Revisiting the Classics: Knob Creek 12 Is an Ideal Bourbon

Kicking off a new series that provides a fresh perspective on classic spirits

December 6, 2023 9:32 am
Knob Creek 12
Knob Creek 12 is a constant in our home bar
Knob Creek

What we’re drinking: Knob Creek 12 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Where it’s from: Launched in 2019, Knob Creek 12 hails from the James B. Beam Distilling Co. in Clermont, KY

Why we’re drinking this: Admittedly, it’s a bit odd to kick off a series on “classics” that begins with a release from just three years ago. But Knob Creek as a brand has been around since 1992, and the distillers behind the whisky have decades of experience in the bourbon world (and if you count their family lineage, it’s more like centuries). 

When we’ve talked about Beam products recently, the focus has been on the more luxury, unique or limited-time offerings (LTOs) —  Clermont Steep, Hardin’s Creek, Little Book, etc. But Knob Creek has been a staple of our home bar for a few years. A Beam small batch release (alongside Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s and Booker’s), Knob Creek ages its pre-Prohibition style bourbon nine years and longer and at a high proof — with one exception, it’s 100 or higher. 

Review: Knob Creek 15 Is an Extra-Aged Beauty
The distillery’s biggest age statement release is an ideal winter sipper

Speaking of age, nine is a great number for bourbon. So is 12. After that? Even though we like Knob Creek 15, there’s certainly a sweet spot for bourbon that’s closer to a single age digit than not. Older whiskies absorb the rather intense flavors of the barrel as they mature, and they can become rather astringent and dry. There’s a reason brands like Maker’s Mark and Buffalo Trace have gone to great lengths and expense to ensure their extra-aged bourbons are still palatable. I admittedly haven’t even tried the recently released Knob Creek 18 for fear it had matured on a little too long.

“We don’t have a lot of inventory that gets to that age,” eighth-generation Master Distiller Freddie Noe told us last year during a visit to the Beam distillery (his father, Fred, is Knob Creek’s distiller). “It’s about setting aside barrels where we think they could get to 18 or 20, and it doesn’t always work. It really depends on where it’s sitting in the warehouse.”

Another writer here at InsideHook placed Knob Creek 12 as one of the Best Bourbons Under $100. And the site Breaking Bourbon made it their no. 1 whiskey of 2020. So in our minds, it’s always seemed like a quality bourbon at a reasonable MSRP and the ideal ABV (50%). But we hadn’t really analyzed the whisky on its own — a mistake we’ve now rectified.

How it tastes: Lots of baking spices, cinnamon and brown sugar on the nose, with a bit of florality. The burnt caramel and butterscotch notes really deliver on the palate, along with orange peel, berries, creme brulee and oak spice. There’s just enough heat here that a drop or two of water will soften and open it up, advancing the fruitier elements. Overall, as good as we remembered and expected. 

Fun fact: Knob Creek is named for the creek that ran behind Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home in Kentucky.

Where to buy: You can find Knob Creek 12 for $65+ on Drizly.


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