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Kentucky Owl Had a Japanese Master Blender Craft Its Newest Bourbon

Nagahama's Yusuke Yahisa got to bring his sensibility to this whiskey.

Kentucky Owl Takumi Edition Kentucky Owl

If the concept of a Japanese blender behind a bourbon sounds familiar, that’s because Jim Beam introduced this concept with Legent a few years ago, a collaboration between master distiller Fred Noe and Suntory blender Shinji Fukuyo. Now Kentucky Owl has gotten in on the action as well, combining the forces of master blenders John Rhea and Yusuke Yahisa of Japan’s Nagahama Distillery. So how does this new release differ?

Obviously, the bourbon at the core of the release is entirely different. Kentucky Owl is a brand started by Dixon Dedman in 2014, a revival of his family’s whiskey legacy that sourced bourbon and rye from undisclosed distilleries, and often ended up selling for hundreds of dollars. Dedman left the company last year and has since embarked upon new endeavors. Stoli Group, which owns Kentucky Owl, is currently building a massive new distillery-cum-themepark in Bardstown, KY, but in the meantime there’s been some limited-edition releases with Rhea (formerly of Four Roses) as head blender. Takumi Edition Bourbon (“takumi” means “master” in Japanese) is the latest, a blend of four-, five-, six- and 13-year-old Kentucky bourbon made from mash bills containing corn, wheat or rye, and malted barley.

Yahisa is not a household name in the world of Japanese whisky yet, but that could change as the relatively new Nagahama Distillery releases its single malt whiskies and makes a name for itself. For this project, Rhea sent four different formulations to Yahisa in Japan representing different ages and mash bills, and then Yahisa would work with those until he came up with one that most represented his style of blending Japanese whisky. “I was very excited to have the opportunity to work with John Rhea on this unique project,” said Yahisa in a statement. “Bourbon is a whiskey that I admire and it was an honor to be able to partner with John and create a new and unique blend of Kentucky Owl together.” Rhea expressed his admiration as well. “The Takumi Edition provides bourbon lovers insight into the flavor profiles sought after by a Japanese whisky blender,” he said. “As someone who has worked in the industry for several decades now, it was exciting for me to work with a rising star in whisky with a unique perspective.”

To be clear, given the confusion that surrounded the release of Legent for some—there is no Japanese whisky in this blend, this is all bourbon all day. But the point is to bring the sensibility of blending Japanese whisky to bourbon, although that might be more esoteric than tangible when actually sipping this whiskey. Tasting notes include rye bread and caramel on the nose, followed by cinnamon, apple and pear on the palate. Kentucky Owl Takumi Edition is bottled at 100 proof and will be available starting in October for an SRP of $150.


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