Back in September I posted this…
— Brock™ (@dbrockmanw) September 12, 2014
…and since then Kentucky Owl has largely been left alone as a non-issue not to be taken seriously.
But then to my surprise, who was recently crowned winner of the drinks category in Garden & Gun’s “Made In The South” awards? The Owl, of course. In disbelief I felt the need to give it some attention again, if only to reassure myself that I wasn’t crazy for writing it off.
Kentucky Owl, the myth and the mystery
For starters, most whiskey-related blog posts begin with a charming story about the product and its history, but I won’t discuss any of that here because I can’t put forth the effort to entertain yet another myth involving whiskey and Al-Capone. If you don’t know what I mean and want to read the entire “story”, you’ll need to visit their website.
What is most important is the fact that Kentucky Owl is sourced whiskey that is packaged in a beautiful bottle without any mention of what’s inside. While some enjoy doing detective work, I don’t go down that path until I know that I like something, in order to preemptively justify the time invested.
Regardless, it seems any effort to sleuth out a source would be an exercise in futility anyway, as the brand’s current story dances around the intention to keep the bourbon shrouded in mystery. This makes perfect sense, since bourbon whiskey in general seems to be a mystery to the
producers marketers themselves. From KentuckyOwl.com:
“By law, the creation of Kentucky bourbon is not an instant gratification kind of thing. It must contain at least 51 percent corn and age in charred white oak barrels for at least two years before it can earn that distinction.
After four years, it can claim the status of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Beyond that, distillers don’t have to disclose its age, though many do on the notion that older is better.”
And here’s a screenshot before they make any edits:
So whats the problem here? This information is flat out wrong.
- White oak? Nope, just oak.
- Aged at least two years? Nope, just aged.
- Four years to become straight bourbon? Strike three, just two years.
…and that’s only two sentences from the website. I don’t feel the need to dissect anything further than that. To be fair, the words were originally authored by a journalist in this article, but that’s no excuse.
This is where the story gets completely out of hand. A bottle of this will run you at least $150 if you’re [un]lucky. Again, that’s over one hundred dollars for a bourbon without a birth certificate.
But wait, there’s more! The
producers marketers of this fine product anticipate Kentucky Owl will “move well beyond that price among collectors” in the future, so you better act fast!
Considering the mystery and the misinformation, Kentucky Owl bears a price tag that should make anyone who works for their money (or even steals it) cringe.
…but is it even good? Let’s find out.
Kentucky Owl Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Batch 1, Bottle 1370 at 59.2% ABV / 118.4 Proof
There’s almost no nose at first. Nothing. If glass had a scent that’s what I’m getting here. “Muted” comes to mind, or flat out “mute”. Heavy notes of mime. Either my glass has holes in it, I’ve lost my sense of smell, or this is the most vacuous bourbon I’ve ever nosed.
To its credit, it does open up and improve over time, but not much. Dry oak notes come through on the nose, similar to those noted in my review of Wild Turkey Diamond, but while I managed to pull some pleasant nostalgia out of that whiskey, the note in Kentucky Owl is a bit obtuse (can I say that?) and less complex.
As even more time passes the bouquet becomes sweeter with a hint of candied ginger that evolves into parlance with cedar. It’s a funky cedar, like grandma’s cedar chest that remains without breath until opened when an extra quilt is required on a cold night. Cue dust.
Trying to pull deeper brings out the alcohol.
It’s very hot on the front of the palate. Of course, this is a cask-strength whiskey so the heat is to be expected, but the first sips drink much hotter than they should.
Forecast calls for a temperature of 118 proof, but feels like a rough 130.
After being bombarded with an unusual bitterness that numbs the tip of the tongue rendering it useless, the attack moves quickly to the sides of the tongue before relaxing. There’s nothing across the middle as the palate follows suit behind the nose with notes of wet, oiled leather from a musty saddle.
The finish seems to have a mind of it’s own as it dissipates unevenly with a hot exit, and lingers.
After trying this bourbon on multiple occasions, in different settings, via various types of glassware, solitary and alongside comparable barrel-proof bourbons at similar proof, I’m not impressed.
I tasted this particular glass alongside Maker’s Mark Cask Strength and a barrel-strength OBSV at 118 proof. Between those, Kentucky Owl is closer to an off Wild Turkey barrel than anything else I can immediately think of. In the lineup shown in the photo at the beginning of this post it was far and beyond earthy in comparison.
I can’t find much I really enjoy about this bourbon and will add that I’m surprised others have rated it so well. I’ve seen this as high as a 90, which roughly translates to an A- on my scale. Absolutely not. There must be some handshakes happening that I’m not a part of, and that’s a shame.
Because it wasn’t purely offensive and did have some interesting notes and flavors as it opened over time, I won’t give it a D. If it were less than $35 a bottle I’d give it a C. Factoring in the price (which actually is offensive) and giving it the benefit of the doubt that someone, somewhere might enjoy it, and I wouldn’t immediately turn my nose up to it if offered another pour for free, I’ll leave it at..
When you consider this retails north of $150 you either have to be rich and hate keeping money in your pocket, or flat-out crazy to buy this in earnest.
Remember, they don’t tell you where it comes from. I can imagine a scenario where a source must remain shrouded in secrecy in order to protect its creators from becoming bombarded with whiskey geeks keen on hauling barrels out of warehouses under the cover of night, but this just ain’t that good and that scenario just ain’t plausible.
Instead of this, buy almost any other barrel-proof bourbon on the market. While completely different, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof are MUCH better buys in the genre, about 1/3 the price, and you know who makes them. One even carries an age statement. Stellar.
If funky, musty notes tickle your fancy try Old Grand Dad 114.
If you absolutely must purchase a “mystery” bourbon, reach for Johnny Drum Private Stock or splurge on Noah’s Mill at 114 proof and take someone out to dinner with the money you saved.