At a young age, I recall hearing about the Book of the Month Club, where you could join and get a new book sent to you monthly. Did you know that program started in 1926? It quickly became wildly popular, growing to 100,000 members in just the first two years. The service then survived the Great Depression and World War II, managing to ship its 100 millionth book in 1949.
Obviously, the concept had some staying power. In the decades following, the Book of the Month Club continued to thrive, and the premise spread quickly to other products. Countless “of the month” services grew to include consumables like coffee, cheese, and jelly.
Since the age of the Internet and ever-growing boom in online shopping, that moniker has been dropped in favor of the term “subscription box,” which is exactly what it sounds like: a paid service to periodically receive a literal box of pre-chosen items for whatever hobby or item you’re interested in. These days, just about every category of product is available in a subscription box service: clothing, accessories, grooming products, pet supplies, and yes… even whiskey.
I find myself intrigued but gun-shy on whiskey subscription services. After all, I’m fortunate enough to live in the heart of bourbon country, and I’m generally able to find most products here, including those that might be considered allocated products in other states (looking at you, Buffalo Trace). As such, I haven’t bitten on opportunities to join these “clubs” like Flaviar or Mash & Grape, even though I like the premise of them.
That is, until the “Barreled & Boxed” program came along from the James B. Beam Distillery. I signed up as one of the first participants in the service, not fully understanding what I would be getting out of it, but hoping to be a part of something similar to the Maker’s Mark “Whisky Drop” program.
So far, I’ve been whelmed at best. Nothing offered has been spectacular; the program shipped two boxes in 2021, and the price of which has gone from concerning to downright infuriating for what I’m getting. The first box of 2022 was delayed until early June; whiskey is suffering from supply chain issues like most other industries right now. I’ll be reviewing the contents of the June 2022 iteration below.
The third overall shipment in the Barreled & Boxed series included two bottles of new product not yet on the market (they are due to hit shelves in July) which is somewhat appealing. Both items are from the new Hardin’s Creek line, which according to their website is an “ongoing series of limited releases featuring some of (their) rarest and most unique liquids, each with a story inspired by the Beam legacy and a new direction to push the future of whiskey.”
The MSRP appears to be $80 for the 2-year expression and $150 for the “184 months” version. That checks out; I paid a bit more for both combined, including shipping, fees, and taxes. My pre-tasting thoughts on the price are simply that I’m unhappy about it. I’ll hold any additional thoughts until after the tasting.
With the proof of these bottles being the same (54% ABV, 108 proof), sampling these was an interesting process. It seemed only logical to taste the younger whiskey first before trying the second to see what the impact of age could be. However, once I realized that the fermentation, entry proof, and even mash bill may be different, I tried them in reverse order on another day. I am grateful for the additional time to ponder on these two; I think I have a better understanding of them both because of it. These releases are numbered, so I’ll discuss them in order. Let’s dive in!
The first one up is the older expression, listed at “184 months” (15 years, 4 months). This whiskey is a blend of high-corn and high-rye mash bills, with a fairly long time in the barrel for bourbon. Higher age doesn’t always mean higher quality, so my initial thought upon reading the bottle is mostly concern that it may be over-oaked. The Barreled & Boxed program included a 15-year Knob Creek in the last iteration, however, and that seemed to work out well enough. I’m curious why they chose to go with a designation of 184 months instead of 15 years? My guess is some mixture of clever marketing and showcasing that the age is the key factor here. As mentioned above, this is bottled at 108 proof.
Hardin’s Creek Release No. 1, “Jacob’s Well” – Review
Color: Burnt umber (taken from this chart).
On the nose: At first I found stone fruit, significant but not overpowering oak, cola, and a slight buttery note that I kept chasing. Revisiting it later, I picked up on cherry and other sweet notes that were more rich than cloying. This is a pretty enjoyable nose, all told.
In the mouth: Oaky as expected for the age and nose, with a surprising faint smokiness. Then, things took an interesting turn, as this bourbon had a sort of one-two punch that came in waves. The first was a cherry-dominant experience that sat on the front of the tongue, briefly disappearing and then rolling like a wave from the back of the tongue forward again. The second burst wasn’t much different in flavor, but nonetheless surprising. The texture was semi-viscous, not enough to call it full or oily. All of this resulted in a finish that sat high on the tongue without getting anywhere close to “Kentucky Hug” territory.
Overall, this bourbon is interesting but not much more than that. In my opinion, the price is simply far too high, and the score indicates as much. I don’t see this as being something I’ll finish on my own or excitedly with friends; I’m not sure what I’ll do with it.
The second release of Hardin’s Creek is on the other end of the age spectrum, bottled at only two years old. The surprisingly young age statement is, according to the distillery, offset by the longer fermentation period (5 days) and a lower distillation proof. As stated on their website, this leads to “a depth of flavor unmatched even by more mature bourbons.”
Hardin’s Creek Release No. 2, “Col. James B. Beam” – Review
Color: Russet / muscat.
On the nose: Young, very similar to regular Jim Beam. Oak, vanilla, peanuts, and a slight floral note that is quite nice. There is a tinge of roughness that comes with the youth, but nothing close to what I was expecting for a two-year bourbon.
In the mouth: Light at first, but strong peanuts to follow the nose. This one is easy to “chew” on, which is a fitting ode to Booker Noe as it reminds me of a proofed-down Booker’s. The whiskey is a tinge earthy, and I’ve never gotten that on a bourbon from this distillery; I wonder if that comes from the longer fermentation, or maybe a flavor that comes out of the lower proof of the distillate? Much like Jacob’s Well, I would have liked this to be a tad more viscous. Luckily for me, this finish lingers more in the back of the mouth and sits on the precipice of prime “Kentucky hug” territory.
The most significant takeaway for me is best stated by the description of this bottle on the Hardin’s Creek website itself: “proof that quality isn’t solely defined by time.” I have to say that this is surprisingly good whiskey for the age and would make for an interesting bottle to share with friends. However, if the price of this really is $80+, there is no way I could ever bring myself to pay that much. It’s novel at half the price, and even then I’m not sure I’d buy it.
The first two releases of Hardin’s Creek were agreeably intriguing, both having an interesting story with a very nice nose. The concepts showcased by these whiskeys are promising, but at the price point I can’t recommend either of them in good conscience.
To take this a step further, I think I’m ready to call it quits on the Barreled & Boxed program. For the amount of money this has cost to date, the results have been nothing short of a disappointment. Have any of you signed up for this program? Should I try another subscription program instead?