Bourbon nuts have already heard the big news: King of Kentucky, a brand established in 1881, acquired by Brown-Forman in 1936, and discontinued in 1968, is back. There’s nothing much connecting this 2018 revival to the 1968 version (it was a blended whiskey at the time), but few will pay that any mind, as this is a 14 year old straight bourbon, bottled at barrel proof.
16 barrels were produced, distilled in 2013 at the Early Times facility in Louisville. The mash is a curious one: 79% corn, 11% rye, and 10% malted barley. Can you guess what other whiskey on the market (the only one, as far as I can tell) uses this mash?*
Note: These are single barrel releases; the barrels were not married before bottling. As such, proof (and character) will vary from bottle to bottle.
With just 1000 bottles produced, we were lucky to score a small sample of this rarity. Unfortunately our sample has no barrel information (or even the proof) included, so we can’t pinpoint the specific lot we’re looking at here.
Nonetheless, thoughts follow.
The nose is instantly racy and engaging, a classic overproof bourbon character showcasing flamed orange peel, bittersweet chocolate, and eucalyptus notes — all overloaded with intense spices, including allspice, cloves, and red pepper. The whiskey is tough at full strength, scorching the palate but letting the hit of spice and those very drying, peppery notes come through clearly, over and above the high abv.
Water is a must (it can take a lot), and it helps coax out the more exciting elements in the whiskey. Lots of apple and cinnamon notes emerge right away. This is quite a pleasant surprise, letting the whiskey’s natural sweetness come to the fore. This fruit endures well into the vanilla- and caramel-soaked finish, a little red berry character and more chocolate coming forth ahead of a reprise of cayenne notes — for a bright second — on the very end.
I found myself experimenting with water on this one — first none, then a lot, then a little, then a lot again — finding the whiskey change dramatically from one test to the next, each of them enticing me to continue the exploration.
125 – 135 proof, depending on the bottle.
* Early Times, of course.