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2XO The Phoenix Blend Bourbon Review

2XO The Phoenix Blend Bourbon Review

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.” Originally, I thought that meant that the bourbon would see additional aging in a second oak cask. After all, this was what made the Kentucky Owl brand (and the Old Carter brand when Mark and Sherri Carter split off), famous. Dixon said as much in his interview on Bourbon Pursuit many years ago.

These expensive double-barrel treatments were a big reason behind the cost of those two brands. But 2XO is cheaper by about half – and barrel prices are constantly increasing. So how was he doing it?

The concept of 2XO

A few months after I wrote this review, I saw a video of Dixon describing what the “Two Times Oak” process actually was. It turns out that the bourbon never enters a second barrel. Instead, a stainless steel cord holding together hundreds of charred oak blocks are fed into the original barrel through the bunghole.

The surface area of those wooden blocks are measured out to replicate the same exact surface area of the inside of a barrel. The strand of oak blocks are typically left in the barrel anywhere from 8 to 12 months before the bourbon is considered done.

Where is the bourbon sourced from?

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%. Later on, Dixon admitted the other mash bill is actually 18% rye.

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 second mash bill is likely Barton’s 74/18/8 recipe. I have heard rumors that perhaps it’s made from Bardstown Bourbon Company which might also make sense. I will update this review if I ever find out differently.

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 I’m going to give 2XO a chance. Let’s see how it does. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

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.

Score: 7.7/10

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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