If you’ve read any of my Kentucky Owl Rye Whiskey reviews, you’d know how fond I am of Dixon Dedman’s blending chops. As much as I hate the mystery behind where he sourced the whiskey and the high prices, he’s got a great palate and seems to know what flavors enthusiasts want. His departure from the brand in 2021 was puzzling because of how much work he put into its resurrection. But that didn’t mean he was never going to blend again.
In late 2022, he began a new whiskey blending company called 2XO. The name is shorthand for “Two Times Oak” which means that all of the releases have seen additional aging in a second oak cask. This is something he has been experimenting with ever since his Kentucky Owl days and it’s also what Mark and Sherri Carter (formerly from Kentucky Owl, now with Old Carter) are known for doing too.
All of these brands I’ve just mentioned are priced into premium territory, but if you demand the big bucks, you better have a product worthy of it. So what exactly makes them premium and are they worth the price?
The concept of 2XO
Back when Dixon was with Kentucky Owl, he gave interviews on podcasts (most notably Bourbon Pursuit) where he said a key to his blending technique was taking distillate from one source and dumping it into another source’s freshly dumped barrels for additional aging. For example, he would dump rye whiskey from Barton into a barrel that previously held Rittenhouse Rye. This would give the whiskey a much different rye whiskey profile that wouldn’t taste like either brand. I suspect that he later toyed with the idea of double-barreling some of his batches into new charred oak casks instead of used ones. After all, the Carter’s made that a hallmark of their brand after they left to start their own brand. Now it’s Dixon’s turn at 2XO.
The bourbon found in 2XO is sourced from two separate distilleries in Kentucky. One is a 6 year old high rye (35% rye) bourbon mash bill and the other bourbon mash bill uses a “moderate amount of rye” which is claimed to be around 16-18%.
I’ll cut to the chase and just say that I think the high rye bourbon mash bill is Wilderness Trail’s 51% corn, 35% rye, 14% malted barley recipe. The age matches up and they’ve been revealed as the source behind a lot of sourced bourbon lately (Frank August, Puncher’s Chance, Hard Truth). And if you were thinking it was Four Roses 60/35/5 mash bill bourbon, just know that they effectively stopped sourcing or contract distilling around 8 years ago.
The 16-18% “moderate rye” bourbon could very well be Barton. I have no actual basis for that claim except that a lot of the bourbon and rye whiskey that went into early Kentucky Owl products was from Barton – so that relationship was already there. Plus, Dixon is very familiar blending with it, so why not? However, a lot of fellow enthusiasts have told me they believe it is from Bardstown Bourbon Company. That would make sense too.
Once Dixon has blended these two mash bills, he re-barrels them into char level #3 or #4 barrels. Technically, that means he has 4 different bourbons he can use to make new combinations of bourbon with. The secondary barrel finishing time ranges from 9 to 12 months.
Expectations of the brand
2XO is priced at roughly $100 per bottle. That’s usually the entry price point for anything that wears Dixon’s name. But his name has also left a bad taste in many enthusiast’s mouths after the debacle that was Kentucky Owl Confiscated. Many enthusiasts commonly refer to that one as a $100 whiskey that tastes like a $40 whiskey. And while many bottles sold, they were mainly snatched up by consumers that wouldn’t know good whiskey if it bit them in the ass.
Dixon’s departure shortly after Confiscated was released might have been the result of Stoli (the company that purchased Kentucky Owl in 2017) twisting his arm to make a bottle with high profit margins. But the story behind its creation was murky and made many enthusiasts unable to trust him again. I’m one for second chances, so this is why I’m willing to give 2XO a chance. Let’s see how it does. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: The nose has a lot of notes going on. There are underlying soft notes like vanilla custard, toasted sugars, ground cinnamon, lemon zest and a faint floral note that feel like they being smothered by heavier scents like barrel char, roasted nuts, seasoned oak and chocolate. The double-barrel technique has definitely imparted most of those heavy notes, but it doesn’t smell particularly well-integrated.
Palate: Flavors like dark fruit combine lighter fruit like berries and citrus (mainly orange and grapefruit) to give this dram a fairly fruit-forward profile. Sweetness comes by way of caramel and tannins are represented by barrel char and leather. There is an underlying nuttiness among them all. The palate is much more enjoyable than I was anticipating. There is a tiny hint of astringency lurking about – no doubt due in part to the somewhat youthful nature of the bourbon. At times it comes off as peppery and hot – drinking closer to 114 proof than 104. That’s not terrible, but shows that there is still some maturity left on the table from these barrels.
Finish: Cinnamon notes smolder on the finish as charred oak delivers age and depth. The sweetness turns into more of a sugar cookie dough than the caramel it was before. I also find that it’s only at the end that the high rye content seems to become recognizable. I find many more herbal notes than on the nose or palate.
One of the biggest drawbacks to drinking sourced bourbon from a Non-Distiller Producer is that sometimes you get a product that tastes just like the distillery it came from. Why is that bad? Because you realize you could have just paid $30 less by buying the name brand. But with 2XO, nothing I experienced stood out as a profile I’ve had before. This made the bottle seem new and exciting.
And that’s what I think the allure of 2XO really is – a bourbon that won’t necessarily taste like something you’ve ever had before. Put that together with a bourbon that also tastes very good – which this does – and numbers start to make sense.
Make no mistake about it, $100 is still a lot of money for what is essentially a 6 year old bourbon, but for the quality I experienced, it’s not looking like such a sham after all. Honestly, a lot of it depends on how adventurous the buyer is if it’s going to be worth it or not.
I will give credit where credit is due, 2XO The Phoenix Blend is a solid bourbon. But I see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon with this brand. What am I talking about? In the 12 months that I’ve been procrastinating on getting this review done, 2XO has already released two other standard batches (The Innkeeper’s Blend and The Tribute Blend) as well as a “very rare” Gem of Kentucky release. I’m worried that Dixon is putting out too many releases in too short of a time. The audience may not know where to start and end up just giving up on the brand due to indecision.
I know that 2XO has a well-known name behind it, but after drinking this one batch and reading the specs on the other ones, I’m not sure there’s much reason to buy any more. Yes, this tastes good, but let’s be real – there’s only so much Dixon can really do with two different types of bourbon and some new charred oak barrels to finish them in. Stepping back to look at one of 2XO’s main competitors – Barrell Craft Spirits – and you’ll see they have probably 20 different bourbon mash bills at their disposal for blending. That makes spending $100 for their batches feel like a safer bet that you’re not getting a mildly different tweak of the same bourbon every time. But 2XO doesn’t feel like it will be much different batch to batch. So while I’m fine with recommending a single bottle, I don’t think there’s much more to be gained by buying each new release.
*Bourbon Culture is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.