Kentucky Owl 11yr Rye
Spirits: Kentucky Straight Rye, 110 Proof (55.3% Alcohol); Retail $130 US
I had no doubt this would be amazing. One of the best bourbon’s I ever tasted was Kentucky Owl and I was lucky enough to taste it twice though it was not available outside of Kentucky.
The story of Kentucky Owl itself is very interesting. It went extinct and then was resurrected by the family and is now one of the most sought after and hardest bottles of fine bourbon you can only hope to find. Now there may be good news, maybe not. They were purchased by Stoli and they are committed to building a $150 Million distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. Why is this good? Well there will be more of it in the future and hopefully at better prices, however, we all know what happens when a major corporation takes over a brand, often it becomes about numbers and profit and the quality suffers. Currently their whiskey is “sourced” meaning they do not distill their own whiskey. They get it from other distilleries and blend it. This bothers some people, but not me, I don’t care who is making it or where it comes from, because anything that tastes this good is part of the mystery that should remain.
According to their website, Kentucky Owl was founded in 1879 by a local pharmacist, Charles Mortimer Dedman. He and his new bride received a large parcel of land on the banks of the Kentucky River as a wedding gift from his adopted father, a town judge. After running it by his wife, he decided to build the C.M. Dedman Distillery. For decades, it produced “The Wise Man’s Bourbon” under Distilled Spirits Plant Designation “No. 16,” one of Kentucky’s original distilleries and part of a booming industry. For decades, the Kentucky Owl continued to flow until Prohibition put an end to the party. The Dedman family could not hold out against the forces of teetotalism, temperance and eventually, the Feds. In 1916, as total Prohibition loomed, local distilleries had a lot of perfectly good bourbon sitting around. In the case of Kentucky Owl, something like 250,000 gallons of it in various stages of aging. (In today’s dollars, think “$40 million in inventory.”). Federal agents descended on the Dedman’s distillery, seized the bourbon, and shipped it up the river by barge to the state capital in Frankfort for “safekeeping” in a warehouse.
The nose on this rye has elements of sweet pine, honey, nougat, vanilla, cloves and lavender. Oaky undertones, subtle cedar saw dust or fresh split cedar. Rich in consistency and not forwardly spicy on the nose. It immediately coats the entire palate and nutmeg and cinnamon give way to pepper spice with vanilla on the front and anise across the middle. Subtle cinnamon spice clings to the finish.
The price tag is steep, even if you can get it at retail for $130. Is it worth it? For me, I believe so. But I don’t believe in paying more than that for anything, I don’t think I’ve ever paid anything near $200 including Pappy Van Winkle. If you can afford it, buy as much of it as you desire. For me, I only got one bottle because only one bottle was offered, and something like this is what I save for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, my birthday or a similar very special occasion.