November 2017 By Michael Pendley | Photography Cheryl Pendley
Fresh on the heels of the recently announced expanded release area for Kentucky Owl Bourbon, the Harrodsburg, KY based company has again surprised the whiskey world with the recent release of its first ever Kentucky Owl Rye.
Like the bourbon, this rye release consists of a mingling of sourced barrels blended by Dixon Dedman. While it isn’t known exactly where the rye was distilled, the term “Kentucky Straight Rye” rules out distilleries outside the state. Kentucky Owl 11-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey will be available in limited quantities in the following markets: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
While the new rye release comes soon after the purchase of the Kentucky Owl brand by industry giant Stoli, Dedman says the project is one he has been working on for a while. “I’m super excited about this rye and have been for some time. I’ve been working on/with it for quite a while. I finally felt like it was time to let it go and the response has been amazing.
It took me a while to figure out exactly where to put it. It was 130+ Proof when I put the batch together. As I worked with it and found it to have all the structure, backbone and complexity of a full-flavored rye, not missing any of the barrel notes, but also not eliminating the spice on the back end, even after making it a bit more approachable at 110.6 Proof. I’m loving this stuff.”
In other Kentucky Owl notes, news that SPI Group, parent company of Stoli, is exploring plans for a new, $150 million distillery in the Bardstown, KY area to produce Kentucky Owl Branded products. According to documents released in late September by the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority, Strigiformes LLC, a subsidiary of SPI Group, the parent of Stolichnaya Vodka, “is considering property in Bardstown to establish a distillery, rickhouses, visitor’s center and other related facilities for the production of bourbon.”
I asked Dedman to comment on the possible distillery. He replied, “The distillery plan is a work in progress, but one I’m excited to be a small part of. For Kentucky Owl to have a home is a dream come true and to be able to work with a company so committed to building more top-quality brands in the Bourbon marketplace is one I’m very excited about. They’re going to let me keep doing exactly what I’ve been doing, but do to it in a place I can call my own home. For me, that’s a dream come true. We’ll see how it all shakes out.”
Does the rye live up the standard? It does for me. Even at the high retail, I am enjoying this bottle immensely.
Tasting Notes, Kentucky Owl Rye, Batch #1
Proof: 110.6 proof and 55.3% ABV
Age: 11-year age statement
Mash Bill: Undisclosed
Color: Dark copper
Release date: September 2017
MSRP: Right around $140
Tasted: Neat, no water or ice
Nose: Very floral, mint, leather, baking cinnamon bread
Palate: Fruity and floral at first, then cinnamon spice. This pour has a strong, thick mouth feel, slightly oily, it coats the mouth completely, making the flavor last. The finish is long, with mint, vanilla, and oak remaining even after the swallow. Complex, I picked up on several flavors on each sip, with those flavors changing the longer the rye was in the glass.
Finish: Classic rye. Long, lingering, plenty of spice. At 110 proof, you feel it, but it isn’t at all harsh. A drop or two of water would probably tame the burn a bit, but I enjoy the bit of heat that comes with a good rye. While excellent, this might not be the best pour for a new rye drinker unfamiliar with the spiciness of a nicely aged rye.
Overall thoughts: I have long been a fan of Kentucky Owl Bourbons. I still maintain that Batch #6 is one of my all-time favorite whiskeys. Does the rye live up the standard? It does for me. Even at the high retail, I am enjoying this bottle immensely. Will it be a regular pour? Probably not. I’ll save it for special occasions.
Dixon said of the new rye,” Good rye, to me, is not an everyday pour. It’s a sipping whiskey that, at its core, should be thought-provoking and heavy-hitting.” I think that pretty well covers this release. Pick up a bottle, if luck and budget allow, and enjoy it with good friends who enjoy and appreciate a nicely aged rye.
Michael Pendley lives in the heart of central Kentucky’s bourbon country. When he isn’t poking around local distilleries, he can usually be found searching for dusty bottles of old whiskey that might be hidden in the back rooms of liquor stores. He, along with his wife and three children, are very active in the outdoors. Michael also writes the twice-weekly wild game cooking blog Timber2Table at Realtree.com