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Review: Knob Creek Rye Whiskey

The news of Knob Creek releasing a Rye Whiskey has been out for at least a good year or more. Many have been licking their lips waiting for this one to hit the shelves. Distilled and bottled by Jim Beam, the Knob Creek Brand certainly has ample following. Rather than releasing the Rye Whiskey in a 9 year old small batch form, Knob Rye has no age statement. It tastes 4-5 years old to me, but that’s only a guess.

So, was it worth the wait? Here are my thoughts:

Knob Creek Rye Whiskey, 50% abv (100 Proof), $38/bottle
Color: Light Amber
Nose: Cola, candied ginger, and dusty oak prevail. The rye is fruity and clean (minty) on the nose.
Palate: Far drier than the nose suggests. Caramel and vanilla sweetness up front, then prickly rye spice asserts itself mid palate (mint, chili, cinnamon, and white pepper) on through the finish. Fairly bold and brash.
Finish: Warm and well spiced finish, no doubt boosted by the 100 proof. Caramel sweetness balances dusty oak with some bitter notes lingering as well.
Overall: Knob Creek Rye Whiskey is certainly well made, though missing the dimension and variety that some of the MGP (Formerly LDI) juice has delivered in releases over the last few years. The spice influence is big from nose to finish. I’d grab this for a great rye based cocktail – the 100 proof provides some dilution prevention. While good, the bottom line is there are more interesting Rye Whiskeys on the market for my tastes.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.8 (Good)

Review: Jack Daniels Old No. 7 and Jim Beam White Label

The two top selling American Whiskeys are Jack Daniels Old No. 7 and Jim Beam White Label. according to the 2011 Liquor Handbook (via this New York Times article). Jack and Jim sell dramatically more than #3- Evan Williams Black Label, yet I have never taken the time to review them. Today looks like as good a time as any.

Whether you are a Jack or Jim man (or neither!), let’s keep the debates civil shall we.
; ) Cheers!

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey, 40% abv (80 Proof), $21/bottle
Color: Light Amber/Deep Gold
Nose: Banana taffy, corn oil, vanilla, toffee, crushed rock, wafts of smoke and char. This is a beautiful and I must say, rather distinctive, nose.
Palate: A tad flabby with caramel, banana, and corn syrupy sweetness livened by the emerging punch of baking spices from mid palate. There’s a thread of char that ties everything together from the front entry on towards the finish. While not all that interesting on the palate, it’s quite textural with an almost velvety thick viscosity.
Finish: The finish is moderate in length with corn and caramel anchoring a nice helping of oak.
Overall: Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 is an icon of American Whiskey, and the 4th highest selling spirit on the planet. I’d argue the company’s best decision was finding a guy by the name of Angelo Lucchesi, who got this stuff into the hands of some of Hollywood’s and Entertainment’s hottest stars (like Frank Sinatra) in the 1950′s. That certainly helped to to solidify the brand, and Brown Forman has continued to build on that following. However, I would not classify this as great whiskey. Mind you it’s very good (barely by my scale) stuff and not without it’s virtues – a distinctive nose and a beautiful mouth feel being two that stand out to me. Outside of that, an underwhelming palate undermines the effort, thus keeping it from scoring higher.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.0 (Very Good)

******

Jim Beam White Label, 40% abv (80 Proof), $19/bottle
Color: Lighter – Deeper Golden
Nose: Baked red apple, corn syrup, vanilla nougat, and wet oak. The aromas are soft and sweet, but also flat.
Palate: Not as cloyingly sweet as the nose gave hints to, but once again it’s as flat as pancake. There’s a vanilla, corn, and caramel party with a bit of dried apple adding fruit character. Towards the end of the sip we finally get some moderately warming cinnamon spice for a welcomed shake-up. The wood begins to emerge as well.
Finish: It continues to liven up with some bitterness from the wood adding interest. The caramel and warming spices fade into a rather clean and tidy finish.
Overall: Here’s the thing – this is a Good/Solid entry level whiskey. If you know someone that’s new to whiskey or bourbon and looking to dip their toe in the water – this would be a great introduction. It’s quite pleasant, mildly spiced, and has traditional bourbon flavors. Even though it’s only 4 years old, it doesn’t taste its youthful age. Jim Beam White Label is a nice casual sipper in a pinch or a versatile mixer, but not a whole lot more.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.3 (Good/Solid)

Between these two whiskeys, it wasn’t very close. Old No. 7 just has a more distinctive aroma and flavor profile, and as a result is a good bit more interesting to sip.

Jim Beam Devil’s Cut Bourbon Review

Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut is the latest release from the Bourbon Behemoth from Clermont, KY. It’s made from pretty interesting process called “barrel sweating”. Once the barrels of whiskey are dumped, they are filled with a proportion of water and agitated (rolled, moved) in the heat to bring out the “trapped” whiskey that’s been slumbering deep in the wood.

While I personally haven’t seen this process in action, I am told that it would surprise anyone just how much liquid is left in the wood itself. Once the process concludes, this woodier juice is reintroduced to 6 year old base Jim Beam. The result is Devil’s Cut.

And what about that name? Well, that’s a clever play on the “Angel’s Share”, which is a term referring to the whiskey that is lost to evaporation during the aging process. The amount lost to the angels can be quite significant over a 4, 8, 12, etc. period of time. The folks at Beam have apparently figured out how to take the Devil’s Cut as well.

Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, 45% abv (90 Proof), $24

Color: Lighter Amber (A bit lighter than I would have expected)

Nose: Sweet, candy shop nose of brown sugar, toffee, big vanilla, and ripe banana before oak and wood spices pick up steam. It’s certainly sweeter than the devilish name suggests.

Palate: Pretty straight forward and lacking complexity, but with bold flavor. Caramel sweetness and vanilla dominate the front palate with oak and spices (cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg) emerging firmly from mid palate through finish.

Finish: The finish has it’s own zip code – it’s long and lingers forever. This, for me, is where I think their process for creating this whiskey makes it’s presence felt most. There’s loads of wood, barrel tannin, and spice influence backed with caramel and corn.

Overall: Devil’s Cut starts off innocent and sweetly enough, but quickly the spice and wood emerges. It’s understandable considering the process I noted in the introduction above. It’s not a very complex whiskey, but frankly I found it quite interesting. It’s a spicy bourbon for the folks that make some fairly sweet and mellow juice for the most part. I applaud the effort.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.5 Very Good/Excellent)

Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon Review


Booker Noe was Jim Beam’s grandson. He was also the master distiller at his grandfather’s namesake operation for 40+ years until his death in 2004. In 1987, Booker introduced what is now one of Jim Beam’s flagship products, Booker’s Bourbon. Named after the man himself, this massive bourbon is aged on the 5th and 6th floors of a nine-story aging warehouse, which is the “heart” of the facility. It’s an uncut, unfiltered, barrel proof bourbon. This means the barrels are hand selected, batched, and then bottled with no additional water or chill filtration, allowing all of the flavor carriers in the bourbon to remain. Booker Noe wanted this bourbon to be pretty darn pure and unadulterated. Mission accomplished.

Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon, 63.70% abv (127.4 Proof), $50 (Batch #C03-I-16)

Color: Deep Dark Amber/Copper

Nose: Tight nose to start due to such a high alcohol content. It yields with 5-10 minutes of air time. Dry cedar, oak and vanilla hit first, followed by dark caramel, molasses, candied orange, a punch of rye, and cocoa. There’s a fruity quality to the nose as well that’s tough to pin down but quite prevalent.

Flavor: Grab the reigns and hold on tight – the flavors are so concentrated and intense. First there is a hefty dose of spice accentuated by the alcohol punch. Pepper and rye are anchored w/ rich caramel, vanilla, dried golden fruits, barrel char, and bitter orange. Oak integration is excellent. It’s much more in balance than its small batch brother from Knob Creek. Add a couple of splashes of water (if required) to calm things down a bit.

Finish: Long and as bold as the sip with more peppery bite, caramelized nuts, and some resiny oak.

Overall: Man, what a whiskey. I was honestly caught of guard by how fabulous this batch of Booker’s turned out to be. Over time I’ve noticed inconsistencies batch to batch, but when it’s on, Booker’s is as good as bourbon gets. Few bourbons capture sweetness, spice, fruit, and oak so well in their delivery. It’s a fitting homage to one of Bourbon History’s larger than life Icons.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Outstanding/Superb)

Baker’s Small Batch Bourbon Review

Baker’s Small Batch Bourbon, 7 Years Old, 53.5% abv (107 Proof), $42-48

Baker’s is our third review from the Jim Beam Small Batch collection consisting of Basil Hayden’s, Knob Creek Small Batch, and Booker’s. Aged 7 years, it’s one of the 2 youngest of the four, but it packs a considerable punch in terms of alcohol (107 proof).

Color: Deep Copper

Nose: The nose is tight to start. Caramel, roasted nuts, ripe banana, vanilla bean, cocoa, polished wood, and cedar come forward if left to sit for a spell. Try it neat before adding any water. In fact, if you can avoid it, I think experiencing this one neat is the best way to go.

Palate: I love the mouth feel – it’s thick, syrupy, and coating. Flavors of chewy caramel, vanilla custard, banana, and dried dark fruits abound. All of that is lifted by toasted nuts, sweet spices and resiny oak. This where the 107 proof has been used to “cut through” a very dense, sweet bourbon. Again, I preferred it neat.

Finish: Medium-long with sweetness of dried fruit, caramel and allspice. An interesting peppery quality emerges as well.

Overall: Baker’s is a very good bourbon, and I do mean very good. Having reviewed both Knob Creek Small Batch and Basil Hayden’s from the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection, Baker’s is definitely different. It has more sweetness, weight, and less rye forward flavor than Basil. It’s also much less oaky and dry than Knob Creek. My absolute biggest complaint is the price. At well over $40 in some parts, it’s moving into competition with a lot of fantastic American Whiskeys. Regardless, it’s good stuff if you love big, sweet, rich pours of whiskey.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)

Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon Review

Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon, 8 Years Old, 40% abv (80 Proof), $30-38

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is a part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch collection, which includes Knob Creek Small Batch, Baker’s 107, and Booker’s. Basil Hayden’s is the lightest bodied and highest rye recipe of the four, with as much as double the rye grain content. This bourbon is named after Mr. Hayden himself, who moved to KY in the late 1700s. He was a distiller and was reportedly one of the first to employ this very high rye mash bill for bourbon distillation. It yielded a very different flavor profile. So how does it fare?

Color: Light Amber/Golden

Nose: Clean, and crisp. Wildflower honey, mint, eucalyptus, loose leaf black tea, menthol, and dried citrus peel work in tandem with intense rye grain. Vanilla makes brief appearances. This nose could pass for rye whiskey, and it immediately put me into summer time.

Palate: Again, light with flavors of honey, mint, vanilla, candied lemon peel, and rye in spades.

Finish: We’re seeing a theme with this whiskey. The finish falls off sharply and dryly, but in proportion to what you’d expect for such a light bodied pour. Rye grain and minty warmth remain just to let you know it’s there.

Overall: It’s been noted by visitors to this website and others at just how often Jim Beam products can get brushed aside by “enthusiasts”. I suppose it’s tough to pull for the big boys, and you don’t get much bigger than Beam. Well, I beg of you to cast aside any preconceived notions and bias when you try this one. If you do, then a light and fresh whiskey with rye intensity and subtle sweetness awaits you. Basil Hayden’s refreshingly crisp quality lends itself well to warm weather sipping – it immediately reminded me of summer. I would like to see this offered around 90-92 proof (it would get lost above that). At that range I feel we’d see more of the heat, spice, and complexity that’s been diluted down a bit at the current proof.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good/Excellent)