Kentucky Owl Mardi Gras XO Cask Rye

Kentucky Owl Mardi Gras XO Cask Rye (Photo by the brand)

Six years is but a blink in distilling history, but Kentucky Owl used those few years to push the envelope of bourbon and rye whiskey far beyond the boundaries of tradition and quality. Like a phoenix, KO arose from a literal turn-of-the-century ash heap, catapulting into prominence. Their whiskeys, especially their bourbon, command collector-level pricing in both the retail and resale markets- and with good reason.

Aside from creating spectacular whiskies, Kentucky Owl is experimenting with casking expressions, this time with ex-fill barrels of Bayou XO Mardi Gras Rum. The rye is of the 11-year-old variety, entering the final maturation stage as an already elegant and refined whiskey. It should be, at $500 a bottle, retail! But then, the magic happens. One year in the rum barrels in that glorious Louisiana heat works its magic, imparting intense rum flavors onto an already special juice. You can savor the joy of Mardi Gras all year long!

In the glass, the color is an exquisite shade of amber- a promise of the well-aged goodness to come. Waves of rye spice permeate the aroma with an intense “winter-spice” sweetness- allspice, burnt sugar, ginger, backed by notes of toast, sweet citrus, tropical fruits, and muddled mint. It’s a perfect synergy of rye and rum.

On the tongue, the whiskey starts hot, courtesy of its 51.4% ABV. A few drops of quality water will cool it significantly. It’s fat and round but not oily, with a pleasant prickliness on the swallow. The flavors start with a freight train of rye intensities- ginger, white pepper, and pickling spice, with hints of nutmeg, orange zest, and plenty of oak-barrel spice.

Swallowing releases more of the sweet flavors- molasses, burnt sugar, nutmeg, and allspice, plus hints of spearmint gum, red pepper heat, pineapple, mango, and finally, the rum. The finish is long, warm, and sweet, like a toffee kiss. It screams “balance.”

There’s no doubt that Kentucky Owl is playing to a specific market- their prices prove that, but so does their product. Like the KO Batch 12 bourbon, previously reviewed here, this rye expression is spectacularly good and priced to prove it! It’s complex and perfectly balanced, albeit a tad hot, but ideal as a cigar dram or by the fireside. If you have the means, it’s a worthy addition and likely to make its way into many a collector’s treasure chest.