When we wrote about Knob Creek Smoked Maple a few weeks ago, we never thought it would turn into us having a private tasting with Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe. But in true DIA fashion, we’re drinking with the all stars and getting the inside scoop.
Fred Noe, son of Booker Noe and grandson of Jim Beam, is the seventh generation Beam family distiller. Growing up, Fred loved following his father around the Bardstown, KY distillery and learning the ins and outs of the bourbon business. After a brief (8 years is no joke) stint in college, he started at Beam bottling bourbon during the night shift. He worked his way up and became Master Distiller of the family business in 2007. We sat down with a bottle of the soon to be released Knob Creek Smoked Maple and listened as Fred explained why this flavored bourbon will be unlike anything you’ve tasted before.
When we first opened the bottle, we could barely even smell the bourbon. The maple smell hit hard but wasn’t overbearing and had a hint of smokiness that both surprised and intrigued us. Also intriguing? The story Fred shared with us when we asked, “Why Maple?” When he wasn’t busy distilling bourbon, Noe’s father Booker took up some kick-ass hobbies. He cured and smoked meats, right in his backyard. Then one year on vacation in Vermont, Booker saw someone making maple syrup and started tapping his own sugar maple’s in the backyard when the family got home. His father’s love of smoked meat and maple syrup gave Fred the inspiration for Knob Creek Smoked Maple. That adorable family story is enough to get us to keep a bottle on hand.
At first sip, the Smoked Maple had a strong bourbon flavor with the subtle hints of smokiness and sweet maple. Exactly what they were aiming for, according to Fred. After a couple more sips and an ice cube, the smoked flavor came out and seriously impressed us. We could sip on it all day long, but Fred knows the Knob Creek purists may think he’s crazy. He sees it as a “sip and savor” bourbon, something that people could enjoy after dinner or for dessert (maybe even with icecream if you’re really treating yourself). He prefers his neat with a splash of water but he also sees potential for it in classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. It could even act as a substitute for simple syrup in some drinks. We’ll be keeping our eyes out to see what Beam’s global mixologist, “Bobby G” has in store for the bourbon. According to Fred, with Bobby the possibilities are endless.
So what sets Knob Creek Smoked Maple apart from all of the other maple spirits out there? Dedication to quality. Fred expressed that his biggest concern in adding a flavor was that it had to be good enough to carry the Knob Creek name. No problem there, it’s a winner. It’s obvious that the Beam name is everything to Fred and carrying on a tradition of quality is the most important thing when producing bourbon. And that tradition will continue as his son just joined Beam in January, becoming the 8th generation to continue the family business.
Fred kept us laughing the entire conversation and even invited us down to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September. Needless to say, we’re about to book a flight. Knob Creek Smoked Maple will launch officially in September and we’ll definitely be getting our hands on a bottle, or ten. Cheers to Fred, Knob Creek and the Beam family.
– Elli & Caroline