The distillery world is infinite, and you can have a good example of that by just going to a liquor store, but, whether you like it mixed with something else, neat, or on the rocks, few things hit the spot like smooth and straight bourbon. It can be the perfect drink on a hot summer’s day or just the refreshment you need to relax after a particularly taxing day.
Every day, more and more people are joining the world of bourbon, and if you’re new to it, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Fortunately for you, we have all the information you need about bourbon, especially when it comes to two of the more popular brands on the market: Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek.
The Main Differences Between Maker’s Mark vs Knob Creek
The main differences between Maker’s Mark vs Knob Creek are:
- Maker’s Mark has a deep rust-color with a leaning toward orange, whereas Knob Creek has a deep caramel color, like burnt orange.
- Maker’s Mark has a caramel, malt, vanilla and cinnamon aroma, whereas Knob Creek has vanilla, caramel, cinnamon and maple syrup notes.
- Maker’s Marks’ finish consists o corn, caramel and oak, whereas Knob Creek’s finish consists of caramel, cherry and corn.
What is Bourbon?
As defined by the United States Trade Legislation, bourbon is defined as a kind of whiskey in which the mash bill is between 51% and 80% corn. What is a mash bill, you ask? It’s the combination of grains that are used to make the whiskey itself.
Usually, bourbon distillers will use almost 70% corn along with other grains to round out their mash bill. Of course, the types of grains they choose to use will impact the flavoring and style of the bourbon.
Additionally, there are specific regulations and guidelines which a distillery has to follow if it wants to be considered a straight bourbon.
The vast majority of bourbons begin with sour mash. This is based on taking from the prior batch, setting it out to that it sours throughout the night, then adding it into the newest batch. Going through this process is a lot like beginning a batch of sourdough.
Bourbon is the result of fermented yeast, water, and the mash of grain. We’ve already touched on the 51% of corn required in the mash bill for a beverage to be considered a bourbon. However, the average bourbon contains around 70%. Wheat, rye, and barley are other grains used in bourbon to flavor it.
To be considered a bourbon, it must go through an aging process. The minimum for bourbon is two years. However, there are bourbons available on the market that go through aging processes that range from 5 to 12 years. A select few are aged more than a quarter of a century!
We know that aging has to be a minimum of two years, but what about the barrel? All bourbon has to be aged in new barrels. These barrels are charred on the interior and consist of white oak. There are various levels of char depending on the aging process of the bourbon in the charred oak barrel, ranging from 1 to 4, which labels used to give their bourbon the flavor and taste that makes them unique. If you don’t know which one you prefer, you can always ask for help in your favorite liquor store.
The law states that nothing is to be added to bourbon during the bottling process with the exception of water. No ingredients or mixtures can be added to the charred oak barrels to increase sweetness, alter the color, or enhance the flavor.
Bourbons are bottled anywhere from 80 to 125 proof. If a distillery wants to lower the proof, the only thing that can be used is water.
Bourbons do not have to be produced in any specific place in the United States. However, both a bottle of Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek are considered Kentucky Bourbons, since that is where they are both made.
Types of Bourbon
There are three distinct types of bourbons on the market. They are:
With traditional bourbons, the grain component must use a mash which is more than 70% corn. The remaining portions of the bourbon are made up of barley and rye (The ingredient used to make Woodford Reserve Bourbon). These types of bourbon usually have a balanced flavor consisting of both spiciness and sweetness.
Rye bourbons, you guessed it, use wheat in their mash. The key to the mixture with rye bourbons, as with other bourbons, is the mixture of the grain. Rye bourbons contain less corn, little to no barley, and double the amount of rye as traditional bourbons.
Some of the more popular bourbon labels include Four Roses, Basil Hayden, Bulleit, and one of my personal favorites, Woodford Reserve.
Wheat bourbons are made in much the same way that traditional bourbons are prepared. The difference with wheat bourbons, as its name suggests, is what wheat is used in the mixture as opposed to rye. This helps to sweeten the flavor of the bourbon.
Recognizable labels for wheat bourbons are Four Roses, Old Fitzgerald, and Maker’s Mark.
So, let´s dive in into this Maker’s Mark vs Knob Creek comparison by taking a look at what is it really the magic behind a bottle of Maker’s Mark…
All About Maker’s Mark
Perhaps the most prominent feature about Maker’s Mark bourbon is the wax that envelops its top. Whether it’s red or green, you know it’s a bottle of Maker’s when it has that wax wrapped around it. But there’s much more to Maker’s Mark bourbon than just some wax.
To begin, let’s take a look at where and when Makers Mark originated.
The Maker’s Mark label was born in 1958, near Loretto, Kentucky. Four years prior, production had started on this iconic bourbon. Maker’s Mark was marketed in the US throughout the ’60s and the ‘70s with the slogan “it tastes expensive…and is.”
As the only handmade bourbon in the United States, every batch uses fewer than 19 barrels, making use of the sour-mash process. Without a doubt, Maker’s Mark is one of the best small-batch bourbon whiskeys on the market, making itself known without a lot of fuss.
Currently, Maker’s Mark bourbon is a significant player in the market, ranking as the 8th most-selling whiskey in the US. Throughout its history, the bourbon has gone through multiple owners, however, as of today, it is owned by Beam Suntory.
The company made headlines in 2013 when it announced that it was going to reduce the ABV (Alcohol by Volume) content of its bourbon. The plan was to move from 45% to 42%, which would allow the company to increase its inventory by nearly 6%. Of course, this didn’t sit well with Maker’s Mark loyalists.
When all the dust settled, Maker’s Mark’s current owner, Beam, Inc., had changed their minds. One of the most recognizable trademarks on the Maker’s Mark bottles is its dripping red wax. For those that aren’t familiar with the bourbon, every single bottle is hand-dipped in red wax.
While the bourbon inside the bottle remains the same, you can find many different wax colors, including green, white, and blue. These are used to commemorate different holidays or celebrities, including horses. It is, after all, a maker’s mark proof of being a Kentucky bourbon.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon Offerings
Currently, Maker’s Mark offers several separate bourbons, each with their own distinct flavor. Here’s a short rundown on what you can expect from each of these delicious offerings
The traditional and original offering from Maker’s Mark starts off with an amora of caramel, vanilla, and brown sugar. You can smell the sweetness, which is very strong considering it’s a 90-proof bourbon.
You’ll taste notes of vanilla, toffee, and oak, which are very prevalent, along with a hint of cinnamon. The buttery mouthfeel is a bit thin, however, it goes down nice and smooth. The finish isn’t very layered, however, its pleasant enough that it’s tough to find fault in Maker’s original bourbon.
Bourbon /56.6% ABV / Kentucky, United States
Bottled at 108 to 114 proof, Maker’s Mark® Cask Strength amps up the front-of-the-palate flavors of Maker’s Mark®. In other words, it’s Maker’s™ with a lot more Maker’s™.
Maker’s Cask Strength offering starts off with the smell of vanilla, cherries, and cinnamon. It’s on the sweet side, which is typical of a Maker’s Mark bourbon. One thing to note, however, is that even though its aroma lines up with what you’d expect from the bourbon producer, it’s not as strong as one might think a 113-proof spirit would be.
The mouthfeel is full-bodied, completely covering your tongue with flavors of toasted nuts, cinnamon, and caramel. Just a sip and you’ll experience Maker’s standard flavor, but with a bolder taste.
You’ll get a medium-long finish with Cask Strength, boasting a solid combination of spicy and sweet flavors. At the tail-end, you’ll notice earthy tones, which makes this a solid bourbon with a fair amount of strength on the back-end.
Bourbon /55.55% ABV / Kentucky, United States
Beginning as fully matured Maker’s Mark® at cask strength, expressions of Private Select are created by adding 10 custom finishing staves to each barrel and finishing them in our limestone cellar to extract more flavor.
Maker’s Mark Private Select bourbon is an excellent bourbon for sipping with some ice or drinking neat. It has a perfect blend of apple, caramel, and vanilla when you open the bottle and inhale its pleasant aroma.
The palate is sweet but quickly moves into an oak-filled spicy taste. You’ll find hints of vanilla, caramel, toasted nut, and butterscotch rounding out the Prive Select flavor profile.
The Private Select has a strong finish, tasting of cinnamon and then moving into a spicy aftertaste. You’ll notice lingering notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel, which gives this bourbon a traditional taste.
Final Thoughts on Maker’s Mark
Maker’s Mark offers several bourbons, which means a lot to many people. Some taste it and swear they’ll never drink anything else. Others find it bland and boring, unwilling to give it another try. However, this label has many loyal drinkers, which is why you’ll find it on the shelf in nearly any bar you walk into in the US.
If you’re interested in trying one of their offerings, we recommend starting with their Cask Strength bourbon. While it’s easy to dismiss Makers Mark for many bourbon aficionados, it’s still quality and smooth-tasting bourbon.
Maker’s Mark is more robust and bolder than many of its competitors, which is why it remains as one of the bourbons people prefer. As one of the most recognizable labels in the US, this Kentucky bourbon is the epitome of what it means to be bourbon.
When it comes to Makers Mark, it’s typically noted for the sweet flavor it has, along with caramel and vanilla. This is a departure from your traditional bourbon-making processes, which makes the label stand out among its peers.
It is smooth and full of flavor, which makes it a pleasant experience overall. It’s an easy bourbon for anyone to enjoy and makes Makers Mark a sure bet to continue in its popularity.
What to Know About Knob Creek
Knob Creek Kentucky bourbon is part of the Jim Beam family and is known as a small-batch straight bourbon whiskey. With its rich, caramel and woody flavor, you’re sure to enjoy this bourbon, which is perfectly aged in charred barrels made of American Oak.
Let’s take a closer look at this bold bourbon and find out just what it has to offer.
As we mentioned, Knob Creek is one of the most recognizable small-batch bourbons in the United States. Introduced in 1992, it is a part of the Jim Beam bourbon collection. Names you might also recognize in the collection include Baker’s, Booker’s, and Basil Hayden.
The concept behind this small-batch bourbon was to show how talented the master blenders are at the artistry of marrying unique flavor profiles along with a smaller number of barrels. Usually, with small-batch bourbons, they are aged longer and at a higher strength.
When 2016 rolled around, Jim Beam announced that it would no longer hold to its 9-year-old age standards for Knob Creek. Unfortunately, this is simply one of the drawbacks to the high demand for quality bourbon.
It was either change the Knob Creek standard or reduce the output of the bourbon, which the company didn’t view as an option. When this occurred, master distiller Fred Noe proclaimed that he would personally oversee the production of every batch, ensuring its quality.
Nowadays, Knob Creek bottles simply state that they are 100% proof and small-batch, whereas others share that they are “patiently aged.”
Knob Creek Bourbon Portfolio
You’ll find that Knob Creek offers several distinct bourbons. Here’s a quick review of some of the more popular offerings in the Knob Creek portfolio.
Bourbon /50% ABV / Kentucky, United States
Aged nine years, Knob Creek is the oldest by a couple years. The extra aging draws more flavor and sugar from the wood, providing a full-bodied, fruity flavor with hints of grass and grain.
This traditional Kentucky bourbon whiskey has a floral rye influence. It is light and smells of maple, potato, oak, corn husks, and a little banana. You’ll notice a yeasty aroma, which is common for bourbons.
The Knob Creek Straight Bourbon Whiskey has a sweet smell, with plenty of stone fruits. You’ll notice a hint of peaches and cherries, as well as a bit of vanilla if you let allow it to sit for a moment or two.
Once you take a taste of this Knob Creek bourbon, you’ll notice plenty of flavors. To begin you’ll notice corn, with peaches, cherries, and apples, following. Spices and oak finish up this tasty bourbon.
This 50% ABV is about right for this bourbon, and the palate offers some movement but is controlled, which many drinkers will enjoy. The Knob Creek Straight Bourbon Whiskey is easy to drink due to the way it balances the spiciness with the sweet. It offers solid complexity with a good body.
Finishing up you’ll notice light smoke with some corn layered on top of a note of oak. It has decent length, ending on a taste of peaches and apple seeds. It sweet and enjoyable, the perfect bourbon for mixing.
This bourbon is very drinkable, especially considering how well-balanced it is with its good and rich assortment of flavoring. It might be a little too sweet for some bourbon drinkers, but if you enjoy mixing your bourbon with a bit of soda or sweet tea, this could be the perfect option.
Bourbon /45% ABV / Kentucky, United States
Alive with smoked hickory and maple wood aroma and a hint of earthy grain, this blend has full-bodied, inviting maple notes that lift to smoke, complemented with rich vanilla and caramel flavors, finishing smoky, smooth, and slightly sweet.
If you like the taste of maple, then Knob Creek’s Smoked Maple Bourbon Whiskey might be just what you’re missing in your life. With hints of caramel and vanilla, along with cinnamon, you’ll notice an aroma similar to maple syrup.
Taking a sip of this bourbon reveals a bit of caramel with hints of vanilla. A bit of corn runs through the taste, with some oak to help balance everything out. Malt and bourbon spice help to round out the palate of this quality bourbon.
This Knob Creek offering is 100-proof and easy to drink. It goes down smooth without much in the way of burn. Like other 100-proof bourbons, the Smoke Maple from Knob Creek is a bit dry. The aftertaste is mostly caramel, along with some cheery and coin flavors. Overall, this is another solid bourbon in the Knob Creek family.
Single Malt Whiskey /60% ABV / Kentucky, United States
Knob Creek Single Barrel Select Bourbon Selected by Fred Noe IV and bottled specifically for Santee Market and Liquor in Santee, CA.
Last on our list of offerings from Knob Creek is its single-barrel select bourbon. It’s a 120-proof offering, which is bottled at nearly the strength of a full cask. Many bourbon fans prefer the higher proof, however, if you’re not, just add a bit of cold water to really bring out the aromas and flavors.
If you choose to forego adding water, just keep in mind that this bourbon packs a punch. When you smell this bourbon, you’ll find hints of vanilla, cinnamon, and caramel. Adding just a little water, though, brings out notes of honey, rye, and warm oak.
One of the great things about this whiskey is that adding a little water won’t impact how robust it is. When you do, more flavors start to emerge.
The palate offers a bar of dark chocolate which dominates the cinnamon and rye flavors that lie beneath. Knob Creek’s bourbon There’s also an undertone of vanilla, close, and nutmeg. What you get as a result is a tasty, delicious, and remarkable bourbon.
This Single Barrel option has a complex, and long finish, focusing on dark chocolate, black walnut, and hot cocoa. You’ll also discover hints of apple pie, cinnamon, and notes of vanilla bundt cake. It’s fair to say this bourbon from Knob Creek goes down smooth and easy.
Final Thoughts on Knob Creek
Knob Creek is a surprisingly easy bourbon to drink, especially if you like your drinks neat. While it is a little less flavorful than other high-quality bourbons, it’s still a solid option when you’re looking for something affordable and tasty.
Of course, one of the biggest drawbacks of Knob Creek is that its small-batch bourbons are no longer aged for at least nine years. While Jim Beam suggests that it is still aged longer than their other offerings, they don’t share exactly how long.
Even though Knob Creek is Jim Beam’s attempt to stay relevant in the world of small-batch bourbons, it still has plenty of delicious offerings. I really like the Smoked Maple bourbon with my sweet tea, but I am partial to the sweeter bourbons. If you are too, I would suggest giving it a try.
But Which One Is Best?
Of course, the answer to this question depends entirely on your tastes. Maker’s Mark is a great bourbon if you are looking for a sipping bourbon that’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg. Knob Creek, on the other hand, it great if you want a flavorful bourbon that goes down smooth when you want to sit on your porch and watch the world go by.
If you prefer to mix your bourbon with another drink either label has an option that will work. As I mentioned with Knob Creek, its Smoked Maple bourbon is great with sweet tea. Maker’s Mark has its Cask Strength offering which is perfect in a glass of cold Coca-Cola.
For my money, I’m going with Knob Creek. It’s smooth, sweet, and has several options if you prefer a bourbon that’s not as rich. It’s flavorful, which makes it quite addicting and hard to put down. There’s a lot to love with Knob Creek, which is why I’m choosing it over Maker’s Mark.
FAQs About Maker’s Mark vs Knob Creek
Yes. The Maker’s Mark is a great whiskey under $30 that offers spicy vanilla notes, caramel, and citrus and it’s a great whiskey to drink it neat or combine it with cola.
The Maker’s Mark is not a top-shelf whiskey, it belongs in the mid-shelf category of whiskey, but the Maker’s Mark Cask Strength belongs in the top shelf category.
The Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon belongs in the mid-shelf category of whiskey and is a great selection for cocktails, to drink it neat or on the rocks, thanks to the robust flavor it has.