Review: Kentucky Owl’s Maighstir Brings Scotland to Bourbon Country

This limited-edition whiskey takes its cue from across the pond

November 27, 2023 6:47 am
Kentucky Owl Maighstir
Kentucky Owl Maighstir is the third in a series of collaborations
Kentucky Owl

What we’re drinking: Kentucky Owl Maighstir Edition, the third (and final) in a series of international collaboration limited edition releases.

Where it’s from: Founded in 1879 by C.M. Dedman, the current version of Kentucky Owl was relaunched in 2014 by Dedman’s great-great-grandson. The brand is now currently overseen by Stoli Group. 

Why we’re drinking this: We’re big fans of Kentucky Owl’s prior collaborations with other blenders around the globe, including last year’s Takumi Edition — a team-up with Japan’s Nagahama distillery — and 2021’s St. Patrick’s Edition, a collab with Irish whiskey bonder Louise McGuane. This time out, the brand worked with an icon in the Scotch world: Maureen Robinson (see below for her bio).

Review: Kentucky Owl Takumi Edition – A Whiskey Lover’s Dream
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Robinson, who is now Kentucky Owl’s new Master Blender, worked with the retiring John Rhea on Maighstir (pronounced “may-stir” and translates as “master” in Gaelic). Here, a blend was created from 4-, 5-, 8- and 9-year-old Kentucky straight bourbons, with mashbills containing corn, wheat, rye and malted barley. 

“I had a preconception of what bourbon could be like from years ago, but after this project, I realized my experience was not the one I should have had originally,” Robinson tells us. “Here, I started with cask strength samples. And my first worry was, how am I going to make bourbon taste more like a Scotch? However, the samples I was trying were completely different from what my original perception of bourbon was. There was a real Scotch character coming through.”

It was a challenge — Scotch has more flexibility than bourbon in its rules about casks and wood. But playing around with mashbills helped the Kentucky Owl bring out different characteristics; the wheated bourbon, for example, lent some citrus notes like you’d find in the whisky across the pond. 

Kentucky Owl Master Blender Maureen Robinson
Kentucky Owl’s new Master Blender Maureen Robinson, who spent 45 years in the world of Scotch
Kentucky Owl

Just don’t expect any smoky notes; this isn’t a bourbon trying to replicate an Islay whisky. “I like a lighter style of Scotch,” Robinson says. “Here, I think the older bourbons gave us what you’d expect from a bourbon, some of those oaky and vanilla notes. But I think there’s a lot of fresh fruit and herbal notes here, too.” (According to the blender, the younger bourbons here had a lighter char and the older ones came from more heavily charred barrels.)

How it tastes: Coming in at 50% ABV, Maighstar does a nifty trick: It initially presents itself more like a Scotch that’s undergone aging in ex-bourbon barrels. The nose is strong and full of fresh fruits and floral notes. Once it hits the palate, the bourbon aspect shines more, as you’ll find notes of vanilla, fudge and a bit of the wood. This is an ideal bridge between Kentucky and Scotland. 

Fun fact: Robinson is one of just 60 Whisky Hall of Famers and also one of the few female Masters of the Quaich, a big honor within the Keepers of the Quaich, an exclusive association that honors the people who’ve made a significant contribution to the world of Scotch whisky. She spent 45 years at Diageo, with work centering on Johnnie Walker, Old Parr, Buchanan’s, Singleton and more.

Where to buy: Kentucky Owl’s Maighstir Edition is available for $123+ here.


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