Innovation In A Brand – Knob Creek Single Barrel
A New Knob Creek label…yes – NEW Knob Creek.
Turns out – it’s tough to make great whisk(e)y.
Since the beginning of time…well, at least since the first immigrants showed up around the Black Mountain in Kentucky, before and after Prohibition and the 18th & 21st Amendment, there were a whole bunch of distilleries, their master distillers keeping their spirit aging safely in barrels, all quietly hiding out in Kentucky, season after season – year after year. And, for many of these decades, American whiskey was nationally known as brands such as Jack Daniel’s, or … well, that was about it. Nationally, for a long time, that’s all that anyone really knew about American whiskey – ‘Jack’.
The residents of this region knew that there was great whiskey being distilled, aged and available there – it’s the rest of us that had no idea. The Beam family, the Van Winkle’s, The Noe’s, Elmer T. Lee & Col. Albert Blanton, The Samuels’ and the Bulleit’s – the list of names goes on and on and on. The locals knew these names and drank their whiskey, but…the rest of the country knew very little about it.
Then…slowly – a few brands slowly moved out of the region and into our store shelves, bars and glasses. The first brands that we heard of were from Maker’s Mark & Knob Creek. In most places even today, these two brands are still the ‘top shelf’ American whiskies for a bar’s American whiskey collection. Maybe some had heard of Booker’s, but…that was about it.
Today, just a decade or so later, the sun is rising on the wide-based appreciation for great American whiskey, and, today, it’s not uncommon for whiskey lovers to have heard of or have themselves had a glass of the some of what were these more obscure brands, such as Pappy Van Winkle or Blanton’s whiskeys. AND, moreso, it’s not just these outstanding whiskeys that are getting attention – but also the very process for how great whiskeys are created which is becoming part of the dialogue.
For instance, in 1984, innovation meant the first single barrel bourbon – the aforementioned Blanton’s, a plan hatched by Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee, and named after
‘Colonel’ Albert B. Blanton, who worked at the Buffalo Trace Distillery for 55 years. The innovation was, unlike all other bourbons where the aged bourbon from many barrels are mixed to produce a batch which then was filtered, diluted and bottled, these barrels of Blanton’s were not mixed nor married – each bottle was the result of bourbon from ONE carefully cared-for barrel. Today, there are many single barrel whiskies – but Blanton’s was the first.
BUT! Are single barrel bourbons better? Besides the Blanton’s that was already discussed, here are a few more to try:
Four Roses Single Barrel
Four Roses is in itself an very innovative and interesting distillery. Where most distillery have one mashbill (the mix of grains that makes up the ‘beer’ that is then mixed with the yeast, which is added to the beer, which then, over a number of days, the yeast will eat the sugars in the beer and produce the different types of alcohol, which then is distilled off, the ‘hearts’ eventually becoming bourbon). Four Roses? Well, talking about innovation, they use “two mash bills (one with 20% rye; the other with 35% rye)…. [and] five different yeast strains. “. This is pretty incredible. For instance, they will combine these mash bills with their yeasts to produce ten different whiskeys, each year releasing a number of barrels of a special yeast/mash bill combination that is available only for a short period until the bottles from these few barrels are sold – and they are generally only available at the distillery.
Ezra B. Single Barrel
Along with the Four Roses, the Ezra B. Single Barrel is one of my favorite of all the bourbons. And, dollar for dollar, it’s probably my favorite. Hell, even beyond dollar for dollar, this is one of my favorites.
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel
Handcock’s President Reserve
Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
Wild Turkey then got into the game with their Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel, hand-picked by the legendary Master Distiller himself, Jimmy Russell.
Even everyone’s favorite well bourbon, Evan Williams now has a single barrel.
Next: What does it taste like?