Every now and again, we have the opportunity to try something new. What does not happen every day is experiencing a resurrected brand that has been dormant for 95 years.
The story of the Kentucky Owl dates back to 1879 in north Mercer County. The original distillery was started by C.M. Dedman, an orphan who was adopted by a judge that gifted Dedman the distillery as a wedding present. Dedman operated the distillery until 1916 when the government shut down the operation and confiscated around 250,000 gallons of bourbon aging at the time. Sometime in 1919, after the passing of the Volstead Act, a mysterious fire destroyed the warehouse. It is speculated that the fire burned only bright enough to make the warehouse unusable and that a great deal of the bourbon made it out unscathed before the fire was set: It is thought that the bourbon made it into the hands of those that would sell it in speakeasies across the country. T.C. Dedman, the son of C.M. would fight tooth and nail to receive compensation for the loss, but never saw a dime. Despite insurmountable odds, the family came into ownership of the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, KY, which is run by the Dedmans to this day.
Fast forward five generations, and the Inn is now operated by Dixon Dedman, 33, whose hands-on approach to the management of the Inn speaks volumes of doing things “the proper way” (Beaumont Inn). Several years ago, Dixon met Mark Carter, fellow innkeeper and proprietor of Carter Cellars in Napa Valley, California (Carter Cellars). After long discussions (and a few drinks), plans to bring back the Kentucky Owl, “the Wise Man’s Bourbon,” started taking shape. Dixon and Mark wanted to make sure that this first batch was done correctly and in a way that would pay tribute to the many generations that came before them. With that philosophy in mind, they decided that the first batch would come in at barrel proof and be uncut/unfiltered. Dixon and Mark believe that “the consumer should decide how they want to drink it.” After several iterations and consultation with some of the most respected folks in the bourbon industry, they decided on a blend of five hand-selected barrels that would yield a little more than 1,500 bottles.
We were thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to be one of the first to review this bottle.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Batch 1 Bottle 1366/1506
ABV: 59.2% 118.4 Proof
We allowed the bourbon to sit for about twenty minutes and did not add water to the first part of the tasting.
Nose: The nose was complex and evolved the longer the pour was in the glass. The aromas of vanilla custard/creme brulee/caramel, mandarin orange, dried apricot and ginger were well represented.
Palate: The palate was remarkably different than the nose. The initial hit to the front palate delivered a viscous mouthfeel that carried flavors of cinnamon candy, savory wood, evergreen, and molasses with an oily disposition.
There was little burn that did not make itself present until the finish. The finish is long lasting and pleasant with evolving citrus and candied fruit flavors. After adding a bit of water, we found that the savory wood was diluted, leaving more pronounced corn sweetness. If one were to use this in a cocktail, it would likely hold up well to ice and bitters.
Concluding thoughts: Overall we enjoyed this pour. One would not think this to be the first batch as the quality of the bourbon spoke volumes of the time that was invested to resurrect this brand. While we believe there is always some room for improvement, this pour was very nice. The bottle should be available in limited quantities in August and will be released only in Kentucky.
Overall grade: 90/100, Buy if you can find it.
If you want to experience Dixon’s hospitality, make a point to venture to Harrodsburg and stay at his Inn. There you can experience a variety of bourbons at the Old Owl Tavern, enjoy the historic charm of the Inn, and even make arrangements to have a bourbon tasting with Dixon.
Thank you to Bill Whitlow and the staff at Wiseguys Bar and Lounge for allowing us to use their venue. (http://www.goodfellaspizzeria.com/wiseguy.php)