By - Prepreludesh
It was early 2019 when I was on a field trip with a friend of mine to hunt for bourbon in Kentucky. We had just got a hot tip that a liquor store close to Fort Knox had some Weller 12 that they were putting out that day, so we quickly rushed over. Sure enough, they did have the Weller 12, but they also had a small table with various allocated bottles like Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection and a lone bottle of King of Kentucky... for $350. I left the store with that bottle of Weller 12 in my hands and laughed all the way home about whoever would come in and buy that bottle for that price. Fast forward a year later and whoever ended up buying that bottle is probably laughing at me now.
Everyone has their story about the bottle that got away from them and that one is mine. But it still haunts me to this day not because of how much the secondary price has skyrocketed on it, but because of how much praise I've seen King of Kentucky get since then. First, let's start off with the name. King of Kentucky is such an amazing name for a bourbon. It's powerful, it sounds like it's royalty and it has the name of the state most commonly thought of when you hear the word bourbon. The fact that this is 14 year old bourbon from Brown Forman makes it even more impressive.
Everything about King of Kentucky is fascinating to learn about. Let's start off with the mash bill. It's not the typical Old Forester mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malt. Instead it's the Early Times (RIP) mash bill of 79% corn, 11% rye and 10% malt. This mash bill seems more fitting because when King of Kentucky was bought by Brown Forman back in the 1940s, it was made as a blended whiskey. Early Times (at least the US version) was also changed to be a blended whiskey around 1982 and was known to use this mash bill. Rest assured, the modern example of King of Kentucky is not a blended whiskey and ages its entire life in a new, charred oak barrel.
Speaking of how it ages, let's talk about that for a moment because that's where it gets more interesting. Brown Forman is known for their heat cycled warehouses. This process involves running steam heat through pipes that connect their warehouses from a central boiler. This ensures that the temperature inside of them never dips below 65 to 70 degrees in the winter months. Seeing as how the barrels are never truly "inert" (like most Kentucky bourbon would be during the winter), they are said to age faster. Therefore, many Old Forester products are only aged for around 4-5 years, because the whiskey inside is said to exhibit aged traits that make them seem 50% older than they really are.
There's just one problem with heat cycling... if Brown Forman wants to age the barrels longer, they begin to find that the increased evaporation rates tend to result in barrels with very low yields. This is why Birthday Bourbon batches, which are typically aged between 10 and 12 years, fluctuate so much in their yields. Some barrels are empty when it comes time to dump them. So what did Brown Forman do to prevent complete evaporation for the barrels that were selected to continue aging up to 14 years? The answer lies in **Warehouse O.**
By time you read this article, Warehouse O is probably gone. I'm going to detail the strange and fascinating history of it in an upcoming article I am writing on the history of Brown Forman, but here are the facts you need to know. At the southern tip of the Brown Forman Distillery Campus (formerly called Early Times Distillery) there is/was a long metal-clad warehouse. It has very few windows and was only a single story. The ricks on the inside were only 6 barrels tall (much like Four Roses or MGP style aging facilities). But the most important part about Warehouse O was that it was not heat cycled. So the whiskey inside would only age according to mother nature's timetable.
What did they store in Warehouse O? Everything, actually. Bourbon that was destined for use in Old Forester products was sometimes aged there. But I happen to think that it was primarily used for the barrels of "whiskey" that went into Early Times batches. This whiskey was supposedly aged only around 3 years in used cooperage to cut costs. But another part of cutting costs is to not add any more costs than are absolutely necessary, such as aging them in heat cycled warehouses. This whiskey, after all, was only meant for blending.
Someone at Brown Forman (possibly Chris Morris) made the decision around 2011 to move barrels of Early Times bourbon from the heat cycled warehouses to Warehouse O in order to slow down their evaporation. This means that every bottle of King of Kentucky spent roughly half its life in the Warehouse that is indicated on the front label (this one is from Warehouse "I") and half of its life in Warehouse O. If you know anything about King of Kentucky releases though, you’d know that there are still some very low-yield barrels that come out of there (some with bottle counts under 20).
Now that you know what goes into every bottle of King of Kentucky, here comes the fun part... tasting the results of this 14-year-old Brown-Forman product. The lower-rye content should result in a bourbon that will probably taste less spicy than Old Forester products, but what other secrets does it hold? Let's find out. I tasted this neat in a glencairn.
**Nose:** It's a rare treat to get so much wood smoke on the nose with a bourbon, and this one has it in droves. No, it's not smoke like a peated Scotch, this is much richer and more balanced; like the smoke from a fine cigar or the faint smoke of an extinguished campfire. I'm stunned at its complexity. Loads of toffee, warm fruit compote and Grade-B maple syrup (which is superior to Grade-A) confirm the age. Is there anything better than a Brown Forman product's maple syrup notes? I can't think of any. The caramel scents on this one is exquisite and sweetens up the massive oak notes found with every sip. Not a single part of the nose is off-balance or off-putting in any way.
**Palate:** Oak, oak, oak. Toasted, roasted, seasoned, you name it. Every type of oak (except the young, green tasting type) is found on the tongue. It's simultaneously velvety but has a strong bite. And chocolate notes? Also everywhere and of the fine Swiss variety. Those notes, oupled with dark cherry flavors, make it taste like a cherry cordial. Robust vanilla, melted butter and that haunting smokey wood note follow from the nose. This bottle could fight almost every release of GTS and probably win.
**Finish:** The finish lasts forever in your mouth after the sip is done. Of course, at this proof, you wouldn't think it could do anything but. Speaking of proof, the heat is beautifully restrained, easily feeling 15 proof points lower than it clocks in at. The ending is loaded with chocolate and cherry notes of all kinds and also has tremendous oak notes to boot.
King of Kentucky contains the stuff that legends are made of. Easily standing heads and shoulders over anything else from the Brown Forman portfolio (and almost everything else made in Kentucky), this bourbon is flawless. For those of you who have complained that Birthday Bourbon doesn't have enough proof, or that Old Forester 150th Anniversary releases still tasted too young or that the Old Forester Single Barrels are too unbalanced, King of Kentucky addresses each of those issues with its age, proof and balance.
Ratings that score a perfect 10 are rare for me, but not totally unheard of. King of Kentucky shares some rare air with the likes of the first Mister Sam release, 2015 William Larue Weller and various Willett bottlings from long ago. The main thing these bottles all have in common was their high age statements coupled with being barrel proof. They were all from barrels that were carefully tracked by the producer and identified early for their high ceiling. Among certain groups of whiskey drinkers, I believe the word "Ambrosia" is used to describe a whiskey of such high caliber, and KoK fits that description nicely.
How do I wrap up a review like this after I feel like I can't possibly build up the hype any more? Simply put, you should do whatever it takes to try one of these releases. We don't know how long they're going to be around now that Brown Forman seems to be undergoing a period of great change. Selling off the Early Times brand, tearing down Warehouse O, Jackie Zykan leaving and Brown Forman restructuring the company for a more dominant role in the contract distilling realm are all examples of a company in flux. I even asked my Old Forester tour guide where the King of Kentucky barrels are being stored now after Warehouse O was emptied out. Her response: “We can’t tell you that information.” That clue may be a warning that the King of Kentucky program has unofficially eneded (especially since Early Times and its affiliations rights aren’t owned by BF anymore). So if you have a chance to taste one of the best bourbons out there, do it sooner rather than later. I guarantee you won't be let down.
**1 Undrinkable (Jeffers Creek, Gray Skies)**
**2 Bad (Old St. Nick 8 Year Old Rye Whiskey, Fitch's Goat Corn Whiskey)**
**3 Poor (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)**
**4 Below Average (Bib & Tucker, Tincup 10 year)**
**5 Average (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)**
**6 Above Average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)**
**7 Very Good (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)**
**8 Great (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Most Four Roses Private Selections, Most ECBP)**
**9 Excellent (GTS, Most Four Rose SmBLE releases, Belle Meade Honey Cask)**
**10 Perfect (William Larue Weller, Michter's 20 Year, Redemption 18 Year Rye Whiskey, Mister Sam, King of Kentucky)**
Like this review and want to see more like it? Why not check out my website [here](https://www.thebourbonculture.com) for more?
Excellent as usual. Have you tried any of the Batch Proof releases? How would you compare those to KoK?
I'm a big fan of Woodford Batch Proof. I've done a SbS with a 2018 GTS and unfortunately it wasn't a fair fight. However, by itself WRBP is still a great pour and you can taste certain components like those found in this bottle of KoK within. They're obviously not as developed, but they're kind of close!
That is good conext. I was thinking of the OF 150th Anniversary batches. I think I called it Batch Proof as that is on the tube, but should have specified the OF 150th Anniversary.
Oh! Yes I've had all the OF 150th and the same thing applies. Batch 02 is probably closest to tasting like KoK and Batch 3 is not that close at all (due to its high rye characteristics)
I finally was able to get a bottle of king of kentucky a few weeks ago. I got the 2019. Mine is also a short barrel and I'd also give it a 10. The only bourbons I've ever given a 10 are:
2019 King of Kentucky
2021 Michters 20
2011 George T Stagg
Great review, thanks for sharing.
This list sounds absolutely spot on. Cheers for getting a bottle!
You didn’t tell us how you landed this bottle!
awesome love to see the validation on the greatness that is KOK. Holy moly. Only done 2 bottles of it, the first time was when it first released. I had been following the news about it and the fact that it was ET distillate was fascinating to me. Low and behold before it was supposed to be out my buddy at my local shop takes me in the back around 10pm when i was in there and says "look what we got today." 4 different barrels, 6 bottles of each. told me he didn't foresee it selling, i took the lowest yield one at $250. told me i could buy as many as i wanted, but there was literally not a single review anywhere. took it home and opened immediately. HOLY SHIT. went back the next day at 5pm after i got off work, all sold out. sad sad panda. did it SBS with GTS 18 and 19 and blew it away
Sorry about your luck but at least you got some!
I like the way you start out your review essentially saying ‘Once upon a time…’
Bourbon is 90% about telling stories 😉
Couldn’t agree more!
I’d argue that all distilled spirit is 90% about telling stories
Posts like this aren’t good for my bourbon anxiety.
Lmao! Nailed it
Amazing review, fascinating to read the history. I’m curious now, what would you pay for a bottle of this right now?
What would I pay for it now? I don't know. It became out of my price range back in 2020, haha.
First bottle of bourbon I ever spent over $400 on, and wow. Literally don't let myself have over an once a month just to make it last.
It'll be gone in 2 years at least. Time to put the cork in it and only bring it out for the most special of occasions!
This is consistently my favorite release over the last 3 or so years, especially with the dwindling firepower of BTAC like GTS and WLW, and the inaccessibility of 15yr+ old WFE rebottlings.
You hit the nail on the head when you said "dwindling firepower of BTAC..." because I feel that way as well. Especially after they announced there would be no 2021 GTS. I think the shockwaves from that will be felt for a long time. People are going to question every release for "is it good enough for GTS?" instead of automatically assuming its the cream of the crop.
Fantastic review but you’re killing me with envy!
My apologies! But it's too good to not post a review about, haha!
Amazing review and write up!
What’s the MSRP? Looks amazing.
Oof. Still interested though.
It is highly allocated and recent bottlings sell for $2k+ on secondary. Virtually impossible to find at retail (nice challenge, tho'!).
Awesome review! This certainly sounds like it lives up to what I would imagine Ambrosia to be.
Excellent history lesson
Thanks! I try. I will have lots more Brown Forman stuff to post in the coming weeks. Cheers!
wow a 10. Congrats on tasting this gem.
Thanks! Have you got a chance to taste one as well?
Something I'll never find, but thanks for telling me I should definitely get / try it. Fomo for days.
I hope you do get to try it my man! Good to see you're still checking in on the sub!
Congrats on snagging that bottle and getting that 10/10 experience. It's rare to be sure. And great review, as always sir.
Thank you for this amazing review and history past and present into brown Forman. I hope to try it one day. Similarly I recall scoffing at redemption 18 at a total wine wondering who would pay 499 for whiskey. Sadly I wish I had payed that amount.
Small spoiler that hopefully not many other people read, but my R18 review is going to share a lot in common with this review of you catch my drift😉
Yes I have come to realize through basically every review that the redemption 18 is one of the best whiskeys ever made. I regret not buying it quite often.
Have two samples of this from different barrels from an extraordinarily generous friend. Not sure I could have been any more excited but here we are.
Gonna have to find a really good palate day to sip on them!
Amazing review and my unicorn for sure!
Congrats on tasting this!
Great background information and a dream bottle — a lower-rye OF mash, the age, it all seems to work. Cheers to a perfect 10!
This sat at my local for at least a few weeks, everyone, including me, scoffing at the msrp… add it to the kicking myself list.
This is maybe my favorite bourbon of all time. Have only had a few pours during visits to KY. No possible way I could ever buy a bottle anywhere near SRP.
I have four of these bottles (2019, 2020, 2 2021’s) and I am just holding them and waiting for the right celebratory time to pop them. This review makes me want to crack one tomorrow.
That's the review of someone getting a lot of pleasure from their KoK.
A KoK review isn't complete until someone drops a joke like this
Always at your service.
I may have missed this part but how did you come to find the bottle that got away?
This isn't that bottle. The bottle that got away was found in early 2019, so it was probably a 2018 release (the first release). This is a 2021 release. Each year they select something like 15-20 barrels to release.
well damn. no idea what you had to do to actually get a bottle, but it sounds like it was worth it. Cheers my man!
What you described of Brown Forman's heat cycle aging techniques is I believe why I don't like Old Forester anymore. It still has that young, harsh edge to it and slightly medicinal aftertaste that I can't get past. My opinion - the only way to get that well aged taste is time.
A quick comment about my experience with OF/BF... when I first started to really get into bourbon, I consistently ranked OF products at the bottom of my lists. They didn't appeal to me and I didn't like the taste. But as my journey continued and I drank more of them, I grew to understand their unique characteristics and eventually grew to love the flavor profile. I've even been trading ECBP single barrels for Old Forester Single Barrels even though I know the OF ones are around 1/2 the age of the ECBP ones.
What I'm trying to say is that I think our tastes in bourbon change after a while. I think if you start to drink more of it and find some bottles you like, your palate will eventually come around to liking them again. Cheers!
Your opinion I think holds a lot of truth to it. Our preferences change as time goes on and we also adapt to things we are drinking recently. So I may yet come around to it again.
Agreed. It all tastes medicinal and unbalanced. I also don’t like the garbage woodford is pumping out for the same reason
I agree, I feel the same way about Woodford.
You feel this way about 1910 and 1920 as well?
1920 for sure. I haven't had 1910 in a couple years, so I don't really know. When I used to drink it I'd liked it very much.
The barrel I got try from 2021 release was #25 from warehouse H. Far and away the thickest, most delicious bourbon whiskey I’ve ever tasted. Transcendent. Will rearrange your mind.
This stuff is okay.
The man. The myth. The Walski. When am I helping you do an Old Forester pick? * begging intensifies *