Kentucky Owl is a brand that was re-started by Dixon Deadman in 2014 as a way to continue his family’s legacy of whiskeymaking. Dixon didn’t want to start distilling his own whiskey but he did want to create products that didn’t taste like just another sourced whiskey either. Instead, his idea revolved around finishing the whiskey that he sourced in barrels from other distilleries (he said as much during an interview on Bourbon Pursuit). He may also have been finishing the whiskies in newly charred oak barrels much like Mark and Sherri Carter (who worked with Dixon at this time) presently do with their Old Carter line. Regardless, the finishing bourbons and rye whiskey tasted nothing like the whiskey they originally sourced by time it was all said and done.
Where the barrels of rye whiskey that Kentucky Owl sourced is still up for debate to this day. For sure, it is probably not from a single distillery, but my money is on a majority of the barrels coming from Barton Distillery. In other Kentucky Owl rye whiskey reviews I’ve done, I laid out why other Kentucky distilleries wouldn’t make much sense. If there are two distilleries that also had 11 year old barrels setting around for sale at this time, Heaven Hill and Old Forester (which had produced Heaven Hill’s rye whiskey for a number of years in the early 2000s) may have been it.
Kentucky Owl makes a Rye Whiskey
Kentucky Owl’s first batch of Rye Whiskey was a sleeper of sorts. The price was considered high back when it was first released in 2017 – coming in at $120. A lot of consumers decided to pass. The second batch raised the stakes – and the price – even more. The increase to $200 per bottle made many enthusiasts upset, but it also made them rush to their stores to buy up all the bottles from the first batch that they could at the original price. Reviewers were quick to point out that the first batch was superior to the second, which only fueled the fire even more.
So what did the second batch have going against it? For starters, when the price on a particular label is raised, there is usually a corresponding rise in proof or age statement. But with Batch 2, this was not so. In fact, the age stayed the same and the proof was drastically lowered – coming in at a hair over 101 proof. Keep in mind that Kentucky Owl rye whiskies are not bottled at barrel proof and you’ll start to realize that there was a decision made somewhere to give the consumer less for more. Dixon defended the drop in proof by claiming that each batch is proofed to the point where there is the most flavor and approachability. Consumers called bullshit and Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 2 would go down as the worst performing seller of all Kentucky Owl Rye releases.
Dixon never fully apologized or explained the pricing shenanigans involved with his products in 2018. As a result, the brand quickly went from wise owl to wounded duck in many enthusiast’s eyes. The rye batches only lasted 2 more years under his supervision and saw a drop in the age statement and further increases in price. Mark and Sherri Carter saw the writing on the wall and set out to form their own brand in 2019 while Dixon eventually abandoned it altogether in 2020. Now Kentucky Owl is run by the evil overlords at Stoli and the only people that continue to buy their products are rich dudes who laugh at Country Club Adjacent YouTube videos and model their professional careers off of Patrick Bateman.
I’ve reviewed Batches 1, 3 and 4 and today I’m finally going to wrap up the series before the arrival of the new Mardi Gras-themed 11 Year Old release (which is finished in rum casks and has been priced at an incredible $450). So how good or bad is Batch 2 and is it worth your time to prioritize it over the other 3? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Scents of toffee, Werther’s Original candies and cinnamon give the nose an almost bourbon character to it. These are laced with scents that do remind me of a rye whiskey, so it’s not completely devoid after all. Gingerbread, candied citrus peel and fresh cut apples are found too. It’s the cocoa powder and floral-scented dryer sheet notes that are the most unexpected finds within this bottle, not that there’s anything wrong with it.
Palate: The flavors on the tongue are much more rye-forward than they where on the nose. Traditional rye notes like mint, pine needles, orange peel, green apple and menthol all get wrapped up in a nice caramel sweetness. I must admit that I am finding the flavors to be a bit lacking in complexity and punch. This is extremely drinkable, but what’s the point of having extreme drinkability if it’s not something that is particularly all that exiting to drink?
Finish: A spicy finish brings back some of the lost luster. There is more citrus and orchard fruits and the oak begins to show off a bit too. The finish is also just sweet enough to let you enjoy the rye without being so overpowering to cover it all up.
I’m going to get right to the point on this bottle: the lack of proof hurts what it could have been. All other Kentucky Owl Rye releases have scored in the high 8’s or even received a 9. This is still a totally sippable rye whiskey and one that won’t disappoint. But Kentucky Owl Rye’s reputation wasn’t built on just being a sippable rye. They offered depth and complexity that was light years ahead of anyone else’s rye whiskies available at the time. And $200 was a lot of money just to say that the rye was “good.” In fact, if there was a rye whiskey that could have beat it back in 2018, it was Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye – and that cost a lot less too.
There would be no reason to hate this rye whiskey if price was not a factor. Unfortunately, it is a factor and it continues to be to this day. The secondary market doesn’t really know what to do with this batch or the two that followed it. Some people are trying to mark it up at least to $250 to justify the length of time they’ve held onto it. Meanwhile, Batch 1 has risen to the secondary price it probably deserves to be at: about $350 as of early 2023. It’s true, there’s not many other choices out there for double digit age stated Kentucky Rye Whiskey, but for those that have had Rye Batch 2 before, you know that the age statement only goes far enough in the flavor department. This also leans much more towards a high-rye bourbon than a rye whiskey anyway (Batch 3 would correct this by leaning VERY heavily into the rye notes).
So is it worth it to go find a bottle to call your own? I don’t think so. If you’re drying to get one so that you can complete a vertical, then by all means. This review isn’t going to stop you from doing that. But for everyone else looking to get into a superb Kentucky Rye Whiskey while spending about $200, my suggestion is a bottle that I’ve already mentioned above – buy Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye.
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