Having cut my whiskey teeth on Scotch, I’ve experienced difficulty appreciating most bourbons. The corn and the charred oak barrels interact, resulting in “cherry cough syrup” flavors that I find cloyingly sweet. I’ve convinced myself that Scotch is the epitome of elegance, depth, and complexity, whereas bourbon screams “drunk.”
I finally found a bourbon I can give a “hoot” about- Kentucky Owl Batch No. 12. (See what I did there!). KO is an old brand, tracing its roots to 1879 when Charles Mortimer Dedman produced his sour-mash whiskey dubbed the “wine man’s bourbon.” Kentucky Owl was considered high quality for its time and was both profitable and prolific. It proved to be its downfall.
On January 17, 1920, congress passed the Volstead Act, sending the nation into a thirteen-year “great experiment” that shuttered distilleries and vineyards, ushering in the “speakeasy” era. Kentucky Owl was hard hit. Government agents confiscated over 250K gallons of “brown juice” for alleged “safekeeping,” forcing Dedman, and others like him, out of business. He would never again see a drop of his bourbon.
Fast forward to 2014, when fifth-generation Dixon Dedman, great-great-grandson of the founder, released Batch No. 1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Selling for $60, it was a massive hit. Today, it’s not uncommon to see a bottle sell upwards of $4K at auction. Rather than focusing on broad market appeal, the younger Dedman aimed at the upper crust of bourbon mania. Boasting blends of highly select components chosen for specific flavors and priced accordingly, Kentucky Owl achieved cult-like success.
Despite selling for $100 or more, Dedman’s attention to quality attracted intense demand and the interest of several industry giants. In 2017, vodka magnate Stoli Group purchased Kentucky Owl. The brand didn’t skip a beat. Under the skillful ministrations of new master distiller John Rhea, bottle after bottle of deservedly highly touted whiskey, both bourbon and rye, rolled out to adorning fans.
That brings me to my own intersectional journey. As previously stated, I’ve never been a bourbon fan, so I was skeptical when I received a gifted bottle of KO Batch No. 12. At $400 (MSRP), and a street price of $300, I assumed it was a good whiskey. That was an understatement.
Upon opening the bottle, my nose was immediately assaulted- in a good way. Intense caramel leads the olfactory charge, backed by vanilla chews, milk chocolate, winter spices, and hints of savory herbs and candied orange.
The mouthfeel is round and creamy- hot but not fiery, courtesy of 58% ABV. Flavors are deeply layered, beginning with the omnipresent caramel and vanilla, with a wide gamut of spices ranging from nutmeg and allspice to sage and thyme. There are youthful notes of mown grass and hay, backed by dark cocoa and burnt orange. Lurking in the background are hints of oak, wet cigar, maple syrup, and even more spice.
The finish is long and luxurious, with the sweetness leading to echoes of white pepper, figs, and papaya and a slightly drying sensation. It has all the hallmarks of what I like about malt whiskey, but most importantly, no cherry cough syrup! A bourbon that Scotch lovers can appreciate!
As I write this, I’m flooded with the memory of Kentucky Owl Batch 12’s warmth, inviting me to revisit. Oh wait, that’s not a memory! It’s the glass of that Kentucky goodness that just magically appeared on my desk! Hoot-hoot!