Review: Kennessee Brings Together Two Rival Bourbons (and Peyton Manning)

Crossing state borders with Sweetens Cove, a whiskey brand co-owned by the NFL legend

June 7, 2022 6:06 am
A bottle of Sweetens Cove Kennessee bourbon
Sweetens Cove marries together Tennessee and Kentucky bourbons
Sweetens Cove

What we’re drinking: Kennessee, a marriage of Tennessee and Kentucky bourbons finished with toasted sugar maple wood

Where it’s from: Sweetens Cove, a whiskey brand named after a famous nine-hole golf course in Tennessee and co-owned by Peyton Manning, Andy Roddick, Tom Nolan, Rob Collins, Mark Rivers, Skip Bronson and Drew Holcomb. 

Why we’re drinking this: I initially got into Sweetens Cove due to its celebrity connection. But after talking with Master Blender Marianne Eaves a few years ago — and tasting her other limited-edition releases via her own Eaves Blind releases (which highlights bourbons not crafted in Kentucky) I came away more impressed by the whiskey and the blender behind it than the all-star names attached to the brand. Eaves told me that, in spite of the brand’s famous owners, she’s completely in charge of the final product. “I’ve been very honest about my sort of amateur upbringing in the bourbon space,” Manning says in a statement. “I’m a scratch handicap beer drinker, but with bourbon I’m probably a higher handicap…as I’ve learned about bourbon, it better taste good, and Marianne has taken care of that.”

Marianne Eaves and Peyton Manning of Sweetens Cove drinking whiskey at a bar
Master Blender Marianne Eaves and Sweetens Cove co-owner Peyton Manning
Sweetens Cove

During a recent whiskey trip down to The Volunteer State, I had also heard some grumblings about Kentucky vs Tennessee whiskey — basically, it’s not always a friendly rivalry. 

While recognizing that, uh, spirited debate, Eaves thinks the whiskeys sourced from the two states each bring unique characteristics. “The Kentucky bourbon was very traditional, heavy on the caramel and vanilla,” she says. “Tennessee brought more grain influence and fruit notes. They balanced each other quite well.”

The two bourbons (age statements not disclosed) were blended together; from there, sugar maple spirals are introduced into the juice for a bit of time. “It was definitely inspired by the sugar maple charcoal that they use in the Lincoln County process [for making Tennessee whiskey],” Eaves explains. “But that’s more for filtration and smoothing the distillate. It’s not adding character. So the toasted sugar maple wood is kind of like the Kentucky way of doing the Lincoln County process — we’re adding flavor, not mellowing.”

Let’s see if rivals can play nicely together.

How it tastes: Kennessee is a 110.7 proof bourbon — no mashbill or age statement has been disclosed. You’ll find graham crackers and orange on the nose, with pecan pie, cinnamon, caramel, and even a bit of raspberry jam on the palate. The oak spice really shines through on the finish. Overall, this has a wonderfully round and creamy texture, but I’d cut that a bit with an ice cube.

Fun fact: Kennessee isn’t a made-up word; it was actually named after an unofficial region that bordered TN and KY that Sweetens Cove co-found Mark Rivers found on an old map. This is good because “Tentucky” would have been a terrible alternative.

Where to buy: Priced at $59, Sweetens Cove Kennessee is a permanent new release and is available in 12 states, including Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Colorado, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nevada and Illinois. It also can be purchased online.


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