The two King of Kentucky releases

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.

King of Kentucky label

Long live the King (of Kentucky)!

Step aside, mere mortals, because the King of Kentucky has returned.

You won’t find him holding court on a liquor store shelf, oh no. He’s too in demand for that nonsense. If you’re lucky, you can try him by the pour at your favorite watering hole — but it might cost you a pretty penny and a whole lot more.

King of Kentucky bottle

So who is this king and why should we care?

The King of Kentucky is an annual release by Brown-Forman. It’s a single-barrel expression of older Brown-Forman bourbon. This is the fourth release of the series, and the barrel-strength juice is 14 years old. Master Distiller Chris Morris hand-selected 33 barrels for this 2021 batch. That’s about 2,700 bottles.

“This year’s release comes from two production days — 14 years ago — but a mere 12 days apart,” said Morris in a news release. “Given the fact that each bottling is of a single barrel, the very slight difference in age is undetectable. All the barrels that were selected for this year are of the highest quality.”

The brand’s name is a throwback to a popular bourbon from 1881. Brown-Forman acquired the rights to the name and brand in 1936.

King of Kentucky retails for a suggested price of $249.99, but again, it’s going to be damn near impossible to hunt one down. It’ll range in proof from 125-135 and will only be available in Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois.

I was fortunate to get a small sample of this year’s King, and I can assure you it’s worth all the hype — and more.

Of course the color is a gorgeous deep amber given its age and the fact that it comes from a heat-cycled warehouse. On the nose, I get raisin and fig, with a little bit of maple syrup for good measure.

And after a sip — wow! It reminds me of those chocolate-covered modjeskas they sell at the Old Forester gift shop. It’s rich caramel, milk chocolate, a hint of that Brown-Forman banana and even a little toasted coconut. The finish lingers, reminding me of taking a bite of a caramel apple but getting more caramel than apple — as was my goal always.

Bottom line, the King is worth the hunt. This is the bourbon legends are made of.

King of Kentucky will make its 2020 debut very soon

Bourbon huntin’ season is officially upon us, and each week brings welcomed announcements for highly sought-after releases.

King of Kentucky 2020Today, it’s King of Kentucky’s time to shine, as word of the 2020 batch spreads like wildfires.

Here’s what we know: The 2020 release comes from 37 barrels that were aged 14 years. Since Brown-Forman heat-cycles their rick houses, many of these barrels were only half full, or even less.

That resulted in 1,900 bottles total for the markets of Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois (the latter two new this year).

This is the third iteration of King of Kentucky, which features barrel-strength, minimally-filtered, single-barrel bourbon. (If you’re curious about the brand, I wrote about its relaunch in 2018.)

“The King of Kentucky continues to teach us about the impact that long-term heat-cycled maturation has on barrel yield and flavor presentation,” said Master Distiller Chris Morris in a news release. “Some barrels yield as little as one case of King but are not over wooded or astringent — in fact they are incredibly complex and flavorful. This is another stellar release of rich, dark Kentucky bourbon flavor at its best.”

The suggested retail price (if you can find it on a shelf) remains $249.99, and the proof will range between 125 and 135. Each release has been in that same range of proof, however the 2019 batch came from 15-year-old barrels, while the 2018 was 14 years old.

So how’s it taste???

Damn good! How’s that for an answer?

I’ve been a huge King of Kentucky fan since the relaunched get-go, and it’s always been in my top 5 of the year. Now, 2020 has been a shit-kicker of a year, but the KoK doesn’t disappoint. It’s got that big vanilla and baked cherry bouquet on the nose, and those sweet, sweet flavors bring even more vanilla, with sprinkles of caramel, pancakes, that famous Brown-Forman banana note and baking spices.

It’s actually quite complex and nuanced, and the more I let it sit, the more deep those notes get.

This does not burn like a typical whiskey would at 130 proof (the proof of my sample), but instead it coats the mouth with warmth and familiar flavors, like biting into a big, juicy caramel apple covered in peanuts, and then having a bite of a chocolate covered banana.

The pleasant, sweet finish lingers a long time, and when it’s gone, your taste buds beg for more.

The 2020 King of Kentucky will be out soon, so keep your eyes peeled. And don’t ask me how to score a bottle, because I’m not going to tell you. I want all 1,900 for myself.