Back in the old days, men would sit around on front porches or store fronts, joshing with each other. Hard to imagine now a time before internet, or phone, or TV, or anything else remotely compared to social media. Back then, social media was just plain social. “Hey buddy, come on up here and grab a drink. You look like you need it.” Then the old boys would banter about their day at the shale pit or steel mill, over a nice sip of bourbon. In this way they got to know each other; they connected.
By now you know the story of Kentucky Owl, but for refresher: The proprietor of a quaint Kentucky inn becomes determined to resurrect his family’s old bourbon label, dormant since prohibition. Quantities are extremely limited and it’s only available in Kentucky, there-by vaulting this bourbon into a frenzy of immediate must-have status. If you’re involved with bourbon for no less than 7 minutes, you will undoubtedly have become mired in some kind of conversation about Kentucky Owl; Good, Bad or Ugly.
So for the drink itself: There are bottles of bourbon that I consider to be easy pours, and I can drink them immediately. Some take finessing. For me, Kentucky Owl took finessing…..which doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means there is more waiting to be unlocked. On my first pour, the nose and flavor immediately disappeared, overshadowed by a nuclear finish that had me re-checking the proof. I’m a high proof guy, and I thought this one was hot as hell.
So I set about trying to find the sweet spot. I approached it like Alton Brown would and broke out my tasting kit in force. I put everything on the table and kept a written log of my methods. I experimented with the type of glass; from regular glencairn to tiny plastic communion cup. I tried air, from 5 minutes to an hour. I tried a drop of tap water, a few drops of real limestone well water and an ice chip. Eventually I found a winner using a regular glencairn, freezer chilled for 15 minutes, adding eight drops of limestone well water (hint: get some), and left it to acclimate for 30 minutes. During the wait I watched Breaking Bad and ate some crackers, and just before drinking, I ate four Whoppers.
Out loud I said, “There it is.”
Nose: A nice pop of spicy peppermint discs, followed by vanilla and a dash of toffee. But what it’s really got in spades is heavy toasted cigar tobacco, specifically so. It reminds me of an old country store I used to frequent, with the local post office sitting right next to the deli counter. It’s where you went to get a roast beef sandwich, your mail, and to find out the local crop reports. The room was old, heavy oak plank floors that were last washed in the flood of 1938, dark oak panel walls, and fireplace crackling in the corner. A couple of old men sat out on the front porch, chomping old cigars, playing a hotly contested game of checkers, the same as they had every day since the brick mill closed 30 years ago. Every time the door opened, it drew the cigar smoke in like a bellows. It’s a scene right out of an early John Cougar Mellencamp video (actually it is, he shot a couple of them there).
Flavor: A healthy dose of liquid cinnamon candy, very reminiscent of the Willett 4yr Green Wax Rye after it gets dialed in. I need to see that mashbill here, seems rye heavy. There was a goodly amount of oak, and the right amount of sweetness, a spoonfull of brown sugar you sneak while pies are being made. There was a hint of cola syrup too. The limestone well water helps even out the flavors, tempers the consistency and delays the finish so you can really swirl the liquid in your mouth.
Finish: What had once been a Fermi-esque uncontrolled chain reaction is now more akin to that slow burning fireplace I mentioned before. It still burns on for a while, but it no longer needs to be described in half-lives.
Post nose: All the caramelized, sugary oakiness that I love in a post nose. More of the cigar tobacco, though not as powerful. It’s the char, man….
There you have it, my opinion. I liked it. All I had to do was spend a little time getting to know it, and connecting. If you have this one on your shelf, go ahead, pop it open and dial it in. Maybe the winning formula is the same as mine, maybe for you it’s a little different, but it’s in there somewhere. I’d love to know what you find!