Right about this time last year there was some serious controversy brewing (or shall we say, distilling?) in the whiskey world. The source of this controversy, was the Maker’s Mark distillery—the cause, lower proofing. It’s no secret that whiskey has been in a vastly unanticipated boom in recent years, Maker’s Mark, like many other distillers were, and still are, facing a bit of a shortage of this golden nectar. See, the problem is that about 5-10 years ago whiskey wasn’t exactly selling well. As your high school economics teacher would tell you, if he was having a few too many at your dull hometown sports bar, simple laws of supply and demand meant that these distilleries weren’t trying to make a ton of whiskey, knowing quite well that it may not sell. The thing with whiskey is, it needs to age. You have to anticipate the market, well, 5-10 years in advance. At least. Now it’s the modern time—there are a few options for a hot, yet product strapped, business has. Let’s look at our options here.
- Seemingly the simplest option a business has when demand is high and supplies are low is to make more product. As I mentioned, that’s a problem in the whiskey business, as the product needs time to age—but with the whiskey boom showing no end in sight, this is indeed an option, and many distillers have hoped to accelerate aging to meet ongoing demands. This means selling younger whiskies, whiskies aged in smaller or honey-combed barrels, otherwise…cutting corners. Now these processes can yield good results, but the majority opinion seems to be that cut corners lead to cut quality. Clearly Maker’s Mark couldn’t go this route.
- The second option our distillers face is simply to accept the limitations of their supply, and raise prices to take advantage of the high demand. If you only have so much whiskey, and people are going to buy it either way, you may as well make more money…no? High demands have clearly driven whiskey prices up, and even in the last 3 or so years a lot of whiskies have shot up 20-30% in price. People are still buying em. Sure as shit I am. Of course with high demand Maker’s went up in price too, but I imagine at some point they realized they couldn’t go up much higher and still sell, so they went ahead with option three…
- If you’re familiar with what happened last February, you’ll know what happened. Maker’s Mark opted to stretch their product, water it down. Specifically they were planning to go from 90 proof to 84 proof. That’s a difference of 3% water, in a product that probably 85% of people add water or ice to anyways. Seems reasonable, no?
Fuck no. There was public outcry, and it made the national news. People were pissed, feeling cheated by that extra 3% water they were going to be pouring on the rocks. With all this negative publicity Maker’s Mark folded. They would not cut the proof on their product. They’d stick by their customers words. Sadly when Old Grandad did the same thing there was no outcry, and the change has stuck…but perhaps I’ll save that for another article. If you’ve read the title of this article, you’re probably wondering what the fuck this has to do with Knob Creek Single Barrel reserve. Or maybe you’re an astute motherfucker and realized where I’m going with this.
See, with the whiskey market booming and supplies low, a lot of distillers are turning out lower proof, younger, or overpriced products. Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, seems to have done none of this. This is no bullshit, 120 proof (barely any water added I’d guess) 9 year old whiskey. At some $40 that’s some bang for your buck. No cut corners, no cut proof—just straight, honest firewater from pre-teen, hand selected-barrels. That sounds almost perverse, and perhaps it is. Good, old fashioned, Kentucky straight perversion.
The nose surprisingly doesn’t cause your nose hairs to burst into flames like a Jeri-curled Michael Jackson. Somehow, the nose manages to be somewhat light, and certainly sweet, with a rich maple base, some apricot, a healthy dash of cinnamon and nutmeg and just a touch of earthy cigar smoke. The first sip is even richer than the nose, again, no cut corners. With a full round body of caramel, toffee and a tad more maple at the base, some finer notes seem to rise from the woodwork, with cinnamon / allspice, spearmint, and vanilla all taking turns to jump out at you and take a hot numbing stab at your palate—which brings me to the finish. Not so much a finish as an after-burn, like a fighter jet shooting for an intercept. Gentle, most certainly not, but hot, belligerent, smoldering and downright delicious with the spice sinking deep in your taste buds and a pyre burning in your chest.
At some point a decade ago Booker Noe, head distiller for Jim Beam, clearly made a decision. Bourbon may not have been selling big, but he was going to make some big bourbons. 9 years later, that decision paid off, and rather than cutting, blending or overpricing the products of that decision, Knob Creek has decided to go barrel by barrel, and go big. Bullshit is only worth as much as the field it can fertilize—big, bold bourbon? That’s worth its price in liquid gold.