Knob Creek Barrel Selection with Freddie Booker Noe IV
We’ve brought in a lot of Knob Creek barrels at Ace Spirits. I’ve selected some based on samples sent through the mail and I’ve had the pleasure of selecting barrels together with Fred Noe. For this trip to Jim Beam, Fred was traveling so we had the pleasure of working with his son, Freddie Booker Noe IV.
It may not be fashionable to root for the big guys, but I’ll say it- Jim Beam is a heck of a company. Sure, they make product that pays the bills, but their small batch bourbons and some of their sleeper brands (read: Old Grand Dad) deserve a closer look. Bottom line is, Jim Beam makes some incredible whiskey for a very reasonable price and now that they’ve merged with Suntory, you’ve got this holy trifecta- America, Scotland and Japan. But I digress… this here post is about Bourbon. Delicious, American bourbon.
Like most of the bourbon producers in Kentucky, Jim Beam is nestled in the remote, rolling hills where you can understand how a clandestine moonshine operation would prosper. Good access to water, the cover of trees and some distance from your neighbors was perfect for producing hooch on the DL. Since the fall of prohibition, there’s no need to be sneaky any more, of course. With the bourbon boom, all of these places have been turned into Disneyland for the drinking public which has it’s benefits and drawbacks. Fortunately, when you’re buying barrels, you get to venture past the velvet ropes.
Sure, we get to see the stills spitting out hundreds of gallons of white dog per hour, just like the rest of y’all. Their stills work non-stop, their bottling line is sprawling and efficient and there are tankers of whiskey traveling around the property, but in the middle of all that activity is a whole lot of nothing. Because, of course, it takes time to make good whiskey and when you’re laying down these barrels, time is money. The deep pockets of Beam/Suntory allow for the capital investments necessary to bring you 10 year old whiskey for under $30- a feat no craft distiller could accomplish. Make no mistake- Jim Beam is a whiskey factory that has fine tuned its craft over 200 years to provide us with some of the best bourbon out there. This isn’t to say craft producers can’t be innovative or produce great product, but they have to be aware of the bar and either seek to surpass it or do something different all together.
For this trip, we were selecting the next Knob Creek Single Barrel for Ace Spirits. Traditionally when selecting bourbon barrels, you are presented with three samples from which to choose, but because we were traveling with a friendly competitor, we had six to choose from. We were just hoping we didn’t have to fight over the same barrel, but we hung on to the mallet used to knock the bung out of the barrel just in case tings were to get ugly. A fella named Jason is responsible for overseeing all of the Knob Creek Single Barrels that are aging in the rickhouses, and for the Exclusive Barrel Program, he culls the very best barrels from the herd. It’s incredible to consider the thousands of barrels resting in Beam warehouses and the meticulous data kept on each. When you show up, Jason can give you the pedigree of each barrel sitting in front of you and why it is special. It’s almost as if he’s boasting about his children. While Jason has his finger on the barrels in the rickhouses, Craig (who is seen in the video describing the barrel we selected) is the one who runs the exclusive barrel program. Though he missed his calling as circus barker, he is an excellent host for this process. His job has him working with groups twice a day to select barrels- managing a program that started as a handful of single barrels a year to one that now sees hundreds of these barrels leaving the rickhouses each year. In fact, our very own Butcher and the Boar has maintained the title of largest Knob Creek Single Barrel account in the world. Go Gophers!
As I said before, Freddie’s dad wasn’t available this time around, but it was an honor to choose a barrel with an eighth generation distiller who is likely to follow Fred when he retires. They say Freddie’s palate is like his grandfather Booker’s, which is to say, quite good. So it was awesome to have him on hand. In my experience, selecting Knob Creek Single Barrels is like picking a favorite child- all are so good you really can’t go wrong. Jason makes my job pretty easy in this regard. When I’m picking bourbon barrels, I tend to stick to what I personally like in bourbon- full flavor, huge vanilla and caramel sweetness with a mellow burn and long finish. I don’t like any hint of nail polish or sourness- I like bourbon to appeal to my sweet tooth. So that’s what we were looking for.
Any of the six barrels presented to us would have been great- they all possessed these qualities. But only one had that sweetness followed by a wonderful, sustained burn. And that’s the one we put our tag on. We were waiting for tinsel to fall from the ceiling or angelic trumpeters, but all we got were quiet nods of approval, a little friendly banter and some handshakes. Soon after selecting our next barrel, we visited the single barrel dump station and bottling line. I felt a little guilty. After all, it’s a bit like stepping on your dog in the middle of the night- so happily resting until you go and mess it all up for them. But after over ten years in a barrel, stick a fork in this mofo, it’s done. Now we just have to wait for this barrel to go through the bottling line, put in some boxes and passed through the hands of a whole lot of burly material handlers before being placed on our floor. Stay tuned…
As for the rest of it, I’ve never been shy about telling people how I feel (good or bad) about a particular bottle. In my humble opinion, one of the most consistently fabulous and versatile bourbons out there is Bookers. Cask strength, loads of flavor, and priced right. While we sell it for a fraction of what others do, Booker’s is undoubtedly under-priced for what you are getting in the bottle. So it was good to see where all of this delicious juice comes from. I’m also a huge fan of Old Grand Dad 114, and hey, guess who makes that?
In all, this visit to Jim Beam was an incredible experience. Standing in a rickhouse with the smell of aging bourbon wafting about your head is really the way to do this and this barrel selection was an experience I won’t soon forget. Stay tuned for Knob Creek Single Barrel 1955, coming to Ace Spirits soon!
A few more images for your enjoyment…