My Experience with Everyone's Favorite Hyped Up Rye
By Greg Kevorkian
Let me preface this with "I am not a huge rye fan". That being said, I've had multiple opportunities to buy Kentucky Owl rye at retail this year, and I've done so each and every time. Every bottle I've purchased has been passed on at cost to friends that I'm sure would enjoy it more then I would. Review after review has this whiskey as one of, if not THE top rye, right behind Booker's and maybe Van Winkle Family Reserve. Every now and then you'll see a review that ruffles feathers and claims "Rye XX" > Kentucky Owl but for the most part, I was really wondering if I made a horrible decision by not holding on to one bottle for myself. Then last night it happened....
One of those bottles made its way back to me in the form of a sample. Much yay! So excite!!! So much hype. So many expectations. It was really happening!!!! That first whiff. The inhale that would confirm I made mistake after mistake after mistake. A huge smile formed across my face as I realized I made exactly the right decision. The last time I smelled something like this, it was a farmhouse ale. Pure wet hay resting in a damp basement. If brettanomyces could be a thing in a whiskey, this would be it. Horse blanket and a mustiness that would suggest cork taint, but different. That is, if I really focused past the ethanol burning my olifactory system.
"How is this only 55.3%?!?" was the next thought to run through my head. I drink Booker's and Stagg neat, so it's not like a barrel strength is foreign to my system. This comes across so much hotter than that. Just a grassy, wet dog, burning slap to my face! Thankfully most of that experience is just limited to the nose.
On the palate there's a surprisingly young rye grassiness with spruce tips and peppery spice, but it does balance out with hints of a much older and developed mellow sweetness that should be present given it's 11 year age statement. The ethanol burn is very present and almost distracting. Adding 10-15 drops of water does tame it down, but the profile doesn't change much. Very High West once diluted. I even equated this to High West blending Mid Winter Night's Dram with Double Rye, at which point the gentleman that provided the sample obviously had enough and told me he is no longer speaking to me because I don't know what I'm saying.
So yeah, I realize I'm deep in the minority here, but given that the secondary price seems to have quickly closed the gap between where it used to be and MSRP, I have to wonder if more and more share this same opinion. It's not a bad rye; the nose did confuse me a bit, but overall I think I just went in with too many expectations and just a tad bit of worry. I have half of the sample left and fully intend on giving it a second chance, but as of now I'm still more than happy to pass these on as I see them.
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