Two New Whiskies Rev Up Bourbon and Rye

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.


[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

For devotees of American whiskey, these are exciting times indeed. Beginning in the 1980s and accelerating in recent years, bourbon has brushed off its once tarnished reputation and has reinvented itself as a sippable, collectable spirit. And rye whiskey, only a decade ago mostly written off as an archaic relic, has seen its popularity surge and is now considered a staple ingredient in most craft bars.

In the last couple of weeks, the selection of American whiskies has become a little more interesting with the debut of two new spirits from a couple of familiar names.

Since the 1990s, Knob Creek (produced by Jim Beam) has been one of the kings of the small-batch bourbon hill. In late February, Beam introduced Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve; like its small-batch brother, the single-barrel bourbon is aged nine years. But while the bourbon in the small-batch version is married across a number of different barrels to create a particular style and flavor, and is bottled at a sparky yet sippable 100 proof, the single-barrel bourbon is exactly that: everything in the bottle is from one barrel of whiskey, and the difference in character is surprising. The flavor is still recognizably Knob Creek, with a bright spark of spice and a citric tang, and a smoky, leathery richness of texture, but in the single-barrel bourbon these characteristics are amplified, as is the alcohol level, at 120 proof. Big, bold and afraid of nothing, the Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve is an excellent addition to the Jim Beam lineup of bourbons.

Over the past dozen years, Bulleit Bourbon has made become an increasingly visible part of the whiskey bar. With a high percentage of rye in its recipe, Bulleit Bourbon has a spicy bite that's made it a favorite mixing whiskey. Last week, Tom Bulleit took this fondness for rye to its natural conclusion, introducing Bulleit Rye Whiskey. Aged between four and seven years and produced using a recipe with a whopping 95 percent rye (a characteristic it shares with other whiskies including Redemption Rye and Templeton Rye, all produced at Lawrenceburg Distillers in Indiana), Bulleit Rye Whiskey has a beautifully dry aroma of dried fruit and tobacco, and a flavor popping with winter spice and cherries, with a lingering, maple-y finish.

As a longtime fan of American whiskies, I'm excited to have these new additions to my bourbon and rye lineup. Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve and Bulleit Rye Whiskey are now available in liquor stores and some early-adopter bars. Have you come across either of these whiskies yet? What's your opinion?