It’s not uncommon in the whisky world to see a brand revived after it’s been dormant for a number of years. Some pre-Prohibition brands have only just come back with the recent American whiskey boom. But it is certainly less common to see such a brand revived and catapulted into premium status in just a few years, and that’s precisely what has happened with Kentucky Owl. “One of the questions I get asked a lot is…‘How did I start doing this? Where was my education?’” said Dixon Dedman, the Kentucky Owl master blender who joined Whisky Advocate’s #TasteWithSpace on Instagram Live on Oct. 9. “One of the greatest pieces of advice…A lot of the people I decided to emulate said, ‘You know what? Make and create whiskeys that you like, that you believe in.’”
The original Kentucky Owl brand was founded in 1879 by Dedman’s great-great grandfather, and Dedman relaunched it in 2014 after he’d been working in another family business—historic Kentucky hotel The Beaumont Inn. “I’m the fifth generation in my family to operate the inn, so there’s a lot of history there. I pride myself on being a 12th-generation Kentuckian,” Dedman said. Once the brand was revived, Dedman and his former partner set out to create “very high-profile, amazing, quality liquid with unique characteristics, with unique profiles” and develop them into barrel-proof blends without worrying about volume, Dedman added.
SECONDARY MARKET OWL
Since Kentucky Owl products are produced without concern to volume, they tend to fetch high price tags and are regular fixtures on the whiskey secondary market. Whether it be retailers marking up the shelf price or whiskey flippers capitalizing on the scarcity, these whiskeys can be hard to access for most drinkers, particularly as bars across the country remain closed. While Dedman sympathized with the drinkers who can’t pay astronomically marked-up prices, he reasoned that “for the majority of people, it’s not what you pour because you’ve had a long day,” and instead is a special drink to be enjoyed on special occasions.
Dedman addressed the pricing issue again during the audience question-and-answer segment, when he disclosed that he has been working for a number of years on an expression that will be more widely available and sold at a more affordable price than previous releases. In April of 2019, Kentucky Owl introduced Confiscated, a straight bourbon available in all 50 states and priced at $125, meant to give curious drinkers a more attainable access point. This new, yet-to-be-named product, will push that access point even further, and we await an official announcement with additional details. (Be sure to check Whisky Weekend every Friday for information on the latest releases.)
On the opposite end of the pricing spectrum, Dedman discussed the newest Kentucky Owl release, Dry State bourbon, which was released to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Prohibition, with only 2,000 bottles available. He and Whisky Advocate digital assistant editor Ted Simmons tasted Dry State, which retails for $1,000. “This is kind of a celebration of the 100-year anniversary of America going into a ‘dry state,’” Dedman said.
Check out the full interview with Dedman on Whisky Advocate’s IGTV channel and follow Whisky Advocate on Instagram to join our #TasteWithSpace live interviews every Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern. Tune in this Friday, Oct. 16, as senior whisky specialist and digital editor Susannah Skiver Barton chats with Angel’s Envy founder Wes Henderson.