Since its inception, Stoli Group’s Kentucky Owl brand has been defined by an ultra-premium price point, with $300 editions being a norm, and occasional special releases like last year’s Dry State carrying truly absurd price tags in the $1,000 range. In the process, the brand helped to normalize the idea of purchasing $200 or $300 bottles of bourbon from an independent bottler, rationalized by the idea that a superlative master blender is creating blends from well-aged sourced bourbon that you wouldn’t be able to taste anywhere else. Since Kentucky Owl first came onto the scene, we’ve seen an exponential increase in the number of sourced, ultra-premium brands out there.
Eventually, though, the pendulum always swings in the opposite direction, and even the likes of Kentucky Owl begin considering how they might exploit the non-luxe bourbon market. Enter, The Wiseman, a new Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey from Kentucky Owl that may well redefine the company’s image with its lower age statements, proof point and price tag. Suffice to say, one has never been able to purchase a bottle with the Kentucky Owl name on it for anywhere close to $60 before.
The company describes The Wiseman Bourbon as “its first Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey produced and distilled by Kentucky Owl in collaboration with the Bardstown Bourbon Company.” It goes on to say that the product is “a blend of Kentucky Owl 4-year-old wheat and high-rye bourbons, along with 5 ½-year and 8 ½-year-old Kentucky-sourced bourbons.”
This is a little bit confusing, but I believe this is essentially an announcement that The Wiseman contains the first whiskey Kentucky Owl has ever put out that was distilled by Kentucky Owl or distilled for Kentucky Owl, rather than being entirely sourced. Some of the whiskey here was obviously produced at Bardstown Bourbon Co., although I would assume the 8.5 year old product would have to be coming from another source, as BBC probably isn’t selling anything that old. Regardless, The Wiseman is bottled at an approachable 45.4% ABV (90.8 proof), and that $60 MSRP makes it less than half the price of the cheapest whiskey that Kentucky Owl has sold to date, the $125 Kentucky Owl Confiscated.
At the same time, though, it begs the question of what exactly makes The Wiseman so different from Confiscated, that their prices end up so far apart. Confiscated is a non-age-stated blend, with a similar proof of 96.4 (48.2% ABV), and yet it still retails for $125-150. We can presumably assume that it’s an older blend on average, but being NAS, we have no concrete way to really compare the two more closely. Suffice to say, though, one is a whole lot more affordable to the average whiskey consumer than the other.
With all that said, let’s get to tasting The Wiseman.
On the nose, I’m getting a combination of light caramels and more honeyed tones, with some underlying grainier cereal notes that hint at the more youthful profile. There’s a moderate impression of seasoned oak, some nutty cocoa and a little bit of clove as well. Returning to the glass repeatedly, the chocolate impressions are coming out more predominantly.
On the palate, The Wiseman leads off fairly sweet, with honey and lighter caramel/toffee candies, and a bit of the same crisp grain from the nose. Fruit impressions of peach and candied citrus complement these flavors nicely, segueing into spice notes of candied ginger and allspice. All in all, it feels a little bit young, but is perfectly accessible. The Wiseman has a curious quality of not really lingering on the palate—the finish here is quite short, wiping itself away and easily leading to the next sip. It makes for a bourbon that perhaps isn’t as contemplative as some of the numbered Kentucky Owl releases of the past, but is easy to enjoy. Heat is respectable for the 90.8 proof—not hot for the proof, per se, but not invisible either.
All in all? This immediately strikes me as an “all purpose” and adaptable bourbon, albeit one that doesn’t really stand out as particularly unique. At $60, many consumers will likely find this easier to pull the trigger on in comparison with something like Kentucky Owl Confiscated at $125 or above, and I can’t help but think that this was probably the idea—a way to introduce the Kentucky Owl brand to consumers who don’t ever drop $100 or more on whiskey … but might be tempted to if they enjoyed the “entry level” bottle.
For the price point, I must concede I’d probably be tempted to seek out something a little bit bolder in most scenarios, but to those who have always been curious about Kentucky Owl, it’s an accessible way to explore the brand.
Distillery: Kentucky Owl
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Blend of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskeys
ABV: 45.4% (90.8 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $60 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.