“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus
Hardin’s Creek Frankfort is a new 17-year-old bourbon from Jim Beam, and that alone is enough to make whiskey enthusiasts excited. In addition to that, this is just the second expression in an expected trio dubbed “The Kentucky Series” from Hardin’s Creek this year. All three releases from the Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series are 17 years old, with the only separating factor being the aging locations they draw their names from. First in the lineup was Hardin’s Creek Clermont, which we previously covered in this space, and so, naturally, Hardin’s Creek Frankfort is where we turn our gaze today.
As I noted in that initial review, this year’s Hardin’s Creek expressions are an experiment in the effects of aging location on whiskey. Each of the three releases is comprised of the same mash bill and aged for the same amount of time, which should make exploring their differences instructive. So, what does this second release have to teach us?
To hear it from the horse’s mouth, Master Distiller Freddie Noe had this to say about what makes Jim Beam’s Frankfort campus unique, “The humidity and airflow in our Frankfort campus influence the evaporation and oxidization processes, making a slower reaction to the color and flavor.” After perusing a few colorful snippets on their website, we may also note that “there’s less ventilation in the rackhouses in Frankfort, which allows the liquid to age at its own pace.” This stands in contrast to the Clermont campus which is said to be defined by its rolling hills and rackhouses “swathed by thick woodland” which is a beautiful way of putting it.
So, then, what we will be reviewing today is not exactly more of the same. 17-year-old bourbon itself is an oddity in today’s market, so for Jim Beam to triple down on such an expression speaks to their voluminous production capacity, and stands as a credit to the creative license they’re allowing Master Distiller Freddie Noe to operate with.
That said, I found Hardin’s Creek Clermont to be an enjoyable but unremarkable experience, commensurate with being considered “Great” on the Malt scale but without enough redeeming qualities to justify its considerable cost. At the time I wondered whether releasing Clermont first was by design. Hardin’s Creek Clermont is, simply put, really good Jim Beam bourbon. It walks, talks, and tastes like all of the things that make Jim Beam so beloved, but does nothing to deliver on the promise of being wholly unique. I expect that the second act in the Kentucky Series will represent a course correction.
What are the specs? Bottled at 110 proof (55% ABV) Hardin’s Creek Frankfort maintains the $10-per-year precedent that many brands seem to have embraced by carrying an MSRP of $170. When my Hardin’s Creek Clermont review was published, the mashbill was undisclosed and that officially remains the case. However, it has unofficially been reported elsewhere that the Kentucky Series utilizes the same mashbill as Jim Beam’s flagship white label offering, which is said to be 77% corn, 13% rye, and 10% malted barley. Assuming this is true – and it certainly seems to be so – the Kentucky Series is not only instructive in that it should reveal the nuances that arise by storing distillate in different locations, but it should also be indicative of how different Jim Beam white label tastes when hyper-aged and proofed up. Count me in!
Finally, it should be noted that, like last time, this sample was provided to me free of cost by the brand though that will in no way affect my score. I will be rating Hardin’s Creek Frankfort as though I paid $170 for it and that considerable cost will play a part in my score.
Hardin’s Creek Frankfort 17 Year Old Bourbon – Review
Color: Muddy amber
On the nose: Notes of peach cobbler and red apple skin fuse with plum flesh, orange zest, and butterscotch for a strikingly sweet introduction. After taking a second whiff, notes of new leather and pine emerge, as well as a slight bit of dark chocolate. Finally, there are notes of allspice and mint gum, which add balance to the entire affair, and I suspect there are even further layers present beyond these initial impressions.
In the mouth: On the palate, the taste of fresh peaches bursts across the tongue and is accented by baking spice, along with a bit of pine and leather, before the citrus supplants them all. It becomes more caramel-forward after chewing. This whiskey is rather well-proofed, as it provides a bit of effervescence beginning at the midpalate and only a slight burn as it goes down through the finish. The mouthfeel is above average, and that almost-bubbly textural quality persists through the lengthy finish where the citrus – which subsided a bit at midpalate – reemerges along with a faint splash of tobacco leaf.
After tasting this whiskey, I couldn’t help but revisit Hardin’s Creek Clermont. I found the Frankfort release to be head and shoulders above its predecessor. While the Clermont is less sweet, it is full of more caramel and nutmeg, making it altogether earthier. While Clermont allows more muted and quotidian flavor notes to take the lead, Hardin’s Creek Frankfort goes off the beaten path thanks to the ebullient fruitiness of the nose and the wider array of nontraditional flavors on the palate. As such I feel inclined to score it a shade above its predecessor, with hopes that the final release in the Kentucky Series, Hardin’s Creek Boston, takes things up a notch further still.