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Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series: Clermont Review

Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series: Clermont Review

I was recently perusing through the Reddit group r/ToyotaSienna. Oh, and yes I drive a minivan, but that’s not the point of this story.  Anyway, one of the posts involved the question of if you’d buy a plug-in hybrid version if Toyota made it. Scrolling to the bottom (where all the best hot takes exist), I found one loud and annoying commenter who was trying to make his case that Toyota should build a minivan with not only a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, but that it should also have a turbocharged engine, forged internals, wastegate, etc etc.  The other commenters were quick to point out that not only would a setup like this push the vehicle’s pricetag even higher, but that it would appeal to very few minivan buyers.  The commenter wouldn’t give up on his idea no matter how much logic was used.

I feel like it’s that way with bourbon sometimes.  There are bourbons that enthusiasts demand producers make that would be very expensive while also claiming they’d pay the price increase. Sometimes the producers listen and make it. Then they find out all of the people who claimed they would buy it are nowhere to be found.

Jim Beam gives enthusiasts what they’re asking for… for a price

As I previously covered in my Kentucky Series: Boston review, Jim Beam not only decided to give us a highly-aged and high-proofed bourbon, but they gave it a really cool background that appealed to nerdy enthusiasts: they highlighted the campuses each one was aged at. This is a trend I hope more producers begin to push. It gives enthusiasts a new dimension to their love of a brand and allows fanbases to develop around certain warehouses (think of it as picking the sports team you want to follow). I don’t see anything negative that would result from this.

Hardin’s Creek Kentucky Series: Clermont was the first release of the three part series in which a group of around 175 barrels that were all distilled on the same day were split up into 3 different campuses. From there, they were allowed to mature for an incredible 17 years. This experiment allows for enthusiasts to experience how geography and warehouse construction can change the flavor profile of a whiskey.

Unlike the Boston release, Beam has revealed that the Clermont release was matured in Warehouse E on Floors 2 and 3 (which I would classify as the cooler floors). According to this map I made, Warehouse E is super close to the best distillery restaurant in all of Kentucky (fight me): The Kitchen Table.

Having drove by this campus many times on my way to Bardstown, I find that the geography leans towards the quintessential rolling hills of Kentucky. The area where you see Warehouses H, G, E, F and D is at a higher elevation than A, I, K, J and C. This should allow for slightly higher temperatures and maybe more airflow. I also wonder if the nearby parking lot impacted the temperature of the warehouse. Surely it would be warmer than G or H, which appear to be surrounded by grass.

Now that I’ve explored what makes this bottle unique, let’s find out what it tastes like. At the end, I’ll give a summary of how it compares to the other two labels in this release. As usual, I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Sweet, woody and nutty. These are the three main scents that come to mind when I put my nose up to the glass. This is classic Beam amped up by a factor of 5. If I thought that I liked some Knob Creek releases in the past, this takes the cake. The nose seems a touch sweeter than the other two releases in this Kentucky Series. Take that for what it’s worth.

Palate: The initial bite shows you that this dram has some good proof behind it. But don’t take that as me saying it’s aggressive. That “bite” showcases some fantastic flavors of toffee, vanilla, toasted hazelnuts and seasoned oak. There is a rich layer of tannins that never gets dry no matter how much you move them around in your mouth. This compliments the array of baking spices (and black pepper) that can be found. Fruit flavors like cherry and citrus peel add a slightly brighter dimension but raisins bring it back down to the dark and concentrated notes. There’s also a tiny bit of chocolate that shows up. Every sip seems indulgent.

Finish: The rich wood and tobacco leaf notes take charge while also elevating the chocolate note from earlier. Sitting back with my mouth slightly open reveals some lingering fruit notes, but not much. Mainly the dried raisin and fig. Soft cinnamon and a little bit of allspice remain. The finish carries on for a long time.

Score: 8.9/10

No matter how hard Father Time tried, the blenders at Beam refused to allow this old bourbon to become over-oaked and bitter. I swear, it seemed like it was on the cusp, but it never broke through. This is great news for enthusiasts because we get to experience a bourbon where 17 years in a barrel doesn’t mean all of the flavors have collapsed into a bitter, unsweet mess.

If you’re wondering why I’ve scored this so high, the reason is simple: because it’s one of the few bourbons at this age that still tastes so perfectly balanced even though it’s dripping with age. It’s hard to imagine reaching for anything else when this is in your cabinet. Only one other bourbon around this age makes me think this way – Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year. To be listed in the same breath as that bottle is something that I don’t say lightly.

Final Thoughts

It’s usually easy for me to describe why a whiskey is amazing (or awful) – but it feels like I’m struggling when it comes to describing the bourbon inside of these Kentucky Series bottles. I’ve been avoiding the phrase “you have to try it to believe it” but I can’t avoid it any longer. You’re just going to have to trust me when I say that bourbons like this have so much more going on than I can put into words. Yes, I can describe simple flavor notes to you, but to actually taste them and see why they’re unlike almost any other brand’s bourbon is hard to do.

I have high hopes that all three of these bottles will eventually become recognized for their excellence. Unfortunately that will come with increased prices on the secondary. So I’ll leave you with this one bit of advice that’s very much against what I try to do when I write a review: find these three releases now and buy them. It’s hard to imagine modern-day bourbon tasting much better than this for the price they’re going for. I have a bad feeling that releases like these are going to be few and far between, so make sure you don’t wait too much longer.

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