Review: Kentucky Owl Rye Whiskey (Batch 2)

Shortly after receiving a lot of generally positive buzz from its initial offering of rye whiskey, Kentucky Owl has released batch two. The sourced whiskey, a Kentucky straight rye, is 11 years old and bottled at 101.8 proof, or 50.9% ABV. The company does not disclose which distillery (or distilleries) the whiskey came from. A bottle of this batch of Kentucky Owl should cost you about $200.

I do love a nicely aged rye whiskey, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The nose features hints of toasted rye grain, toffee, cherry and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Those notes carry over onto the palate. Juicy red cherries and toffee kick things off, developing into a melange of baking spices. The very notable rye grain character is ever present. Things start to become a touch dry on the back palate, with hints of leather and oak being added to the mix. The long finish is dry, warming, and a bit spicy.

All in all, Kentucky Owl rye whiskey batch two is a wonderful example of a well-aged rye whiskey, a category that doesn’t include many entries these days. My only concern is the whiskey’s suggested price of $200. It’s a big increase in price from batch one.

Keep in mind that, while price does not influence the score, it’s hard to justify a purchase at that price. I paid $135 for my bottle, which is well below the suggested retail price and much, much lower than the secondary market price. I know older rye whiskies are hard to come by these days, and people are happy to pay for them. Just good old capitalism at work, I suppose. As for me, it’s a hard pass at $200. But at the $135 price I paid, I’d happily purchase another.



Review: Ardbeg An Oa Single Malt Whiskey

Ardbeg extended their core range of single malts with An Oa, named after the Mull of Oa. This NAS expression sits in front of Ardbeg 10-year-old in said range. Why add another expression at all? Let me answer my question with another – what’s wrong with more Ardbeg?

An Oa is a vatting of different cask types, including PX sherry casks, new charred oak, and first-fill bourbon casks. The whiskies marry for a while in a French oak vat. Looking good so far. Making things better is the fact that An Oa is non chill-filtered and bottled at 46.6% ABV.

The sherry casks add a rich fruitiness to the nose, with both tropical and dried fruit. Make no mistake, however… this is Ardbeg through and through. The BBQ smoke and earthy peat notes are there in a slightly less in-your-face manner than the 10-year-old expression. A bit of oak and vanilla round out the nose. On the palate, rich salted toffee and smoked meat dominate, complemented by the light fruitiness found in the nose… again, courtesy of those sherry casks. There’s some spice and oak on the back palate. The body is rather rich thanks to the higher ABV. The finish isn’t as long as I’d like, but it’s nice nonetheless, leaving lingering behind hints of smoke, black pepper and semi-sweet pineapple juice.

An Oa is a pleasant drink. Calling it “Ardbeg Light” doesn’t do the whisky justice, but the description isn’t entirely untrue. Those looking for a medium peated whisky might find what they’re looking for in An Oa. I appreciate what the different cask types bring here, with, dare I say, more character than the 10-year-old expression. That’s my two cents. 8/10

Thanks to Ardbeg for the sample. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Review: Barrell Bourbon Batch 015

After trying batch after delicious batch of Barrell Bourbon, I finally had the chance to meet its founder, Joe Beatrice, and Master Distiller Tripp Stimson.  During this year’s New Orleans Bourbon Festival, we talked about Barrell Bourbon Batch 015, among other things.

When starting his company, Beatrice told me he wanted to put out a whiskey people really wanted to drink.  “We built a brand.  We were all about being as transparent as we could be.  We were all about only putting in the bottle what we thought was the best quality product and what people want to drink.” said Beatrice.  “As we got accepted and as we grew, we knew we were going to build a distillery, but we were going to continue with the whiskey merchant model.  As the distillery comes online, we’ll blend in some of our product.  But we’re going to continue to work on the aged spirits.  It’s a model that’s worked for us.”

When asked about how they come up with a new batch, Stimson said, “it kind of depends on what we’re working on, whether it be a bourbon or American whiskey or rye.  We’ll have a conversation and say ‘the last time we did this particular type of spirit, we did X.’  We try to do something else.  We’ll look at some of the barrels we have and put together a kind of base flavor.”

After tasting initial blends, the duo would figure out what’s missing and try to find that in their existing stock of barrels.

“We do that until we both say ‘Ah ha! There it is!'” said Stimson.  “Once we get to that point it’s literally a light switch.”

Beatrice added, “that can happen in a couple of days or sometimes a few weeks.”

For Batch 015, Beatrice said the ‘ah-ha’ moment was when he picked up Juicy Fruit in a particular blend.  He said, “after tasting, we both look at each other and said ‘that’s it!’ Bottle it.”

They were initially looking to make Batch 015 a larger batch than previous ones, but they couldn’t keep that precise flavor profile if they went larger.  Quality over quantity indeed.

Batch 015 is nine and a half years old, bottled at 107.6 proof.  Barrels come from Tennessee and Kentucky.  The nose is full of ripe fruit, as well as baking spice, caramel and toasted oak notes.  Upon first sip, that Juicy Fruit character that Joe mentions is evident.  Lots of sweet and ripe apples, peaches and cherries upfront.  There is a rich caramel base underneath.  Cutting through is a bit of oak spice and burnt orange peel.  Lovely.  The medium length finish leaves a touch of sweet fruit, leather and spice.

We have another wonderful batch of Barrell Bourbon.  It’s probably the fruitiest one they’ve released.  It still remains nicely balanced, with those oak and spice notes keeping the sweeter and fruitier notes in check.

I like the idea of a unique flavor profile with each batch.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I haven’t come across a bad or mediocre release from Barrell Craft Spirits.  Batch 015 certainly exceeds being described as just enjoyable, with its complex aromas and flavors begging to be explored. 9/10

Thanks to Barrell Craft Spirits for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.