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Whiskey Notes

How the composition of whiskey can be as complex as the composition of a song

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Balance and complexity, time and tradition. Those factors are as relevant to a great whiskey as they are to, say, music. To “compose” Knob Creek Whiskey, the notes must come together in harmony but with a polyphony of flavors. For Fred and Freddie Noe, seventh and eighth generation distillers, that process is conducted by family recipes and traditions, all leading to the bold flavors that make up Knob Creek. So just how does it all happen?

Nestled in the trees of Clermont, Kentucky is the sprawling Knob Creek Distillery. There, rackhouses shelter thousands of barrels, made of white oak. The rackhouses store the barrels during their nine year journey from spirit to bourbon. The simple ingredients – corn, barley, rye, and water – evolve over time as they age within the barrel. And pulling those flavors from the oak is aided by the charring process that helps the wood and spirit intermingle.

Controlling Airflow

It’s not just what’s going on within the barrel, however. The outside environment influences the process. In fact, Clermont’s tempestuous weather also plays a large role in the whiskey’s flavor. Airflow and humidity interact with aging barrels, to the extent that Freddie says these seasonal shifts were “created for whiskey aging” and that Clermont’s “environment does a great job to highlight what a barrel and the rackhouse storage can do for a whiskey product.”

So if the environment plays such a role, how does Knob Creek maximize the impact? When searching for a place to store a specific barrel within the nine floors of Warehouse K, Fred notes “you want to get the barrel more towards the heart of the rack house, where you get a good change of seasons, but you don’t get the extremes. The higher storage barrels, the proof or strength tends to climb during aging.” Of course, proof is an integral part to the signature flavors of Knob Creek. Remaining at 100 proof instead of the more common 80, says Freddie, is “very important as it helps to create that balance and that depth of profile of the flavors you’re tasting.” Seconding that, “the thing about bourbon at that strength is that it can stand up if you want to make it into a great cocktail or put it on the rocks,” says his father.

A Nine Year Journey

The proof is in the air, in fact. Throughout Warehouse K, there’s a faint sweetness, brought about by the “angel’s share.” That’s what comes of the barrel losing, says Fred, about “four percent of whiskey a year due to evaporation and during that aging process. It’s concentrating the flavors in what’s left behind in the barrel.” Over the nine years the barrels continue losing more to the angel’s share, but it continues to heighten the whiskey’s flavor.

Knob Creek is more than just a bourbon whiskey to the Noes. It’s the taste of generations of a family’s hard work and dedication to their craft. As Fred proudly says, “every generation of our family has put their mark on this family business.”

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