Kentucky Owl began life in 2014 as a small batch, boutique whiskey brand whose ultra-limited bourbon releases quickly attained near Pappy-like levels of adoration, complete with ridiculous secondary valuations on top of already generous SRPs. In 2017, the brand broke into the broader market with a series of small batch, well-aged rye releases (see Batch 1 and Batch 2) and sold to spirits behemoth Stoli Group, whose aim was naturally to make Kentucky Owl a household name. The launch of Confiscated, a bourbon we have never had the chance to review, didn’t exactly put it on the map, but the brand appears to be undergoing a bit of a redesign with a new offering that includes their own contract-distilled bourbon and a new Master Blender to boot. Per the press release:
Stoli Group Kentucky Owl is announcing the release of The Wiseman Bourbon, its first Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey produced and distilled by Kentucky Owl in collaboration with the Bardstown Bourbon Company, both located in The Bourbon Capital of the World — Bardstown, Kentucky. The product is a blend of Kentucky Owl 4-year-old wheat and high-rye bourbons, along with 5 ½-year and 8 ½-year-old Kentucky-sourced bourbons.
The Wiseman Bourbon is an artful balance of soft wheat and spicy high-rye that provides a smooth but complex bourbon designed to drink neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail,” said John Rhea, Kentucky Owl Master Blender. This is the first Kentucky Owl release under Rhea, who began in June. Rhea previously served as Four Roses Distillery’s chief operating officer, where his responsibilities included quality control, maturation, evaluation and product blending. He was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2016 and served as chair of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association board of directors.
Let’s check it out.
The nose shows some of that younger stock with sweet cornbread notes, a bit of butterscotch, char, and warm apple turnover. Buried deep in the glass is a stone fruit note I’d love to see (err, smell) more of. It’s rather gentle, even with generous time to open up. The palate is similarly soft with notes of spun sugar, citrus peel, caramel candies, and a bit of that ripe peach sweetness I detected on the aroma. The fruit notes are interrupted by some domineering oak and a bit of ethanol that arrive mid-palate while the medium-length finish showcases a mix of drying wood, apple chips, and toasted sugar. It’s an approachable, if somewhat underwhelming, bourbon with a profile that feels almost like an attempt to recreate some of the gentler “dusty” bourbons of yesteryear. In a world full of bold American whiskeys, this one definitely stands out for its comparative subtleties.