We two Kings: In honor of 5th year, Brown-Forman releases two King of Kentucky expressions

King of Kentucky barrel
There will be two Kings this year. | Photo by Sara Havens

The King of Kentucky brand of whiskey was once a household name — for whiskey drinkers — in and around Louisville. The brand debuted in 1881, and after Prohibition, Brown-Forman acquired the rights in 1936. It was so popular, in fact, a giant replica of the bottle was featured atop Brown-Forman’s headquarters off Dixie Highway, where a bottle of Old Forester can now be found.

King of Kentucky
The King of Kentucky was once the bottle on top of Brown-Forman. | Courtesy of B-F Archives

In 1968, when bourbon started its decline in popularity in the U.S., the brand was sadly discontinued. But in 2018, B-F revived the label as a premium single barrel release.

And now, in the brand’s fifth year as a fancy-pants bourbon, the company is releasing two expressions: a 15-year-old bourbon and a very limited 18-year-old bourbon.

Master Distiller Chris Morris chose two lots of barrels to set aside for the limited-release product: one from 2004 and the second from 2006.

“This year’s releases come from two production days, two years apart,” said Morris in a news release. “This showcases what a difference two years at these extreme ages make on the color, flavor and aroma of this wonderful whiskey.”

There will be about 3,500 bottles of the 15-year King of Kentucky released in Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio, and for the 18-year King, there are only 250 bottles. The former retails for $249.99, and the latter $349.99. Of course your chances of ever finding these on a liquor store shelf are few and way, way far between.

Last week, I was invited as a member of the local spirits media to come out to Brown-Forman to taste the 18-year-old and hear more about it from Morris himself.

Master Distiller Chris Morris
Master Distiller Chris Morris discusses the King. | Photo by Sara Havens

It’s important to note that B-F heat-cycles its warehouses, meaning the distillate in the aging barrels goes in and out of the barrel more often than just the standard four seasons of Mother Nature.

Of course this doesn’t speed up aging — in bourbon, time is time — but it does mean there are more flavor exchanges going on inside the barrel, and also more evaporation. Hence the low yield of older B-F bourbons.

“It’s not all about wood, it’s about maturation,” Morris said. And out of the 12 barrels they pulled for the 18-year King, they only got about 250 bottles. If you’re doing the math, that’s only about 20 bottles per barrel. In comparison, with a standard barrel, you get about 150-200 bottles.

So how’s it taste? Just as rich and decadent as you could imagine. The 18-year-old bourbon especially has wonderful notes of fruit, honey and molasses.

And the color of the bourbon alone looks like something Winnie the Pooh would be guzzling out of his honey jar. It’s something I’d love to sip on slowly throughout a cool fall evening, with new notes jumping out with each taste.

Even at about 130.3 proof, this sipped like a 90-proofer. I get the same experience when I sip on a William Larue Weller, which I’ve only had twice in my life. And because this elder King is so rare, I’m guessing that may have been my only chance for a few ounces of that as well.

The two King of Kentucky releases
The two King of Kentucky releases | Courtesy

I am firmly putting both of these Kings on my Christmas list, so y’all can start shopping early. The press release says they will be out in stores this month.

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