Knob Creek 9 Year

Having reviewed Knob Creek 12 and 15, it seemed only appropriate to review the affordable and widely available 9-year expression. If it weren’t for Wild Turkey 101, Knob Creek might just be my table bourbon. But then, I’m spoiling this review. Let’s do this right.

Pour: Knob Creek 9 Year
Proof: 100
Age: 9 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: nutty toffee, vanilla, sweet citrus
Taste: brown sugar, zesty oak, baking spice
Finish: moderate length – caramel, nutmeg, mild pepper

Overall: I don’t just like Knob Creek, I love it. It’s not going to win major awards or destroy competition twice its price, but it doesn’t need to. This is the profile an everyday bourbon should be. No youth, no tannins, just 100-proof, $30 goodness.

Rating: A modern classic.

Knob Creek 12 Year

2020 was a banner year for Knob Creek bourbon. Its original 9-year age statement returned, a reasonably priced 15-year limited edition was released, and a new 12-year expression was introduced. Having just reviewed the 15-year, I thought I’d give the 12-year a go.

Pour: Knob Creek 12 Year
Proof: 100
Age: 12 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: honey-roasted peanuts, maple, orange tea
Taste: caramel-apple, brown sugar, baked cinnamon
Finish: moderately long – dark fruit, sweet charred oak, autumn spice

Overall: Possibly the most well-balanced Knob Creek expression I’ve tasted. While there’s maturity, there’s an equally present fruitiness not commonly found in Knob Creek Single Barrel selections of similar age. For $60, Knob Creek 12 is a winner.

Rating: Right on the money.

Knob Creek 15 Year

The best thing about Knob Creek limited edition releases is they’re relatively easy to find. 2020’s Knob Creek 15 was no exception. For $100 one could – and still can – purchase a 100-proof, 15-year Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey (sans sourced whiskey mystery bullshit).

Pour: Knob Creek 15 Year
Proof: 100
Age: 15 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: woody cherry, fragrant oak, Coca-Cola Classic
Taste: earthy vanilla, chewing tobacco, sweet sassafras
Finish: moderately long – singed plum, clove gum, leather

Overall: I can’t help but compare Knob Creek 15 to the slightly younger but cheaper Knob Creek 12. While I generally prefer the 12-year’s profile, I remain impressed with the 15-year’s surprising elegance. This is well-aged bourbon done right.

Rating: Mature, meticulous.

Bardstown Bourbon Co. Fusion Series No. 2

Bardstown Bourbon Co. have made a name for themselves in the last few years. Having tried several of their sourced and finished expressions, as well as their distillate and two-year maturate, I can attest to their quality. But what about a blend of both worlds? Enter Fusion.

Pour: Bardstown Bourbon Co. Fusion Series No. 2
Proof: 98.9
Age: 34 months (2-12-year KSBW)
Color: rich amber
Nose: Vanilla Tootsie Roll, roasted almonds, orange peel
Taste: light caramel, melted butter, mild spice
Finish: moderately short – toasted oak, nutty toffee, citrus

Overall: I’m torn with this bourbon. There’s a part of me that genuinely appreciates the experimentation aspect – a blend of young and old, distilled and sourced. But then, there’s nothing unique or noteworthy happening to justify Fusion’s $60 price.

Rating: Getting there.

New Riff Single Barrel Rye

I’ve been a fan of New Riff’s bourbon for some time now. What they can do in a handful of years is remarkable. Until today, I’ve yet to experience their straight rye whiskey, and I’m doing so with their single-barrel expression, bottled NCF at full barrel proof. Cue the riff!

Pour: New Riff Single Barrel KY Straight Rye Whiskey 16-2074
Proof: 105.2
Age: 4 years
Color: amber
Nose: apple, honey-butter, lemon zest, floral spice
Taste: cake frosting, lemon-lime soda, hints of ginger
Finish: moderately long – toffee drizzle, peppery oak, faint leather

Overall: A zesty, enjoyable Kentucky rye. While there’s a trace of youth here, it’s not at all distracting. In fact, I’d argue the vibrancy enhances its character. New Riff Single Barrel Rye is flavorful, sips its proof, and as such, gets my recommendation.

Rating: Refreshing.

Benchmark “Old No. 8” Bourbon

Benchmark is one of two brands acquired by Sazerac from Seagram’s in the 1980s (the other being Eagle Rare). Today, it’s distilled by Buffalo Trace and is commonly found for less than $10 in liquor stores nationwide. Sounds like a deal, right? Don’t get your hopes up just yet.

Pour: Benchmark “Old No. 8” Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Proof: 80
Age: 36 months
Color: straw
Nose: margarine, strawberry Greek yogurt, apple juice
Taste: canned corn, sour pears, pasteboard
Finish: not short enough – Lemon Pledge, sadness

Overall: Rarely can I not finish a bourbon. Benchmark is one such pour. Yes, it’s labeled “Kentucky straight,” but three years in oak just doesn’t cut it here. It’s thin, youthful, oddly sour, and unpleasant. If this is a benchmark of whiskey, I’m Tom Handy.

Rating: Gag Jr.

Old Carter Rye Batch 5

I had the pleasure of meeting Mark and Sherri Carter in the Spring of 2019. Warm-hearted folks with a genuine appreciation for exceptional whiskey and wine. I tasted four of their releases and quickly realized their talents. Here’s 2020’s Old Carter Rye (Indiana) batch 5.

Pour: Old Carter Straight Rye Whiskey batch 5
Proof: 115.5
Age: at least 4 years
Color: rosy copper
Nose: tangelo peel, fruity caramel, mint tea, dill
Taste: tart fruit cocktail, dense herbal spice, citrus punch
Finish: long & zesty – tangy oak, orange-vanilla frosting, white pepper

Overall: There are countless Indiana (MGP) straight rye whiskeys on the market today. Due to youth or imperfect barrel selection, the grand majority pale in comparison to Old Carter Rye batch 5. The downside is its $199 price tag, but I don’t regret a penny.

Rating: Delightful.

Larceny Barrel Proof B520

When Larceny Barrel Proof was first announced, whiskey fans went nuts. A barrel-proof 6-8-year wheated bourbon? Sounds like a winner, right? In a world of Pappymania, you’d think. Unfortunately, Heaven Hill has seldom shone in the wheated department. Maybe batch B520 will.

Pour: Larceny Barrel Proof Bourbon B520
Proof: 122.2
Age: NAS (reportedly 6-8 years)
Color: dense copper
Nose: toasted butterscotch, oak char, brown sugar
Taste: nutty vanilla, roasted marshmallow, black licorice
Finish: moderately long – salted peanuts, English toffee, sassafras 

Overall: I hate to label this as a one-trick pony, but inevitably, that’s what Larceny Barrel Proof B520 is. Not that it’s a boring bourbon. It’s just a handful of similar notes trekking and trotting within a hefty, yet easily sippable high-ABV whiskey.

Rating: Bold Fitz.

Bulleit Blenders’ Select No. 001

Is it Four Roses or something altogether different? At this point, I’ve wasted too much of my time trying to figure out what Bulleit puts into their bottles to care. As for their Blenders’ Select No. 001, it’s a marriage of three bourbons crafted by the talented Eboni Major.

Pour: Bulleit Bourbon Blenders’ Select No. 001
Proof: 100
Age: at least 4 years
Color: copper
Nose: buttercream icing, orange creamsicle, sweet tea
Taste: fruity caramel, zesty charred oak, citrus & herbal spice
Finish: moderate length – vanilla cream soda, orange peel, nutmeg

Overall: This is one of those whiskeys that really grows on you. Initially, I was satisfied. Then I was impressed. Each time since, Bulleit Blenders’ Select has never wavered. It’s a stealthy, sharp-shooting bourbon that belongs in every enthusiast’s arsenal.

Rating: Bullseye.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof Rye

Several days ago, I reviewed Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof, an excellent TN Whiskey (BOURBON). Today, I’m giving Jack Daniel’s “Special Release” Barrel Proof Rye a go. I’ve heard nothing but good things – different levels of good, but good nonetheless. Let’s pour!

Pour: Jack Daniel’s SiB Barrel Proof Rye 20-06941
Proof: 131.9
Age: not stated
Color: deep rosy copper
Nose: hummingbird cake, vanilla pudding, blood orange
Taste: rye pancakes, thick molasses, boozy citrus
Finish: long & intense – dark-fruity caramel, lemon-pepper, holiday spice

Overall: Folks, this is a grand slam. The viscosity, the depth, the complexity, the balance … it carries it effortlessly at a remarkably palatable 131.9 proof. It’s a single-barrel release, so there’s always that; but, if you see this rye don’t sleep on it.

Rating: Outstanding.

Woodford Reserve Very Fine Rare Bourbon

Woodford Reserve is a brand I seldom discuss. The reason is straightforward: I’m simply not a fan of their bourbon. But when trusted friends with well-versed palates recommend a whiskey, I listen. And so, I found myself investing in Woodford Reserve’s Very Fine Rare. Here goes.

Pour: Woodford Reserve Very Fine Rare Bourbon
Proof: 90.4
Age: NAS (reportedly 4-17 years)
Color: dense copper
Nose: cast iron cornbread, floral honey, Toblerone chocolate
Taste: vanilla extract, tart oak, semisweet molasses
Finish: moderate length – caramel, coffee, smoky citrus

Overall: I’m not completely sold on this bourbon, though it’s a pleasantly fascinating, commendable head-scratcher. There’s a lot to chew on here. Woodford’s Very Fine Rare doesn’t check all the boxes I prefer, but damn if it doesn’t check some curious ones.

Rating: Intriguing.

Old Forester Bourbon

Old Forester is a heritage Kentucky brand that’s garnered significant attention over the last few years, primarily because of their Whiskey Row series and the exemplary work of master taster Jackie Zykan. But how does their 86-proof namesake bourbon fare? Please, allow me.

Pour: Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Proof: 86
Age: at least 4 years
Color: honey
Nose: cake frosting, light oak, banana creme
Taste: sharp vanilla, mild baking spice, polished leather
Finish: moderate length – astringent oak, semi-sweet caramel, faint licorice

Overall: Not great; not terrible. All things considered, at this same proof and price point I’d reach for Evan Williams black label. Still, there are redeemable qualities here and Old Forester should fashion a quality low-proof Kentucky Mule when called upon.

Rating: Ale 8.