One of the biggest releases of the fall bourbon season (besides a brand that rhymes with “happy”) is Brown-Forman‘s King of Kentucky. The super-premium brand had a re-launch in 2018, making this the sixth release of the historic label that dates back to 1881.
The 2023 King of Kentucky will be 16 years old and will range in proof from 125 to 135.
“This year’s release of 51 barrels came from one production date — July 19, 2007,” said Master Distiller Chris Morris in a news release. “This showcases what a difference each individual has at this extreme age on the color, flavor and aroma of this wonderful whiskey.”
There will only be 3,800 bottles available. The good news is most of these will remain in Kentucky, but you also might get lucky in Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, New York, Ohio and Tennessee.
The suggested retail price is $299.99 if you can find it on a shelf, but the secondary rate for these big daddies is about five times that amount.
Last year, the company celebrated the fifth anniversary of the King of Kentucky with two releases: an 18-year-old and 15-year-old. So it appears we’re now back to a one-age release with this one.
I was fortunate to receive a media sample of the new King, and I can verify that it is indeed quite delicious, rich and tasty and worth every penny of the $300. There’s a lot of dark chocolate and baked cherries in this one, followed by a hint of that Brown-Forman banana and vintage funk.
It also doesn’t seem as hot as previous years, and my sample was 125.8 proof. It sugar coats my lips and warms my throat, but it’s not an uncomfortable heat at all.
The thirsty whiskey angels are finally sharing some of their coveted stock. Angel’s Envy is gearing up for not one but TWO big releases this season, and one is a brand new product for the 12-year-old company.
On Dec. 1, Angel’s Envy will release its annual Cask Strength Bourbon PLUS its first-ever Cask Strength Rye Whiskey. Both will be in fancy new bottles and will commemorate Master Distiller Owen Martin’s first big releases of his career at the downtown Louisville distillery. Martin joined Angel’s Envy last fall after working for six years at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey and, before that, studying the craft of whiskey making in Scotland.
“It was thrilling to kick off my journey with the best-in-class team at the distillery on the 12th annual Cask Strength Bourbon and the first-ever limited-edition Cask Strength Rye Whiskey,” Martin said in a news release.
“With my deep background in maturing, blending and finishing whiskey, I’ve been able to share a unique perspective on the Cask Strength program and am looking forward to this next chapter with the brand.”
A few weeks back, a group of local media, including yours truly, met up with Martin to taste the two new products and also hear about the process of bringing these bottles to the market.
His enthusiasm for the whiskey was endearing, and his goal is to continue elevating the brand and its mastery over the finishing process. Instead of rushing to get something out, Martin instead chose to wait until the whiskey was ready.
Cask Strength Rye
If you’re a fan of the regular Angel’s Envy Rye Finished in Caribbean Rum Casks, well, this new release tastes nothing like that. In fact, it’s its own distinct product and is definitely not finished in rum casks this time around.
Bottled at 114.4 proof, the release is a blend of rye whiskeys finished in used sauternes and toasted oak barrels. Sauternes is a dessert wine from France.
This is actually the 10th anniversary of Angel’s Envy Rye, so the company wanted to recognize that milestone with its own cask strength iteration. Again, this tastes very different than that standard AE Rye, so keep that in mind. But in my opinion, it’s a much better whiskey and really showcases great, mature rye whiskey and the Angel’s Envy spin on finishing.
The flavor jumps with sweet fruit notes like pear and apple, followed by a sprinkle of that rye black pepper spice. A drizzle of caramel on top seals the deal for my taste buds, and the finish is long, spicy and rich. The term “pimp juice” keeps coming to mind, and I have no idea why, but it seems fitting here. You won’t be disappointed. Trust me.
There are only 5,500 bottles available, so be ready to vigorously scour your local liquor stores. It’ll retail for a suggested $269.99.
Cask Strength Bourbon
Not to be overshadowed by the rye, Angel’s Envy is also releasing the 12th iteration of its Cask Strength Bourbon series.
Martin said the team goes through the rick houses and marks the “very special” barrels each year, and it’s up to him to blend them together for this annual award-winning product.
This year’s release contains some of the first whiskey distilled at the distillery and leans more port-heavy than previous batches. For Martin, blending and marrying the barrels is the most important part of the process.
And you can tell he’s a master of the craft, because the balance of flavors in this release is phenomenal. At 118.2 proof, there is surprisingly no sting like a bee, but rather the creamy, sweet notes float like a butterfly over my tastebuds.
I definitely get the port on the finish, but on first sip it’s sugary notes of marshmallow and caramel, with baking spices and hints of oak and tobacco toward the back of my tongue. I thought the 10th anniversary Cask Strength Bourbon was going to be hard to beat, but this one gives it a run for its money.
This release will retail for $229.99, and there will definitely be more bottles of this than the rye — 22,656 to be exact. Still, that has to be split throughout all 50 states, so it’ll still be somewhat hard to find.
According to the news release, both of these bottles will go on sale at the distillery starting Dec. 1, or you might get lucky and find them at your local liquor stores. The rye will only be sold in Kentucky, New York, Florida, California, Texas, Illinois, Ohio and Tennessee.
Jack Daniel’s is releasing the brand’s first-ever single malt whiskey (apart from the special single-barrel teaser from last year), and it’s a damn fine whiskey if I do say so myself. But unfortunately, you’ll only find it at the moment in select duty-free airport stores across the world.
I can hear the naysayers now. Why is Jack Daniel’s trying to make scotch? Why don’t they just stay in their lane? And to this I’d say, “Why not?” As Master Distiller Chris Fletcher told me yesterday during a media tasting, the goal wasn’t to make scotch but rather to create an interesting Tennessee twist on the spirit for the growing American single malt category.
“This is us putting our best foot forward in trying single malt,” he said. “It’s a different take on what people can experience with a single malt whiskey — in the style of Jack Daniel’s.”
And true to that style, they ran the distillate through 10 feet of charcoal mellowing vats before it entered the barrel, just like they do for most of their JD whiskeys.
Fletcher said they’ve been experimenting with a single malt expression since 2012 and learned many things in the process. Notably, a mash bill of 100% malt is perhaps the most difficult grain to cook and distill with — even trickier than the sticky rye.
They also realized fairly early on in the process that they’d need to use a different kind of malted barley from the bulk distillers barley they use for their flagship whiskey.
After tweaking a few things along the way, they finally put this single malt distillate into new charred and toasted barrels in 2015, and it aged gracefully in Lynchburg until about 2020.
While Jack’s process of making single-malt whiskey is vastly different than how it’s made in Scotland and Ireland, the next step is a common one: the finishing barrel.
In 2020, they put the whiskey into used Oloroso Sherry casks (also called butts, heehee) from Spain, where it sat another three years mingling with the leftover fortified wine that had been soaked up in the butt.
The result is this amazing and very flavorful and rich Jack Daniel’s American Single Malt Whiskey, which will be a permanent expression for the company. The color is a striking dark amber, and the whiskey wafts with savory notes of milk chocolate, raisin, plumb and oak. Upon first sip, I get more of those dark fruits like raisin and plumb, and Fletcher noted that the best description he could think of was a dried milk chocolate-covered cherry.
The whiskey is also quite viscous and coats your tongue with delightful memories of decadent desserts. I want to compare it to Woodford Double Oak for this very reason — it’s definitely an after-dinner sipper with its bursts of chocolate, caramel and baked cherries.
My only complaint is that it’s only being sold at airports. Guess I need to book a vacation.
Jack Daniel’s American Single Malt is bottled at 90 proof and retails for $99.99 (for a 1-liter bottle).
For years — 70 to be exact — Maker’s Mark has stayed true to the taste vision set forth by founders Bill Samuels Sr. and Margie Samuels. The mash bill churned out day after day at the distillery is as much part of the brand’s identity as the red wax that drips from every bottle: 70% corn, 16% soft red winter wheat, 14% malted barley.
That’s why you’ve never seen a rye version of Maker’s Mark, a Maker’s Mark finished in port barrels, or an ultra-aged 20-year-old Maker’s Mark — because those would go against what the founders set out to create in 1953.
(In 2010, the company did launch Maker’s 46, which introduced wood finishing staves to the process — but more on that in a bit.)
Now, with some forward-thinking innovations from the talented team behind the brand — including Beth Buckner, senior manager of innovation & blending, and Blake Layfield, senior director & head of innovation, blending and quality — Maker’s Mark will finally release an older bourbon in September called Cellar Aged.
And fans are going wild (myself included), because it’s also being bottled at a whopping 115.7 proof!
Cellar Aged is a blend of 12-year-old bourbon (87%) and 11-year-old bourbon (13%) that still fits inside the parameters of the Maker’s Mark taste vision. How is that, you ask? Well, the team took fully mature Maker’s Mark barrels (typically around 6 years old) that had aged in its standard rick houses in Loretto, Ky., and rehoused them inside the limestone whiskey cellar that was constructed onsite in 2016 for the Maker’s 46 product.
The temperature inside this bourbon bat cave, as I call it, is a constant 50 degrees, so the barrels were now free from the extreme ups and downs of the Kentucky weather. In other words, they could just chill out for another five to six years — much like a scotch does in the moderate temperatures of Scotland.
This mellow environment helps round out the flavor and adds more depth and richness to the taste, but it doesn’t allow for those sometimes sharp bitter and tannic notes from the oak to permeate, which is sometimes common in bourbons aged over 10+ years.
Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged will be released in mid-September with an MSRP of $150. It’ll be a limited annual release, and the ages and batches will likely differ from year to year.
Tasting with the Team
Last week, a small group of local media descended upon Maker’s Mark to catch up with Buckner and Layfield — and of course be one of the first to try the new release. We were taken around to see all the new things at the distillery — including bountiful herb and vegetable gardens, new artwork both inside and outside, a renovated visitor center complete with a stunning cocktail bar, and even a new chef at Star Hill Provisions.
While you might see those topics come up in later posts here, I’ll focus on what we learned about the Cellar Aged release for now.
Buckner explained that although bourbon fans have been clamoring for a well-aged Maker’s Mark for some time, until they built the limestone cellar, it just wouldn’t have worked. Why? Well, her and Layfield showed us firsthand as they marched us up seven floors inside one of their standard aging warehouses.
The temperature that morning was pretty mild for August — in the upper 70s — but inside the rick house, it increased by at least 3 degrees every floor we climbed. These rick houses stay hot, hot, hot in the summer and chilly in the winter, pushing that distillate in and out of the barrel year after year. And so Maker’s believes, by about 6 years, the bourbon has finished its aging cycle, according to that important taste profile first developed by the Samuels.
Sure, they could leave a barrel for 12 years or more inside a rick house and bottle it up to please their fans, but it would not fit within the perimeters of that taste vision. And that’s what matters most to them. Much respect for staying the course.
After traipsing up and down stairs and dealing with the incoming humidity, we were whisked into the cool, calm, dark cellar, where we finally got to try the new bourbon.
And in an effort to further drive home what continued aging in the cellar can do versus what the temperature extremes of a rick house can do, we tried the Cellar Aged release next to a sample pulled from a 12-year-old barrel from a rick house.
I will say that the Cellar Aged sample was definitely the favorite — imagine Maker’s Mark Cask Strength with even more baked apple, caramel and vanilla notes. It is reminiscent of Weller Antique — with those deep bursts of chocolate and fig, and it’s a pour I could sip on all night long no matter what season it is.
But the 12-year-old sample, I admit, wasn’t awful. It certainly had that vintage taste funk, like maybe it was pulled from Grandma’s attic, but I would still drink it if I had a bottle of it. At the end of the day, however, I realized that the flavors in that 12-year sample were so far away from the original Maker’s Mark, I can see why it wouldn’t gel with the founders’ taste vision.
All in all, it was an educational and experiential visit to Maker’s Mark. I’ll always have a soft spot for the brand because it’s what first got me hooked into this crazy bourbon world. If you haven’t been for a visit in a while, it’s worth it to check out. There’s something new lurking around every corner.
If you live in Kentucky, you know there’s more to bourbon than corn, charred oak barrels and rick houses. Bourbon is a verb, they say, and nowhere is that seen more than with charitable causes. Bourbon gives back to its community in many ways, especially when it comes to raising funds for important things.
When Kentucky experienced devastating tornados and floods in recent years, the bourbon community stepped up in a big way and raised millions of dollars to help Kentuckians rebuild their lives.
Just about any given week you can find bourbon raffles that raise money for various causes, but I wanted to highlight two important ones this week that have come across my desk.
Joshua Barrick Fundraiser
The first one you should know about is the Joshua Barrick Fundraiser, which will help support his wife and two children (ages 7 and 9). Barrick was one of the victims of the Old National Bank shooting in Louisville on April 10, and all of the proceeds will go to a trust that has been setup for the family.
This bourbon raffle has been organized by the Bourbon Pursuit podcast and will end on Friday, May 12, at midnight. For a minimum donation of $50 (of course you can donate more), you will be entered into a raffle to win one of more than 130 rare bourbon bottles, including King of Kentucky, Willett Family Reserve, Birthday Bourbon, Old Fitzgerald and many more. There will also be exclusive experiences up for grabs, including a Bulleit barrel pick and a Mint Julep Experiences tour for up to 10 people.
“We are deeply grateful for the support and generosity of the bourbon community during this trying time,” said Ryan Cecil, Bourbon Pursuit host and fundraiser organizer, in a news release. “Joshua is a part of our community, and we want to do everything we can to support him and his children.”
Remember, you only have through Friday to enter, so let’s get going! So far more than $118,000 has been raised, but I’m pretty sure we can do better.
This fundraiser runs through June 23 and includes many unicorn bottles of bourbon as well as an exclusive barrel pick from Whiskey Thief Distilling. Only 2,000 tickets will be up for grabs at $100 each, and there will be 22 winners.
“Bourbon embodies our culture of generosity, care for others, gracious hospitality, and focus on Kentucky’s people and natural resources that we share with others around the world,” said Educational Justice Executive Director Bryan Andres Azucena Warren in a news release. “As a Kentucky organization that embraces these values, it is only natural to employ our native spirit’s popularity to raise support for our educational mission.”
These two raffles will raise funds for people and organizations that need them.
Later this month you might see a new Jefferson’s Bourbon on the shelf — if you’re lucky. The Marian McLain expression is a tribute to founder Trey Zoeller’s eighth-generation grandmother who has the distinction of being one of the first women in history to get arrested for bootlegging in 1799.
The whiskey is a blend of five bourbons, which correlates to the number of children McLain had and raised on her own after her husband died in the Revolutionary War. That unique blend consists of:
21% 14-Year-Old Tennessee Straight Bourbon
40% 11-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon
14% Wheated Double-Barrel
17% Rum Cask Finish
8% 8-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon
That intricate blend took Trey and his father Chet, a bourbon historian and co-founder of Jefferson’s, months to perfect.
“The Marian McLain expression is a tribute to our family history and a celebration of the pioneering persona that defines our brand,” says Trey in a news release. “This is not just a bottle of bourbon; it is a legacy. What better way to show appreciation for my past than by creating this liquid that can be enjoyed for years to come. I brought my dad, Chet, out of retirement to help create this nod to our heritage. We are honored to share Marian’s spirit through this exceptionally bold and balanced blend.”
I can tell you so much more about this release, but I’ve written a piece for Alcohol Professor that does just that — so I don’t want to steal my own thunder, so to speak. I’ll be sure to post a link to that article here when it gets published.
Just know that the bourbon is incredible and should start popping up around town (and nationwide) at the end of April/early May. It’s 102 proof and retails for about $300.
The fact that Tailspin Ale Fest is celebrating 10 years next week makes me feel like a proud parent, because I’ve damn near attended each and every one! It’s hands down one of the best beer fests I’ve ever gone to, and I wouldn’t miss this year’s event for anything — anything outside of the normal list of bad things that happen to people, that is.
I remember at one the early ones we had to endure freezing rain and sloshing through frigid puddles while standing in a long line to pee. And I remember at another one enjoying the incredibly odd warm weather we were rewarded one weekend in February — also while standing in a long line to pee.
The good news is the organizers of Tailspin listen to feedback each year, and they actually fix things and improve upon the event year after year. There are more bathrooms than ever before, more beer options, more food trucks and more ways to dance the afternoon away. The introduction of the silent disco a few years back was a score, and while I’ve never participated myself, it’s fun to watch others dance like nobody’s watching — even though everybody is.
This year, organizers are promising participation of more than 75 local, regional and national breweries with more than 250 beers available to sample. There will be at least 10 local food trucks, live music by Tony & the Tan Lines, Drake’s Silent Disco, Cox’s Cigar Bar, and a few other surprises.
Plus, there will be a “Women in Beer Bar” featuring craft beers brewed by women from around the country and here in Kentucky. I love that!
And perhaps the best news is that all proceeds go to Dare to Care Food Bank and the HOP Foundation. In fact, Tailspin has raised more than $90,000 for the organizations in the past nine years.
As always, the beer-soaked Tailspin takes place at the Bowman Field on Saturday, March 4, from 3-7 p.m. While VIP tickets are sold out, general admission passes are still available for $55. And if you’d like to hop on one of the nine shuttles located all around the city and one in New Albany, check out the website for more details.
I’ve been holding my breath — and alcohol intake (damn Dry January!) — all month for the announcement of this annual release by Woodford Reserve. So when I saw the email this morning about Double Double Oaked finally coming out, I did what any dedicated whiskey journalist would do: I threw my egg sandwich and dog in the car, poured my coffee into a to-go container and hit the road to Versailles.
Sure, I probably should have at least tweeted something out about Double Double 2022, but there was no time, and I can’t tweet and drive very well.
So now I’m back home with two precious bottles of one of my favorite releases of the year, and I’m here to tell you a little more about it. Double Double Oaked is mostly available at the distillery in small 375ml bottles.
The highly-anticipated bourbon is made by letting fully mature Woodford Double Oak sit an extra year in a second heavily toasted new oak barrel. That extra 12 months of mingling with the wood really produces an extraordinary whiskey that is known far and wide.
“We are excited to once again offer one of our most-coveted annual bourbon releases,” said Master Distiller Chris Morris in a news release. “This is the perfect winter bourbon with tasting notes of burnt marshmallows, cranberry and bittersweet chocolate.”
I haven’t cracked open my bottle yet, but according to the press release, you can expect notes of dried cherry and cranberry, along with blackberry jam, chai tea and clove. I can’t wait to try this first thing on Feb. 1 (again, damn Dry January!).
If you head to the distillery in the next few days, you can purchase two bottles per person for $59.99 each. Because of the bottle limit, they will likely have these through the weekend I would guess. But you never know. People do clamor for this bourbon, so don’t delay if you can help it.
In September of 2016, I stepped foot inside the massive Bardstown Bourbon Company for the very first time. The occasion was a media hardhat tour, and I recall being thrilled that we actually got to wear a hardhat since construction was still going on all around us. I knew big things were in store for this new kid on the block, and looking back now, isn’t that the understatement of the year?
They’ve since expanded several times, going from 600,000 proof gallons per year to 7 million proof gallons — making them the seventh largest distillery in the United States. A majority of what BBCo makes is for other clients/brands/companies, but of course they dedicate some time on the still to themselves.
Six years ago they put some barrels down under the astute leadership of Master Distiller Steve Nally, and I’m happy to announce the three expressions are ready for their spotlight as part of the Origin Series.
“The Origin Series is the first opportunity to taste an expression that is 100 percent our whiskey,” said Dan Callaway, VP of Product Development for BBCo, in a news release. “We’ve put years of patience into this bottle, waiting six years until we felt it was truly ready to share with the world. The full technical capabilities of our distillery are on display with these three bespoke products.”
The Origin Series consists of a high-rye Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a wheated Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon, and a Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. It will replace the distillery’s Fusion Series, which included some of their younger distillate blended with aged whiskey that was sourced. The popular Discovery Series (blends of sourced aged whiskey) and Collaboration Series (finished whiskeys) will continue to be released.
The new 6-year-old whiskeys will debut in early 2023 and should not be hard to find — at the distillery and in your local liquor stores and bars. They’ll be released across the country in 24 states and will range in price from $44.99-$69.99. Also worth noting, BBCo will be starting a single barrel program for on- and off-premise retailers, so be on the lookout for single-barrel store picks.
I was fortunate to get samples of the three flagship products that make up the Origin Series, so let’s dive into them one by one. No hardhat needed.
Origin Series Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
96 Proof | $44.99
With a mash bill of 60% corn, 36% rye and 4% malted barley, this high-rye bourbon is phenomenal from the get-go. On the nose I get candied peach drizzled in caramel — and some hints of baked apple and citrus.
And on the palate those fruit notes come to life, sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg, more caramel and a reward of vanilla on the finish. I get the spice up front from the rye, but by the time it reaches my throat, it’s as smooth as molasses.
Knowing I can get a quality bourbon like this under $50 makes me happy.
Origin Series Bottled-in-Bond
100 Proof | $49.99
This Bottled in Bond release uses a wheated mash bill of 68% corn, 20% wheat and 12% malted barley. There is no sting or tingling with this one because there is no rye to be found, but what you get is a well-balanced, soft bourbon with layers of creme brûlée, toffee and even a little mint on the palate.
Of course there’s the familiar caramel and milk chocolate notes swirled up in there as well, and on the finish, I get the flavor combination of sucking on a Werther’s Original while taking a spoonful of vanilla bean ice cream. Delicate is the word that keeps coming to mind for this bourbon — delicate and delicious.
I’d love to revisit this mash bill after two more years of aging and about seven proof points higher. It just might give Weller Antique a run for its money.
Origin Series Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
96 Proof | $69.99
With the standard rye whiskey mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley, this release hits you with spice up front, but then it rewards with incredible notes of baked cherries, toasted marshmallow and dark chocolate-covered toffee (yes, there is such a treat at Muth’s Candies in Louisville, Ky.).
The finish is long and sweet, with a little mix of sugar and spice and all things nice. This is a sipping whiskey for sure — something I could pass the time with while sitting in front of a fire. There are so many complex layers of flavor going on here that these tasting notes might just be the tip of the iceberg.
I’d absolutely love to try this at barrel strength. Who’s signing up for a single barrel? Take me with you!
Louisville is home to about a dozen distilleries and bourbon experiences, and now there’s another one coming to town to add to our bourbon resumé. Bardstown Bourbon Company announced this morning they’ll be opening a tasting room, bottle shop, and full-service bar at 730 W. Main St., just caddy-corner to Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery. It’s slated to open in the summer of 2023.
According to a news release, the space will offer bourbon educational experiences including blending, aging, making cocktails and more. And throughout the year, it will host a variety of events from special bottle releases, private tastings and one-of-a-kind elevated experiences.
“Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s new experience will feature education and deep dives that articulate our modern approach to blending, innovation and collaboration, capped by our genuine approach to hospitality,” said Dan Callaway, VP Innovation and Hospitality, in the release.
BBCo. is working with Joseph & Joseph Architects, Buzick Construction and Willie Martin’s for the project, which sits just a few doors down from the Slugger Museum.
“The bourbon experience we offer is second to none,” said Mark Erwin, CEO of BBCo., in the release. “We’re excited to bring this modern transparent approach to bourbon making to our Louisville home and look forward to introducing more consumers to the Bardstown Bourbon Company brand.”
If you recall, the James B. Beam Distilling Co. opened a similar concept at Fourth Street Live, but it ended up closing during the pandemic. They promised at the time that they would be back in Louisville in some form or fashion, so fingers crossed we continue to get even more of these unique bourbon experiences in town.
I am personally thrilled Bardstown Bourbon Co. will have a presence here. Many people traveling to Louisville for conventions, business meetings or just passing through don’t have time to drive out to the distilleries, so this gives them an up close and personal look at different brands and the people behind them, and expanding bourbon knowledge is always a good thing!