Bourbon is no stranger to the kitchen—and it's not just that many chefs have a fondness for a few fingers of whiskey after a long day. Bourbon's sweet and spicy flavor profile marries very well with foods from pie to ribs (and even carrots!) But my personal favorite bourbon-flavored treat is the bourbon-barrel aged maple syrup that has been cropping up from a few producers as all things whiskey top the trend lists. The earthiness of the best syrups are a perfect foil to the more bitter, pointed oak notes and spices from the barrel. The only problem with this delicacy is it's a bit tough to drink by the glass. Enter the new Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon...
Produced from the same whiskey stock that goes on to become Knob Creek Bourbon, the Smoked Maple expression is blended with maple and smoke flavors. We tasted it side by side with the flagship Knob Creek 9 year Bourbon to see how it holds up to the original.
The classic Knob Creek 9 Year is bottled at 100 proof, and is definitely a high-octane bourbon. Caramel and maple aromas are up front and center, with a heavy oak influence and dark fruits following behind. The taste begins with those same sweet maple and caramel notes, but it quickly turns more astringent with bitter char and licorice flavors. The finish is long, dry oak. Would this whiskey work with a maple spin?
Bottled with no age statement at 90 proof, the new Knob Creek Smoked Maple is a flavored bourbon that takes its stock pedigree seriously. It's an amplification of the flavors of the original, along with the addition of enough sweetness to round out some of KC's more harsh edges. The scent is all buttered maple, though with a hint of artificiality (think a slightly more understated Mrs. Butterworth's). The smoke is light and subtle (a relief, since added smoke is tricky to do well) and the oak nicely balances the sweetness and smoke. The body of the bourbon, and its spicy vanilla and clove flavor helps to round out the single-note maple that rises to the top of each sip. The finish is quite short and sweet, lacking in any real complexity.
Given the flavor profile of Knob Creek's flagship bottle, the decision to make Smoked Maple makes sense. The flavored whiskey is a perfect gateway drink for soon-to-be bourbon drinkers—and it is the most successful flavored bourbon we've tried to date. Diehard whiskey geeks won't necessarily be won over (they tend to prefer bourbon flavored bourbon), but for the rest of us maple fiends it's an easy investment at around $31 a bottle.
How should you drink it? Mix this stuff into an amazing whiskey and Coke—the maple sweetness plays really nicely off of Coke's crisp bite. It's also divine in a hot toddy, and plays really well in a dessert riff on a Manhattan.
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.
Sample provided for review consideration.