“Set it and let nature take over.” – Booker Noe
Hardin’s Creek debuted in 2022 to much excitement as “an ongoing series of annual releases, featuring some of James B. Beam Distilling Co.’s rarest and most unique liquids.” Of course, there was also a bit of head scratching as to why the initial set of releases featured bourbon expressions on polar opposite ends of the age spectrum: Jacob’s Well clocking in at 15 years of age, and Colonel James B. Beam being a curious two-year-old release. While many were initially confused and critical of the decision, still more were also impressed enough with both bottles to grant Jim Beam a bit of latitude in anticipation of the journey the brand planned to explore with the series.
Today we’re here to consider the second step in this journey, as Jim Beam has announced 2023 will see the release of three expressions in the Hardin’s Creek lineup, dubbed “the Kentucky Series.” Perhaps it’s best to let them explain:
“Comprised of Hardin’s Creek Clermont, Hardin’s Creek Frankfort and Hardin’s Creek Boston, the Kentucky Series takes whiskey fans on a journey of ‘Kentucky terroir,’ showcasing the influence of diverse landscapes on the flavor profile of each whiskey.
Each expression within The Kentucky Series is a 17-year-old Bourbon, aged at one of three James B. Beam Distilling Company campuses: Clermont, Frankfort and Boston. All three liquids were laid down with the same mash bill at the same time seventeen years ago but aged at different campus locations.
“The Kentucky Series is a testament to the influence of location and how nature plays such a vital role in liquid maturation,” said Freddie Noe, Eighth Generation Master Distiller of the Fred B. Noe Distillery. “While these three bourbons were made with the same mash bill and aged in Kentucky, the micro-climates and environments at each location are distinctly different, which greatly impacts the taste of each product. As my Granddaddy Booker Noe said, ‘Set it and let nature take over.’”
While “terroir” is typically associated with the more holistic practice of winemaking, what we can infer its use here to mean centers on geography and climate. While there isn’t any mention in the press release of the building structures at each campus location, we are told that they all feature different “microclimates” with Clermont highlighting the influence of Kentucky’s “rolling hills, the cool wind against the shelter of the valleys, and the pockets of rack houses placed close together.” Simply put, Freddie Noe said, “When I think of the terroir of Kentucky, I think of Clermont” leaving us to surmise this might be the archetypal release of the bunch.
I’d like to note here that while some have bristled at the use of the word “terroir” in American whiskey, I’m typically not opposed to it though I think there are better options at our avail. Nitpicking aside, I am certainly intrigued to see how altering a single variable, the aging location in this case, will impact the end result. Furthermore, I’m curious to see how these three releases will fare next to comparatively aged expressions from the brand such as Jacob’s Well 15 year or Knob Creek 15 and 18 – Jim Beam is clearly not short on well-aged bourbon. Those expressions are all bottled in a similar proof range as well which may clutter Jim Beam’s portfolio of offerings, but should make for some instructive side-by-side sipping.
Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series Clermont is bottled at 110 proof (55% ABV) and carries a suggested retail price of $170, hitting the increasingly common “$10 per year” rule of thumb on the proverbial head. While 2022’s Jacob’s Well was said to have a mashbill of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley there’s no mention of the mashbill for the Kentucky Series, beyond noting that they all share the same grain recipe. Finally, in the name of transparency I would like to note that the sample I will be reviewing today was provided by the company with no strings attached though that will not affect my score. My colleague Matt Kusek will provide his notes below mine, and being similarly miserly he will be reviewing a sample procured from a friend.
Now, then, let’s get on with it!
Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series Clermont 17 Year Bourbon – Frank’s Review
Color: Amber with a golden sheen.
On the nose: The nose is immediately marked by the aroma of enticing polished sweet leather along with faint traces of the signature Beam peanut note that morphs into more of a candied walnut as this sits in the glass. There’s also a savory cooked date note that arrives on a bed of barrel char with a dollop of buttercream to boot. It’s instantly recognizable as a well-aged bourbon and though over time there are more “spiky” tannic notes it’s overall a great presentation.
In the mouth: On the palate again the cooked dates are here in ample supply, delivering on all of the promise of the nose. There are chunks of butterscotch and vanilla that pop as it transitions to the finish which is lingering and lush before finally becoming a tad drying and fading away with the taste of cedar. The texture is simply fine and it’s well proofed in that it corrals the potential for tannic notes to take over the palate and instead allows the flavors to fully shine.
Compared to last year’s 15 year old Hardin’s Creek Jacob’s Well, Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series Clermont has a darker flavor profile and a more nuanced depth of flavor, though that comes with a few of the flaws associated with hyper aged bourbon. All told, it’s a solid progression from last year’s release and will certainly inspire plenty of praise, though I imagine the real fun will be in trying all three expressions in the Kentucky Series lineup together. Simply put, Hardin’s Creek Clermont delivers on expectations – namely that high-priced bourbon = good and hyper aged bourbon = complex albeit with a drying finish – and being that it’s part of a series, it shouldn’t be harshly judged for failing to rise above them. We’ll just have to wait and see what the other two expressions have in store, but I’m comfortable calling this “a level above” on the Malt scale.
Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series Clermont 17 Year Bourbon – Matt’s Review
Color: Brown leather.
On the nose: When one hears 17 you hunt for the wood, but here you get a chocolate molasses note that evokes more savory than sweet. The rest is classic Beam.
In the mouth: I turned to my tasting panel and said “Brown Sugar wrapped around a tooth pick?” It’s not overtly sweet nor wood heavy at all. The thickness of the liquid is rich and only when it leaves do you get the subtle refreshment of light spearmint with a coriander compliment.
Beam hit a home run that was Knob Creek 18 and this is no different. The current marketplace and writers like myself have said that quality whiskey like this is worthy of its high price tag. The only hard thing to deal with is that I must now hunt down the other two versions as well as a backup bottle.
Photo courtesy of Total Wine