October 1, 2020
The “standard” Knob Creek Single Barrel, an at least 9 year old and high proof bourbon, is one of my personal favorites spanning back to the early years of my bourbon journey due to its excellent combination of age, proof, and affordability. Starting around 2019, 13-15 year old Knob Creek single barrel bourbon picks started appearing on the shelves across the US. With most high proof (100+) and age-stated bourbons over 10 years old commanding very inflated prices, 13+ year old Knob Creek barrel picks for $50-60 has been a welcome respite. I don’t know how Jim Beam has been able to sit on this much 13+ year old stock as demand has boomed, but it’s a good thing for bourbon as a whole.
This stream of older single barrel releases really got me thinking, if the existing 9 year single barrels are so great, can these extra-aged Knob Creeks be that much better? Worry no more, because in this Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon 9 Year vs Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon 14 Year comparison, I’ll try to pick out how an extra 5 years in oak changes, and possibly even improves, the whiskey.
Before even getting to the tasting, I immediately notice that both bourbons are virtually the same color, interesting given that one is probably 5 years older than the other. Then again, the 9 year old could actually be older since Knob Creek is just setting a minimum age and is not restricted from using older bourbon. Ok, let’s actually do the comparison now.
The below table outlines key facts and figures for each Knob Creek Single Barrel bourbon.
It’s no surprise that Knob Creek Single Barrel 9 Year and Knob Creek Single Barrel 14 Year are so similar, but I didn’t expect them to be quite this similar. Even though the 14 year is the winner, it’s not by a landslide.
Even with all the similarities, the 14 year does have a few telltale signs that give away its extra age and maturity. Using a music metaphor, Knob Creek Single Barrel 14 year cranks up the bass and low-mids in the form of dark sugar (e.g., lightly burnt caramel), bountiful roasted oak, and dried citrus and apple that provide a powerful foundation, making it come off darker, richer, and more mature compared to the 9 year. Make no mistake about what is on the radar chart, the 14 year is the sweeter bourbon, although not by enough to label it “strong”. The extra aging also manifests itself in how the 14 year has more of everything to counterbalance the intense heat while the 9 year occasionally struggles to contain it. The 14 year is also less nutty but just as grassy, making it less “Beam-y”.
The standard Knob Creek Single Barrel is still a great bourbon, especially if you can find it for under $45. This particular 14 year old store pick just happens to be more mature and delicious. If you to find a store pick and it’s within $5-10 of the normal 9 year, I recommend buying the store pick. Store picks are certainly a gamble, but I am optimistic that most are better than the everyday offering.