To be clear, I love Irish whiskey, and there are more reasons that I love it every year as the category continues to grow exponentially. Old distilleries keep putting out good bottles, new ones are really pushing the boundaries of what you expect. That being said, I don’t always want to drink Irish whiskey, even during the weeks surrounding St. Patrick’s Day when it is almost a requirement. For those who might feel the same way, there’s a good excuse to drink bourbon this year instead of an Irish single malt or blend during this holiday celebrating all things from the Emerald Isle—the new St. Patrick’s Limited Edition Bourbon Whiskey from Kentucky Owl.
This new bourbon is a collaborative effort between two whiskey experts: Louise McGuane, founder of whiskey bonder J.J. Corry, and Kentucky Owl master blender John Rhea. While the two brands couldn’t be farther apart in terms of geography and style of whiskey, they do have something in common—both source and blend whiskey to create their own unique expressions. In the case of McGuane, she finds aged barrels from various Irish distilleries along with new make spirit that she matures onsite, something whiskey bonders used to do frequently a century ago in Ireland. Rhea worked for 40 years for Kentucky distillery Four Roses, retiring as COO in 2016 before joining Kentucky Owl last year as master blender. Since it’ll be several years at least before any whiskey is distilled at the yet-to-be-built Kentucky Owl distillery, his job now is to procure barrels of bourbon and rye to blend together, some of which went into this new release.
According to Kentucky Owl, McGuane and Rhea blind tasted various cask samples and blended them together in different proportions before settling on this particular combination of bourbon aged from 4 to 11 years. It’s bottled at 100 proof and is listed as “batch one,” leaving the possibility open to future releases. Also, the barrels used for this bourbon will head to Ireland for McGuane to use to age Irish whiskey that will wind up in future J.J. Corry blends. Given this partnership, one can’t help but wonder if Stoli, the company that owns Kentucky Owl, has its sights set on J.J. Corry. But to be clear, this is pure speculation.
The whiskey itself is good, although it does read a bit thin and young on the palate. The nose is hot but not overpowering with alcohol, and hints of pepper and apple shine through. The palate is quite grainy, almost reminiscent of a younger Beam or Heaven Hill bourbon. But it’s balanced out with notes of hot honey, cherry, caramel sauce and vanilla pudding that all come together to finish with a pleasant warmth on the back of the tongue.
I would say that I’ve had better Kentucky Owl whiskeys before, but I’ve also had much worse whiskeys in general. The price tag is high for this bourbon, and I’m not totally convinced that it’s merited. McGuane and Rhea are both incredibly skilled people working in the whiskey industry, and J.J. Corry in particular has been releasing some top-notch Irish whiskey blends. So does this new release truly count as a “celebration of the long-standing ties that connect Irish and Kentucky whiskey making” as the press material positions it? Perhaps, as a vague concept. Overall this is a decent bourbon for those who really don’t want to drink Irish whiskey this St. Patrick’s Day. For the rest of us, I’d recommend giving J.J. Corry’s lineup a try instead.
What Our Score Means
- 100: Worth trading your first born for
- 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
- 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram
- 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
- 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
- Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this