In 2020, Jim Beam released Knob Creek 12 Year Bourbon, a brand new bourbon to the Knob Creek lineup of ryes and bourbons. For me, it was a welcome addition of a double-digit age-stated bourbon at around the same time that Knob Creek Small Batch finally got back its 9 year old age statement and retailers were picking single barrels that were 14+ years old (but I think that time has since passed).
The Knob Creek line now offers even more age-stated options, so in this Knob Creek 12 Year Bourbon review let’s find out if this one stands out from the crowd.
Whoa, Knob Creek 12 Year Bourbon smells dark, rich and creamy with dense caramel, vanilla, cherry, baked apple chips, cinnamon, chocolate, roasted oak, clove, licorice, and tobacco. All that dark sweetness and refined oakiness create this grand entrance of luxurious scents, reminding me of a well-crafted Armagnac finish, and all without some of the oaky harshness I’ve gotten from 14+ year old Knob Creek Single Barrel bourbons. It’s well controlled at “only” 100 proof.
Swirling coaxes out more oaky and tobacco-y fragrance and a tad more heat. As the heat calms, then comes the dense caramel, vanilla, cherry, orange, apple, licorice, cocoa powder, roasted oak, tobacco, freshly ground coffee, cinnamon, and clove. The scents have a mature and rich presence with well-rounded sugars, fruits, and fragrant oakiness that smell amazing. Knob Creek 12 Year overdelivers at 100 proof, but I can tell that it’s still a tad muddled around the edges because of it not being cask strength, which is honestly a small nitpick at this point. This gives me flashbacks to Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau de Laubade, an absolutely amazing bourbon that will rarely be surpassed, and that’s a complimentary comparison.
Knob Creek 12 Year has very sweet caramel, vanilla, baked apple chips, cinnamon, chocolate, roasted, oak, clove, and a hint of nuttiness at the back end. All that flavorful caramel, vanilla, and chocolate actually catch me a little off-guard because this doesn’t really taste like any other Jim Beam / Knob Creek bourbon. At 100 proof, there isn’t much alcohol sting, but I wish there was an extra 5-8% ABV to add a little more intensity and richness.
“Chewing” brings a lot of rich caramel and vanilla first, then baked apple chips coated in cinnamon, orange peel, cherry, dark chocolate, and licorice, and finally the slightly bitter and drying roasted oak, coffee grounds, and tobacco. I don’t really get any of the dry grassy nuttiness I associate with Jim Beam / Knob Creek. It actually tastes a little like chocolate pudding at times – yum. Knob Creek 12 Year has a solid oakiness, but plays well with everything else to create this awesomely dark, rich, and luxurious experience, although it doesn’t quite have a “wow, amazing” factor . It’s so easy to enjoy at 50% ABV with tons of flavor without the singe of a higher ABV, but I wonder how much better it could have been at a higher ABV. Still, it’s so well made as-is and shatters any expectation you have of Jim Beam and Knob Creek.
The finish has a nice sweetness and oakiness – caramel, roasted oak, dark chocolate, vanilla, dried orange and apple, and licorice. After “chewing” it’s a tad oakier with roasted oak, tobacco, and coffee grounds leading the way followed by toasted caramel, vanilla, licorice, and dried citrus. It becomes mocha-like after a few minutes, which nicely ties it all together.
It’s a little unexpected, but Knob Creek 12 Year Bourbon is great and one of the best Jim Beam bourbons out there today, exceeding standard Booker’s and 14+ year old Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbons. It’s even more attractive at around $60, in many ways competitive quality and price-wise with Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, and Stagg Jr (although Knob Creek has more in common personality-wise with Elijah Craig). Knob Creek 12 Year bourbon brings a unique spin on the Jim Beam bourbon experience, being less nutty and hot, and bringing more toasted sugar and vanilla richness, fruit, chocolate, and tobacco that remind me of a well-made Armagnac-finished bourbon. That’s high praise coming from me.
I wonder if some of this newfound richness and maturity comes from the 100 proof, which may reveal more nuance that might otherwise be buried at 120+ proof. Maybe Jim Beam was right in choosing 100 proof, but I still wonder if it would have been even better at 110 proof. Maybe we’ll find out some day, but for now, I highly recommend Knob Creek 12 Year Bourbon if you can still find it. For a lack of a more sophisticated statement – Jim Beam did a damn good job and you should try to get a bottle to appreciate their work. Jim Beam, you better keep releasing this.