Fall is upon us, and there’s no better way to usher in the cooler months than with a spirit seemingly created in autumn’s honor: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon ($31). To be clear, we’ve been completely satisfied with the standard Knob Creek 9 Year Straight Bourbon, but expanding whiskey horizons can’t be a bad thing. Still, adding flavoring to a solid whiskey can be a risky endeavor. It’s not much different from flavoring a cigar, which typically attracts the non-die-hards while simultaneously turning off the connoisseurs. The possible outcomes here are distinct: did Knob Creek gamble and lose by producing something tantamount to being whacked in the face by a maple syrup bottle, or did they win by creating a real bourbon that hums its own tune?
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Deviating little from the presentation of their 9-Year Old, Rye and Single Barrel Reserve whiskeys, Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon comes in the same handsome, large medicinal-type bottle topped off with a black wax-coated cork. It’s masculine, and it works. The bourbon has a rich amber brown hue that begs to be more than looked at; pop the top and a wonderful sweet smell leaks out, along with a touch of oak and spice that make it even more of a pleasure for the nostrils.
In 2009 Knob Creek Bourbon ran dry. The demand for the spirit was so overwhelming that supplies ran out before the next bottling could occur. Rather than quietly waiting it out, the distillery jumped on the opportunity show off the demand for their products. An ad campaign appropriately titled “Thanks for nothing”, paired with an empty bottle of Knob Creek, hit the media, and thirsty customers were sent a snarky t-shirt that read “I Survived the Drought of 2009″. Rather than compromising their 9-year aging process by bottling earlier than planned, they stuck to their guns and trusted that their fans would reward them for a quality product.
We hoped that the flavor also had more than one dimension. The first taste — neat — was pleasantly sweet and imparted maple, vanilla, spice and very noticeable caramel flavors with just the right amount of smokiness to give the bourbon real character and balance out the maple flavor, which tastes neither like a fleeting afterthought nor an overpowering infusion. The recognizable smooth, rich vanilla and oak notes of standard Knob Creek bourbon show up suddenly mid-palate, and the lingering finish is ever so slightly on the dry side. We recommend you drink it neat; the warmth of your hand at the bottom of the glass is enough to kindle a huge range of flavors.
The Smoked Maple Bourbon is a fine flavored iteration of the Knob Creek line that doesn’t stray far from its original Straight Bourbon origins but also maintains its own very distinct identity. That’s a good thing for whiskey drinkers and especially for Knob Creek devotees (who otherwise would likely be as offended as Porsche 911 owners when the Cayenne SUV showed up on the scene). Kudos to Knob Creek for taking the risk and providing us with a very seasonal reward.