TASTING REVIEW: KENTUCKY VINTAGE BOURBON

The weekend was nearly here, and I was looking for something a little different. On the shelf I saw a brand I rarely see outside of the Commonwealth of Kentucky – Kentucky Vintage Bourbon – bottled by Kentucky Vintage Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky.

What’s in a Name

Before we go into the tasting, I’ll share a little bit about bourbon lore. Many bourbon connoisseurs like to know who makes the product in their glass. It’s not as easy as it would appear. The Kentucky Vintage bottle I’m holding says bottled by Kentucky Vintage Distillery – the question is – who distilled it? My bottle of Woodford Reserve states produced by indicating distilled, aged, and bottled by the Woodford Reserve distillery.

A quick internet search for the Kentucky Vintage Distillery takes me to the Willett Distillery, also known as Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. Willett is family-owned and dates back to 1936. They claim a number of brands, including Willett Pot Still, Willett Estate, Noah’s Mill, Rowan Creek, Johnny Drum, Old Bardstown, Pure Kentucky and our bottle-in-hand – Kentucky Vintage.

For many years, Willett was a bottler, and not a distiller. It doesn’t make it bad or wrong – remember a good bourbon is determined by the mash bill, the yeast strain, the barrel, and how and where it’s aged. A bottler can select appropriate varieties of bourbon, age it at their location, blend it together, and turn out a fine product.

For Willett, a renovated distillery began operations in October 2012. So the question remains – who actually made the juice in my bottle?  Many bottlers keep that secret close to their chest. The best guess is that Willett contracted with their (quite literal) next-door neighbor, Heaven Hill Distillery – for the source of much of the bourbon under its labels today. As its own production facility continues operations, and the product comes to maturity, I’d anticipate the bottles to begin stating produced by or distilled by.

The Tasting

Bottled at 90 proof, the label does not provide an age statement but does indicate “aged for many long years in select new charred oak barrels” and “has been allowed to age long beyond that of any ordinary bourbon”.

On the nose, you’ll catch an initial dose of alcohol that quickly fades to pleasant caramel, vanilla, and wood notes. On the tongue, there’s a little spice and rye tingle. The finish is medium without a burn – something I was expecting after the initial alcohol tones. Overall, it was a pleasant, uncomplicated bourbon. In my vernacular, I’d call it a very workman-like bourbon – suitable for everyday use.

Kentucky Vintage is what an everyday bourbon should be – simple, with notes of vanilla and wood, and a smooth, medium finish.  At $28, if you happen to see Kentucky Vintage, don’t be afraid to grab it and savor the flavor.

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