So Jim Beam seem to have a winner on their hands, right? Well, sort of. I’d be remiss if I didn’t tackle whether I believe this whiskey earns its price tag. At $100, Knob Creek 15-Year positions itself right around the space that Booker’s occupies these days. I do wish Booker’s was aged longer so that it could adopt more of the aspects on display in the Knob Creek, but I still believe Booker’s tends to offer a more fulfilling drinking experience by comparison. Not to mention it’s available multiple times per year with batch names/numbers that are easy to reference. Knob Creek 15-Year is certainly enjoyable, but you don’t need to drop the money it costs to get a comparable (if not superior) drinking experience.