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The Next Whiskey to Collect Dust on Liquor Store Shelves

The Next Whiskey to Collect Dust on Liquor Store Shelves

A Rum-Finished Kentucky Owl Rye

I want to take a minute to vent about Kentucky Owl’s fifth rye whiskey release since 2017.  I have previously reviewed all 4 batches which scored very high (eh, except Batch 2). 

Their pricetags were high, too.  But the quality was so good that I have recommended them time and time again. 

Dixon Dedman, the brand’s founder, did a bang-up job on their blends and each one brings something different to the table.  During podcast interviews, he says that they’re from multiple distilleries in Kentucky, but he doesn’t elaborate about which ones they are (I personally believe it’s a majority Barton). 

Finishing the rye whiskey in another producer’s barrel

The part that makes them unique is his technique of “finishing” the rye whiskey from one producer in another producer’s barrel.  Whatever the secret is, he gifted the rye whiskey community four beautiful batches that are mostly unmatched by anything released by anyone since 2017. 

Dixon departed the brand after the release of the fourth batch in 2020.  I think many of us assumed that Kentucky Owl would never release a rye whiskey like that again. 

That didn’t exactly end up being true because in 2022, Kentucky Owl had released an entry-level label to the brand called “Wiseman.”  Bottled in both bourbon and a rye whiskey forms, they are priced around $50. 

These entry-level bottles are a blend of 4- or 5-year-old barrels.  Sourcing young barrels is easy to do, but I figured it would be a long time before we’d ever see another rye whiskey as old as their first four batches. 

The first time that any Kentucky Owl rye whiskey was finished in a rum barrel

Much to my surprise, an 11-year age-stated version was released shortly before Mardi Gras in 2023.  This would be the first time that any Kentucky Owl rye whiskey was finished in a rum barrel. 

Apparently, Kentucky Owl sourced 38 Bayou brand rum casks.  They used them to finish leftover barrels of their old stocks of Kentucky rye whiskey. Probably the leftover 10 year barrels that didn’t make the cut for Batch 4. If you’re like me, you probably thought Dixon used them all before he left.

Bayou is a Louisiana-based company that makes multiple kinds of spirits. But I’m focusing only on their Mardi Gras XO rum which sees maturation in ex-bourbon barrels for 5 years before being finished in Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry casks for another year. 

I’m assuming that Kentucky Owl sourced the initial rum barrels (the ones that started as ex-bourbon barrels) to finish the whiskey in, rather than the PX casks. 

All of this backstory isn’t nearly as shocking as the price tag Kentucky Owl decided to give this whiskey: $500.  This is a $200 increase over the 2020 Batch 4 rye whiskey release. 

At this point, it puts the bottle firmly out of the hands of all but the most well-to-do enthusiasts.  Kentucky Owl was never about creating affordable products for everyday consumers, but it seemed like the price they put on the Mardi Gras XO finish was quite a stretch.

Rum-finished rye whiskey is not something new for the market either.  In fact, those two seem to be some of the more complimentary whiskey-and-finishing-cask combinations out there. 

I guess what surprised me the most is that Kentucky Owl elected to finish their remaining highly prized Kentucky Rye Whiskey barrels with a secondary finish that will hide a lot of the best features about it.  11, 12 or 13 year old Kentucky rye whiskey isn’t something you see… well, ever. 

There is no other brand selling anything like it

There is no other brand out there selling anything like it.  So why did KO decided that a rum finish was the best way to present this rare rye whiskey?  Were they bad barrels to begin with?  Or was it because they saw a brand like Barrell Craft Spirits also charging $500 for finished rye whiskey (Barrell Seagrass Gold Label)? 

I guess in the end, I’ll never understand a brand like Kentucky Owl.  Actually, what I’ll never understand is the people that buy Kentucky Owl products. 

For years, the brand has charged a premium for bourbon that lists no source, rarely carries an age statement and acts as if what they’re bottling is so special that they can charge whatever they want for it. 

Kentucky Owl Mardi Gras XO Rye Whiskey is yet another release that continues the trend of a producer expecting that a high price tag will be all they need to show for people with more money than sense to buy.  And you know what?  They’ll be right.

Not sure if you’ll like a rum finished rye whiskey?  Try these cheaper alternatives out first:

  • Doc Swinson’s Alter Ego Rye Whiskey
  • Sagamore Spirit Rum Finished Rye Whiskey
  • Chicken Cock Island Rooster
  • Barrell Seagrass
  • Redemption Rum Finished Rye Whiskey
  • High West Double Rye! Single Barrel Rye Whiskey finished in a Rum Cask
  • Starlight Rye Whiskey Finished in a Rum Cask
  • Angel’s Envy Finished Rye (beware, they use a rum syrup additive to re-soak their barrels, but it is pretty good)

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Sunday 16th of April 2023

Bongo bango. I'll never buy the stuff on principle alone. What a weird brand and strategy.