A local whiskey community is something special, something to be treasured and encouraged. The symbiosis between small merchants and loyal customers can produce extraordinary things. Today, I’d like to introduce you to just such a scene in my little neighborhood, and a bottle of delicious Knob Creek whiskey that emerged therefrom.
First: a few words about Knob Creek, which until now has eluded the critical eyes of the MALT team. It is owned by Beam Suntory, having been introduced in 1992 as a pet project of legendary Jim Beam distiller Booker Noe. A member of Beam’s small-batch Bourbon quadrumvirate including Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and Booker’s, Knob Creek is known for its comparatively high bottling strength, typically 100 proof (50% ABV).
Knob Creek was historically labelled as 9 years old. A harbinger of industry challenges to come arrived in 2009, when demand exceeded aged stocks. Heeding Rahm Emmanuel’s advice not to let a serious crisis go to waste, the Beam company quickly realized it had a marketing coup on its hands. “The drought of 2009” was proclaimed in full-page newspaper ads, with empty bottles being sent out to journalists. This went on for about five months, generating a lot of free publicity and outsized interest in the brand, until the company was able to resume bottling at the stated age.
However, all was not well in Kentucky, any more than it was in Kyoto. Just as its Japanese cousins in the Beam Suntory portfolio started dropping age statements and discontinuing expressions, Knob Creek dispensed with the 9 year age statement in 2016. Fortunately, we know exactly how old today’s whiskey is, as it is a single barrel store pick selected by the friendly proprietor of Buena Park’s own GNS Market.
Oh, you’ve never heard of GNS Market? Let me describe it to you:
Imagine entering an upscale whisky boutique. There’s ambient lighting and slick lacquered wood all around. You are met with cool glances from a tall, slim salesman with a tailored suit and a sharp haircut. Next to him is a trim, coiffed blonde saleswoman in a designer dress. When they do deign to talk to you, you notice that he’s got a posh Scottish accent, while she speaks like she’s from the home counties. You peruse the vitrines full of attentively-curated and artfully-presented whiskies without price tags. You don’t ask, because you can’t afford them.
Now, imagine the exact opposite of that hypothetical boutique. That’s GNS Market, a local convenience store that just happens to be run by a whiskey fanatic. Though the posters on the windows advertise $13.99 cases of Busch Light, the aisles are stocked with a relatively diverse and interesting selection of Scotch, American, and other whisk(e)y. George, the owner, invites other Bourbon lovers into his shop every Thursday to swap drams and shoot the breeze.
The bottle in question is a selection co-credited to GNS Market, George’s pizzeria across the street, and his deli down the block. There’s a sticker on the bottle attesting to the same, though I doubt this will catch the attention of the store-pick cognoscenti among us. Or maybe it will? “I don’t even know what’s good anymore,” quoth David Bowie as Andy Warhol.
This is single barrel #5701b, from Warehouse E, Floor 4, Rack 17(2). It entered the barrel on 3/5/2008 and was bottled 9 years later on 10/30/2017, at 60%. It has not one but TWO stickers, for the folks that care about that type of thing. I paid $45 for a bottle.
Knob Creek GNS Store Pick – review
Color: Rosy chestnut.
On the nose: Jumps out of the bottle with an estery nose jammed full of pine needles, walnut wood, unsalted cashews, a creamy vanilla note, and the earthy aromas of dried tobacco and cigarette ash. Like wandering through a Christmas tree farm while eating a bag full of nuts and smoking a Parliament Light.
In the mouth: Starts sprightly. Plenty of pine tree nuance, but also a bright burst of lemon juice that evolves organically into a round, densely woody and fruity monolith that overwhelms the palate with an all-over completeness. This persists through a woodily astringent finish that is suddenly revived with the most potently concentrated rosewater flavor, coating the back of the tongue and re-asserting itself in rhythmic waves of flowery piquancy.
This is hardcore Bourbon. It has a ferocious intensity that grabs you from the moment you pull the cork and won’t let go through a potent, never-ending finish. It’s not for everybody, but I adore it. So much flavor (and double sticker-ness) for under $50! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy another bottle from George.