It’s clear that Jim Beam is making a fairly sizable bet that maple flavored whiskey is going to be hot as they introduce two new and distinct maple flavored whiskeys. The first, Jim Beam Maple, is a sweet liqueur where the maple is clearly the star and the base spirit really more of a supporting character. The second, Knob Creek Smoked Maple, is a decidedly different approach to maple flavored whiskey: instead of having the maple flavor be the star, it’s dialed back, combined with some smoke, and delivered as a complement to the base whiskey.
Knob Creek Smoked Maple Whiskey (90 proof / 45% ABV, $30.99) – from the first whiff of the nose, it’s clear that this is a maple whiskey – unlike the Jim Beam Maple, you don’t have to do much digging to get to the other aromas in the glass. Right there along side maple is charred oak, vanilla, light smoke, and marzipan. While Jim Beam Maple smells a lot like alcoholic maple syrup, Knob Creek Smoked Maple smells more like a whiskey that has maple in it. The maple here is also far less syrupy, and when combined with the oak and smoke reminds us of well done, thick cut maple bacon. Knob Creek Smoked Maple is offered at 90 proof which is 5% ABV stronger than standard Jim Beam White Label and a full 10% ABV stronger than Jim Beam Maple. This higher proof is apparent on the nose, which has some nice edges to it that balance out the sweeter notes.
The entry for Knob Creek Smoked Maple is slightly sweet, but not singular. The maple from the nose is there, but so is the oak. The mouthfeel is quite nice, slightly thicker than the standard Jim Beam but not as heavy and syrupy as Jim Beam Maple or many of the other flavored whiskeys on the market. In the midpalate is where Knob Creek Smoked Maple really shines. The sweet elements including maple, vanilla, and marzipan combine with spicier elements like oak and cinnamon for a well integrated and delicious midpalate. Here we also get the introduction of wood fired smoke which really rounds everything out and helps lead a spicy finish. The finish is fairly long and fairly sweet. Here, too, the proof really shows its head with a nice dash of heat. It’s in the finish where Knob Creek Smoked Maple tastes its sweetest; instead of having just had a sip of whiskey, the flavor makes us feel that we just took a bite of a smoked bacon topped maple glazed doughnut after taking a swig of whiskey.
Knob Creek Smoked Maple is an interesting move from Jim Beam, and while we greatly prefer it to the Jim Beam Maple, it’s hard to think of exactly how it will fit in the marketplace. Priced at $30.99, Knob Creek Smoked Maple is DOUBLE the price of Jim Beam Maple. While we applaud Beam delivering a higher proof flavored whiskey, the price point is hard to swallow. Price concerns aside, we do feel that Knob Creek Smoked Maple mostly addresses the issues raised by whiskey enthusiasts who complain that maple flavored whiskeys like Jim Beam Maple and Crown Royal Maple are too much like spiked maple pancake syrup. Unfortunately, the finish on Knob Creek Smoked Maple is too sweet and doesn’t match the nice balance of sweet and spice that you find in the midpalate. As a guilty (and slightly expensive) pleasure, compared to many of the other flavored whiskeys out there, we do really enjoy Knob Creek Smoked Maple. At around $20-$25 with a finish that is really dialed in, it could be one of the best flavored whiskeys on the market.