Booze | September 21, 2022 6:55 am

Review: Kentucky Owl’s Latest Bourbon Nods to Japanese Whisky

Takumi Edition, a collaboration with Japan’s smallest distillery, is a fruitful and balanced blend

A bottle and box of Kentucky Owl Takumi Edition
Kentucky Owl Takumi Edition, available for pre-order now
Kentucky Owl

What we’re drinking: Kentucky Owl Takumi Edition 

Where it’s from: Founded in 1879 by C.M. Dedman, the current version of the distillery was relaunched in 2014 after its initial shuttering by Dedman’s great, great grandson (though it’s now currently overseen by Stoli Group). 

Why we’re drinking this: Kentucky Owl’s initial releases were a series of “old batches” that saw distribution limited to a few hundred or thousand bottles — and saw prices for each fetch up to several hundred or even thousands of dollars. 

Why so much, besides the limited production and long ages in the first blends? Call it expertise. While the brand uses sourced product (a distillery is on the way, see below), the blending is overseen by John Rhea, a longtime Chief Operating Officer at Four Roses. For those who don’t want to hunt down those extremely rare bottles, Kentucky Owl has introduced some more modestly-priced expressions into the market, including The Wiseman and Confiscated.

After releasing a collaboration with Irish Whiskey Bonder Louise McGuane last year called the St. Patrick’s Edition, Kentucky Owl decided to make the team-ups an annual release. For its second limited-edition bourbon, they worked with Nagahama, the smallest distillery in Japan, headed up by Master Blender Yahisa Yusuke.

Yahisa Yusuke and John Rhea, the two Master Blenders behind Kentucky Owl's latest
Yahisa Yusuke and John Rhea, the two Master Blenders behind Kentucky Owl’s latest
Hailey Bollinger

“Malt whisky and bourbon are very different, obviously,” Yusuke told InsideHook during a tasting in late August (through a translator). “But what I like about bourbon, there’s a very sweet fruitness, banana type of flavor, and a honey aroma, along with a bit of spiciness.” 

Takumi Edition started with Rhea selecting four different formulations —4-, 5-, 6- and 13-year-old Kentucky straight bourbons with mashbills containing corn, rye or wheat, and malted barley, and sending those samples to Japan. Yusuke then evaluated those samples and then created different blends. “I initially approached this to smell and taste like a Japanese whiskey,” he says. “I didn’t use mizunara oak, an oak cask used in Japan, but I did want the result to have that kind of oak taste and evoke those flavors.” 

How it tastes: There is a lot of fruit and citrus in this 100-proof release. I picked up cherry, apple and pear during my tasting, both on the nose and palate. While sweet up front, this bourbon has a balanced and rich mouthfeel and just enough of a spicy kick from the rye to leave an impression, but not overpower the exceptional balance at work here. It’s a fall release, but I’d love to sip this one in summer. 

Fun fact: An impressive 420-acre distillery is in the works. And Kentucky Owl Park sounds rather impressive. It’ll feature three pyramid-shaped buildings and the land’s quarry pits will be converted into lakes with limestone-filtered water.

Where to buy: Pre-orders for Takumi available now on ReserveBar for $150, with shipping due later this fall.