At right, Chris Morris, master distiller, Brown-Forman, introduces the company’s newest bourbon, The King of Kentucky. Photo by Steve Coomes

Inside a chilly brick-walled warehouse, Brown-Forman executives told a small gathering of spirits journalists that it’s bringing back its King of Kentucky brand, a powerhouse 14-year-old whiskey set for a June release and at a $199 MSRP.

I’ll admit it, I’d never heard of King of Kentucky, and except for some whiskey wonks among us, I’m betting no one else had either. Few in the room were even born when Brown-Forman sent the King of Kentucky into exile in 1968, when it was a 1-year-old whiskey blended with grain-neutral spirits. If you can taste that mentally, you know it’s not a stretch to say drinkers were pardoned by the King’s absence.

Now, however, with the interregnum behind it, the King is headed back to the throne, this time as Brown-Forman’s most expensive bourbon ever released. And based on its lineage and the sample we sipped, this emperor not only has clothes, it’s stylin’!

More than a decade ago, when the fires of bourbon’s return began to glow, B-F master distiller Chris Morris earmarked several barrels for a special long-aged product. Born of the Early Times mashbill (79 percent corn, 11 percent rye and 10 percent malted barley), the barrels would spend the next seven years in one of the company’s heat-cycled warehouses in Shively. Later, Morris moved them to Warehouse O, the company’s only ambient temperature storage to slow the whiskey’s maturation. Seven years later, and after losing an average 70 percent of those barrels’ contents to some thirsty angels, Morris deemed the maturate ready for market.

Based on the surging demand for high-proof whiskeys, the market is more than ready for The King of Kentucky. Since each bottling will be done from single barrels, proof will vary from 125 to 130. Every bottle of this initial 960-bottle release will be signed by Morris, who joked about anticipated hand cramps.

Lucky us, we got to taste the stuff, about a half-ounce alongside equal “reference” pours of Early Times Bottled-In-Bond and Old Forester 100 Proof. At 125.8 proof, the King’s aro

mas charge out of the glass as if by edict, and its full flavor wastes no time establishing dominion over the palate. It’s a scion that quite easily upstages its father. (No reviews today, but a full one is forthcoming.)

The King of Kentucky will be a royal pain in the neck to bottle. For example, at Woodford Reserve in Versailles, bottles are filled at the rate of 100 per minute. By comparison, bottling this spicy sovereign will happen at the lowly pace of about 100 per day. The manual machinations required to fill each bottle, label it, enrobe its top and neck in black wax, sign it and then place it into a metal cannister is the work of indentured servants. But as Team B-F said repeatedly, this whiskey isn’t about mass production or even making money, it’s about making a quality statement.

Morris put it this way: “When we set this (bourbon) back years ago, it was without name or plan. But we’re Brown-Forman, and we think carefully, act slowly and in measured ways. We don’t rush to be the first.”

Sadly, for the many bourbon drinkers who’ll want this, a mad dash will ensue to get it. Equally certain: Those who seek it on the secondary market will pay a king’s ransom for it.

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Anyone like me kicking themselves for not shelving a few Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond (BIB) handles last year?

Anyone else gnaw their nails as one of the market’s best bargains disappeared from store shelves thinking, “Oh, they’ll resupply soon, right? Right?”

When soon never came, sad filled in the void, but at least it hinted that something new was in the offing. Today we know what that is.

In a press release, Bardstown, Ky.-based Heaven Hill Distillery announced a new and limited-edition series of Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. To match the BIB distilling and bottling seasons, biannual releases will happen each spring and fall—double the opportunities to be freezing or fanning while standing in line at your fave liquor store!

It’s still good ol’ wheated Old Fitzgerald, but “old” becomes the operative word here, as this first release spent 11 years in the barrel, seven years beyond the BIB minimum of four. Try not to drool imagining the flavor amplification.

After the ornate decanter, price will be the next thing that captures drinkers’ attention: MSRP of $110, roughly six times the coin commanded for the long-standing, lower-shelf-dwelling, plastic-capped version that made the softest of sippers and most excellent Gold Rush cocktails.

Why the shift from daily drinker to premium pricing, you ask?

Because Heaven Hill can and should. It’s called good business.

The independent, family owned distillery has more than 1.3 million barrels of whiskey aging in 55 rickhouses scattered across God’s Country, so you needn’t a calculator or calendar to figure out that Heaven Hill has loads of old inventory available.

According to the company’s website, past master distiller Parker Beam convinced the company to stay the course and keep making liquor amid bourbon’s doldrum years (Hard to imagine that being a thing, right?) So, when you have such supply, you can pivot to market conditions with ease, and as the market has made clear, American brown spirits fans will pay big bucks for wheated bourbon.

This first release is comprised of barrels filled in February through May of 2006; they’ll be bottled in April of 2018, which makes for another reason to love spring.

As we’ve seen in the past several years, gorgeous glass denotes class in the booze world, and this package is an eye catcher. This first bottle was inspired by an original 1950’s Old Fitzgerald diamond decanter, and according to the release, “features the time-honored graphic of a key, commemorating an important element in original labels and the brand’s slogan since the 1940’s, ‘Your key to hospitality.’ Kentucky’s state seal and a prominent brand banner replicate a pre-Prohibition label. Spring editions will be denoted with a green label and fall editions with a black label. The age will change with each edition and will also be indicated on the bottom of the label.”

The Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Series will be available in the 750ml size on an allocated basis each spring and fall throughout the next five years.

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Kentucky’s Castle & Key Continues Its Epic Rise From The Rubble

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Kentucky’s Castle & Key Continues Its Epic Rise From The Rubble

When three partners announced plans to rehab and reopen the legendary Old Taylor Distillery Co. in Millville, Kentucky, they believed they could do it by late 2015. Well, not the whole thing—the multibuilding campus is massive—rather a boutique distillery on the property that once was the most lavishly appointed whiskey distillery America had ever seen. […]

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1792 Barton LE 225th Anniversary Bourbon is a bargain if you can find it

August 9, 2017
1792 Barton LE 225th Anniversary Bourbon is a bargain if you can find it

Earlier this summer, Barton 1792 Distillery released a limited-edition bottle of its namesake 1792 bourbon to celebrate the 225th anniversary of Kentucky joining the United States. I had the rotten luck to be on vacation and miss the press event in Bardstown, but the good folks at Barton made sure a sample was delivered to […]

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Millionaire moments at Churchill Downs now available for regular folk

July 3, 2017
Millionaire moments at Churchill Downs now available for regular folk

Every Louisvillian knows what and where Millionaires’ Row is: the upper-upper deck at Churchill Downs where, as the name implies, where the wealthy gather to eat, drink and wager stacks of cash on unpredictable and pampered steeds. But while locals know of this lofty perch, few have ever been there, including me, until last Friday […]

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Growing Market for ‘Store Picks’ Adds Interest to Whiskey Hunting Market

July 1, 2017
Growing Market for ‘Store Picks’ Adds Interest to Whiskey Hunting Market

Written originally for WhiskeyWash.com. With the American whiskey boom stronger than ever, it’s unlikely people’s lust for anything branded “Pappy,” “Elmer,” “Stagg,” or “Sazerac” will wane soon. Even here in Kentucky, where 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is produced and practically spilling off the shelves, the desire for “a 23” or “this year’s Birthday” […]

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Jefferson’s Zoeller To Repeat History On Riverboat Ride

July 1, 2017
Jefferson’s Zoeller To Repeat History On Riverboat Ride

Written originally for The Bourbon Review. There are those who read about history, those who go see it, and those who set out to reenact it. Count Trey Zoeller among the latter group. On June 6, the owner of Jefferson’s Bourbon and his captain, Ted Gray, pushed away from an Ohio River dock at Louisville, […]

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Chilly Rain Couldn’t Dampen Derby Eve Stitzel-Weller Affair

July 1, 2017
Chilly Rain Couldn't Dampen Derby Eve Stitzel-Weller Affair

Written for The  Bourbon Review. Louisvillians are generally an easy-going lot—until you mess with Kentucky Derby week. In the run-up to the first Saturday in May, we place unrealistically high expectations on truly unpredictable things like fickle and pampered steeds and on-time restaurant reservations. We’re even worse about Derby Week weather, claiming entitlement to a […]

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Nethery plants, harvests and distills her own corn at Jeptha Creed

July 1, 2017
Nethery plants, harvests and distills her own corn at Jeptha Creed

Written for The Bourbon Review magazine Joyce Nethery’s role as a woman master whiskey distiller is unusual enough. But she further breaks the mold since she is often spotted behind the wheel of a large farm tractor pulling a planter. On the farmland behind Jeptha Creed Distillery in Shelbyville, Ky., she’s the person depositing Bloody […]

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Bottoms up! Whisky Live tasting returns to Louisville Saturday

June 7, 2017
Bottoms up! Whisky Live tasting returns to Louisville Saturday

Whisky Live returns to Louisville for its second year, bringing the broadest sampling of international whiskeys to a single tasting ever seen in the Bluegrass. Serving as the closing event for Kentucky Bourbon Affair on Saturday, June 10, this premier tasting event will allow guests to sample world-class Scotches, bourbons and other whiskies from around the […]

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