Kentucky Owl Straight Bourbon Batch #1

KENTUCKY OWL STRAIGHT BOURBON BATCH #1

SPIRIT: Bourbon

VOLUME: 750ml

ABV/PROOF: 59.2/118.4

AGE: N/A

Dixon Dedman is the heir to not one but two Kentucky legacies. For over a century his family has owned the Beaumont Inn, a Beard Award-winning B&B that occupies the campus of a former women’s college in Harrodsburg. And his great-great-grandfather Charles Dedman founded and ran one of the state’s largest distilleries, until it was shuttered by Prohibition. 

Dedman had already been running the day-to-day operations at the inn when, in the early 2010s, he decided to try his hand at blending bourbon. After a lot of false starts and late nights mixing and matching barrel samples behind the bar at the Beaumont, he landed on something he really liked. He bought five-year-old bourbon, then reentered  it in barrels with char levels between 2 and 6. What he found surprised him: While the whiskey in the lower char levels was dragging behind, with too much smoke, the whiskey in char 5 and 6 barrels tasted like “cinnamon candy.” 

He created a blend that drew on whiskey from each char level, in equal amounts, then invited his parents, his friend Jim Rutledge of Four Roses, his business partner, Mark Carter, and Carter’s wife, Sherri, for a blind tasting. “No one was very excited about the barrels by themselves and even Jim was trying to politely tell me he thought this stuff wasn’t ready yet,” he said. “Finally I said that I had one last thing I wanted them to try and poured the blend of those five barrels for them. They all got about half angry with me for making them go through the exercise of tasting all that other stuff knowing I had this great blend in my back pocket. It was pretty cool.”

Dedman released the first batch of just 1,250 bottles in September 2014, selling through liquor stores around central Kentucky. he called it Kentucky Owl, the same name as his ancestor’s flagship bourbon.

Dedman and Carter didn’t have a business plan, but they didn’t need one. Critics and early fans raved about Kentucky Owl online, and within a few months it had completely sold out, despite its three-figure asking price. More batches followed, and in 2017 Dedman began a line of rye releases. That same year Stolichnaya bought Kentucky Owl for an undisclosed amount; Carter left to found his own brand, Old Carter, while Dedman stayed on for another four years before leaving Kentucky Owl as well. 

In all Dedman made the first ten batches of Kentucky Owl bourbon, the first four batches of rye, the first two batches of a non-age-stated bourbon called Confiscated, and a less expensive version of Confiscated, called Dry State. The brand continues under Stoli, but it has been a long time since Dedman had a hand in it.

Although most of his early releases attracted cult-like followings, people agree that the first batch stands unequaled – its rich, round flavor makes it seem more like something from the golden years of 1960s distilling than anything produced in the 21st century. Its release also marked a turning point of sorts for the industry – no one had ever charged that much for an unknown, sourced whiskey, and “luxury bourbon” was still largely considered a contradiction in terms. Kentucky Owl changed the game, and for that reason alone, it deserves its place in bourbon history.

Release: Kentucky Owl Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch #1

Misc.: Dedman leaned heavily on highly charred barrels for this release, using predominantly char #5 and #6 to give it a rich spiciness.

Collectors’ tips: Dedman blended ten batches of bourbon and three batches of rye for Kentucky Owl before he parted ways with the brand. Given his reputation as a blender, all are considered highly collectable.

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