Kentucky Owl is a non-distilling producer that enjoys high esteem for its line of bourbon. Its history takes a winding road all the way back to 1879. Then, a pharmacist named Charles Dedman started a distillery in Kentucky. When Prohibition hit, the company essentially went under, after the federal government seized its inventory.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Charles Dedman’s great-great-grandson, Dixon Deadman, decided to revive the family business. However, he initially chose not to resurrect the distilling aspect of the business. Rather, he formed the brand “Kentucky Owl” and chose to hand-select bourbon barrels distilled elsewhere for blending (and, at times, re-barreling for additional aging) and bottling.
Beginning in 2014, Kentucky Owl has released at least one batch of bourbon per year. While each batch is unique, they all purport to be barrel proof and non-chill filtered. Some batches, like batch #1 released in September 2014, not only re-barrel the bourbon for additional aging, but also vary the char for the barrels that are later blended.
Word quickly spread since the first batch hit the market that Kentucky Owl was putting forth a superior product. Unfortunately, as is all too common, the problem was one of scarcity. As demand grew higher, so did the bottles’ prices on the secondary/gray market. Also, the bourbon was only sold in Kentucky, which made it that much harder for those outside the state to acquire a bottle.
In 2017, Kentucky Owl announced that their next release would involve two key changes. First, the company was releasing its first ever batch of rye whiskey. Second, the bottles would be sold outside of Kentucky (but still not every state, and not Kansas).
Kentucky Owl Rye Batch #1 is, like the bourbons, a blend of various barrels selected by Kentucky Owl. Though the source, or sources, are unknown, the bottle’s reference to “Kentucky Straight Rye” indicates the source is in Kentucky. This is significant because a common source of rye whiskey for non-distilling producers, such as High West, is MGP in Indiana.
Though Kentucky Owl Rye is not available in Kansas, I ventured across the border to visit Julep, one of the club’s favorite bars in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kentucky Owl Rye Batch #1 (11 years old, 110.6 proof)
Nose: The herbal qualities of the rye are at the forefront – dill and spearmint being the most prominent. The familiar sweet scents of salted caramel and toffee are in the background. Some baking spices round out the nose. What may be the most noticeable facet of the nose is what is missing – ethanol. For a 110.6 proof whiskey, there is hardly a trace of ethanol, making it very easy to deeply nose the glass and enjoy it. (3.5/5)
Palate: As the nose indicated, this drinks under proof, just as much as any other whiskey I can recall. The aging has also polished off some of those astringent notes that can be common in high-proof ryes. But the dill/mint pair well with the nutmeg, cloves, and oak. This has good body, but not as much as one would hope for a high-proof rye that is 11 years old. (3/5)
Finish: This was the most underwhelming aspect of the dram, with the flavors fading more quickly than I would have liked. There is also a slightly tannic quality that emerges. (2.5/5)
Overall: For an 11-year rye, at 110.6 proof, fetching a price tag of $130 per bottle (MSRP), one should rightly have high expectations. Though this dram had very few flaws, it also felt a bit…underwhelming. It smelled/drank so far underproof that it nearly ventured into being described as “mellow.” Perhaps those wiser than I would say this is a laudable component of Kentucky Owl Rye. But for me, I wanted to be wowed. Instead, I was left simply feeling satisfied. (3/5)
Value: The $130 price tag puts this bottle in a category along with the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, and Wild Turkey Master’s Keep. This one, unfortunately, doesn’t quite keep up with its company. There is, however, some recognized value in having the very first batch of rye released by Kentucky Owl. However, the higher the price, the higher the risk of buyer’s remorse. (2.5/5)
“Though this dram had very few flaws, it also felt a bit…underwhelming. I was left simply feeling satisfied.”