In a market where newly started brands are quick to revive or associate themselves with historic whiskey brands, figures and places, it’s refreshing when one emerges with a direct link to history. One such brand, Kentucky Owl, dates back to 1879 and was originally established by Kentucky distiller Charles Mortimer Dedman. After prohibition and a disastrous fire put an end to Kentucky Owl the once prosperous brand name (like many other brands that suffered the same fate) faded out of memory and was only kept alive by the Dedman family who have continued running an inn in Kentucky since 1919.
This changed in 2014 when Dedman’s great-great grandson Dixon Dedman and his business partners Mark & Sherri Carter launched the revived Kentucky Owl Batch 1, a barrel proof small batch bourbon. Batch 1 was tiny and featured 5 barrels of aged, sourced bourbon that were mingled and re-barreled into new charred barrels to age further, yielding 1300 750ml bottles. Bourbon fans quickly caught on to this KY release and prices went from $175 to ridiculously high in no time at all. Since 2014 there have been six more small batches of Kentucky Owl released (number 7 is on the way) and in the summer of 2017, fan excitement hit the roof when Kentucky Owl announced that they would also be releasing their first batch of sourced rye whiskey. This Batch 1 rye whiskey was a 110 proof, 11 year old straight rye whiskey blended from barrels picked by Dedman and would see a much larger distribution than previous Kentucky Owl releases.
Name: Kentucky Owl Rye – Batch 1
Age: 11 Years old
Proof: 110.6 (55.3% ABV)
Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Rye
Producer: Bottled by Kentucky Owl, sourced from unknown KY distillery
Appearance: Dark Copper
Nose: From the start you can tell that this is a rye. The nose opens with dry dill and grassy rye grain notes followed by deep caramel, pine needles, red apples, and baking spices with a slight dash of smoke.
Palate: The palate follows the nose and features mostly dill and grassy rye notes which are thickened out, and balanced, with red apples cooked in brown sugar/molasses, white pepper rye spice, cinnamon, and again a hint of charred oak.
Finish: On the finish you still get those dominant notes of rye and oak, followed by a wave of white pepper spice. This heat quickly fades leaving heavy residual herbaceous notes with an aftertaste of dry oak and grassy rye
Overall: This is a through and through rye whiskey with real character and in a world of fast-disappearing age statements it’s a real rarity to see an 11 year old rye sitting on the shelf for so close to its RRP. What also surprised me was how toned down the alcohol is and at 110.6 proof I was expecting at least some alcohol burn on the palate. I was pleasantly surprised that I only detected a waft of it on the nose. It seems that instead of overpowering on all fronts the alcohol carries those delicious flavours in this whiskey very well and I have to commend Dixon Dedman on this. The only fault I could find in this whiskey was the finish. For a whiskey that performs so well on the nose and the palate the finish seems a bit of a letdown as the flavours peter down to dry oak and a herbaceous aftertaste.
My final issue with this whiskey is the same one that has dogged Kentucky Owl since the first release – its price. In my opinion there is a vast selection of great ryes out there (albeit without the 11 year old age statement) that are almost just as good as this and are significantly better priced. I can only wonder if the price is a reflection of the age of the whiskey, or some other factors such as the production costs, barrel costs etc. For this whiskey to be worth the money it would have to be a stellar rye. This is a great rye but not quite on a stellar level in my opinion. Regardless of this I’m glad that I picked up a bottle.
I’m very curious to see what lies ahead for this whiskey as Batch 2 has already been announced following the news that Kentucky Owl has been purchased by the Stoli group who are currently considering building a $150 million distillery in Bardstown. If this happens Kentucky Owl would transition from a Non Distiller Producer to a disitllery with its own whiskies once again -exciting times lie ahead!
Try or Buy?
Like I said, I like this whiskey but there’s too many other options out there that are much better priced. My suggestion would be to try this first at a bar but if you see it on a shelf for much below its RRP I can’t say I wouldn’t be tempted to pick up another.