Kentucky Owl jumped into 2021 with a bit of an odd holiday-themed release, Kentucky Owl St. Patrick’s Edition. Before you get too befuddled about being persuaded to substitute a Kentucky bourbon for the Irish whiskey typically used to celebrate the occasion, allow Kentucky Owl to explain:
For this special release, Kentucky Owl Master Blender John Rhea partnered with Louise McGuane, Ireland’s first modern whiskey bonder and founder of J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey. Irish whiskey bonding is a way of blending that was commonplace during the 19th and 20th centuries, when most Irish distilleries produced whiskeys for bonders to age, blend and bottle. When the Irish whiskey industry collapsed in the 1930s, bonding faded away — until McGuane began resurrecting the tradition again in 2015.
Rhea and McGuane blind tasted individual cask samples, then again through multiple blending variations. The result features Kentucky straight bourbons aged 4 to 11 years, with some rich caramel notes and vanilla from rare older bourbons; spice and fruit from higher rye bourbons; and sweetness and citrus from wheated bourbons.
According to McGuane, the goal of the blend was to home in on the fruit-forward profile sought by Irish whiskey makers while still maintaining something representative of the Kentucky Owl style. That all sounds well and good, but the suggested retail price on this one sets the bar pretty high, especially given the unspecified amount of younger whiskey in the mix. Jameson is a significantly cheaper way to celebrate the upcoming holiday. Let’s see if this bottle is worth the splurge.
There’s a surprising amount of initial similarity between this aroma and the nose on Kentucky Owl’s late 2021 release, Wiseman. That’s not entirely surprising, as that one was also a mix of wheat and rye bourbons (sourced and in-house), although not as old. Things kick off with youthful notes of creamed corn and golden butterscotch candies before evolving into baked apples, lemon oil, and some toasted sesame. The oak is delicately integrated, with a touch of milk chocolate and barrel char. The palate is sizeable and oily with apple pie filling, heavy on the butter and fresh cinnamon.
As the heat builds into the mid-palate (at times hotter than the proof suggests), those bold fruit flavors begin to diminish, dulled by sharp oak notes and simple syrup. The finish is generous and sees some of that orchard fruit return, but things remain a bit out of balance as they coast to a conclusion of green apples, orange candies, and peppery baking spice. It’s a fruitier expression of Kentucky Owl to be sure, but whether it deserves St. Patrick’s blessing or a spot on your bar, I’ll leave that up to you.
B+ / $135 / kentuckyowlbourbon.com