kentucky owl rye batch 1 review

Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1 11 Year

kentucky owl rye batch 1

Distillery: Kentucky Owl (sourced)

Type & Region: Rye, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 55.3%

Composition: Unknown

Aged: 11 years in virgin American white oak

Color: 1.3/2.0 on the color scale (russet muscat)

Price: $130 MSRP in 2017-2018

From the Kentucky Owl website:

“The nose on this rye has elements of sweet pine, honey, nougat, vanilla, cloves and lavender. Oaky undertones, subtle cedar saw dust or fresh split cedar. Rich in consistency and not forwardly spicy on the nose. It immediately coats the entire palate and nutmeg and cinnamon give way to pepper spice with vanilla on the front and anise across the middle. Subtle cinnamon spice clings to the finish.”

Company Website

kentucky owl rye batch 1 overview

I’m a few years late with this review, but hear me out. Kentucky Owl 11 Year Rye Batch 1 was released in late 2017 and it never crossed my mind to buy a bottle until years later. I had never heard of it, and even if I had seen it, I would have been deterred by the hefty $130 price tag at the time. Years later, I heard the occasional compliment about this and one day in early 2021 somehow found a bottle sitting on a store shelf at MSRP and bought it out of curiosity.


Batch one is a blend of at least 11 year old Kentucky rye, although I’ve heard rumors that there’s a lot more older whiskey in the blend. As of 2017, there was a short list of Kentucky distilleries that could provide this: Buffalo Trace, Barton, Wild Turkey, and Jim Beam. My best guess is Barton and/ or Beam because Barton historically sold a lot of older rye to High West for Double Rye! and Rendezvous Rye, and Jim Beam’s 2016 Booker’s Rye was 13 years old, so they had older stock. Regardless of the blend, what matters now is whether I like the whiskey and if I was a total fool to buy this. There have been 3 releases since, but I’m going back to the beginning in this Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1 review. 

kentucky owl rye batch 1 smell

My heavens, wow this nose leaves an incredible first impression: very dark and rich orange, maraschino cherry, licorice, candied pineapple, vanilla, marshmallow, rose petals, honeydew, anise, oak, and cinnamon that completely take over my nose. The nose is sweet and fruit-forward with almost no vegetal and earthy dill, caraway seed, rosemary, or thyme, making it very different from most other ryes I’ve had. The 11 years of aging offer a subtle yet fragrant and lovely underlying darkness and oakiness that adds layers of depth without taking over or being unpleasant. After 45 minutes resting in the glass, the rye is very calm and so easy to enjoy in abundance.


Swirling brings out so many candied yet dark fruits – orange, apple, cherry, strawberry, and pineapple followed by dark and sweet licorice, charred oak, clove, cinnamon, marshmallow, and floral rose (unique and interesting). Swirling also brings out some underlying old oaky must, sweet smoke, and earthiness. It’s not explosively oaky like Woodford Reserve Very Fine Rare Bourbon, but the oak holds up to the sweetness and adds a ton of depth. Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1 gives me Armagnac vibes with densely dark citrus, dark fruits, and soft yet rich and old oakiness that isn’t so charred. It’s all so captivating, making this one of the best noses I’ve smelled on a rye whiskey. I didn’t know I had a preferred rye profile, but this is definitely it. 

kentucky owl rye batch 1 taste & aftertaste

Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1 comes out guns-blazing with huge blasts of rich and floral honey, licorice, dried citrus peel, marshmallow, cherry, strawberry, honeydew, oak, clove, and cinnamon. This rye has virtually no earthy or vegetal notes I’d expect from rye – pretty unique and captivating. Occasional charred oak, cinnamon, and nutmeg bite nicely contrast the big candied sweetness, all with not much heat. These are all signs of an exceptionally matured and blended whiskey – it’s incredible.


“Chewing” gives me very expressive and rich floral honey, licorice, rose, dried citrus, cherry, baked apple, roasted oak, cinnamon, clove, and fennel. Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1 has a slightly dry and medicinal old Armagnac-like woody quality that I really like – part dried pine and part dried ginseng that probably comes from the oaky and lightly vegetal rye. The oak and rye influence build so the flavors become a tad more earthy, oaky, and medicinal with each sip and sometimes turn into a gentle Islay peat that’s part ash and smoke. The heat, or really lack of it, continues to be reserved and give me ample time to savor every immaculate flavor. Dang, Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1 is so unique, interesting, and outrageously fantastic that I keep saying wow with every sip. It’s constantly evolving, growing, and grabbing even more of all my attention. 


The finish eases into sweet and floral honey, cherry, orange, and candied licorice that lasts for ages, reminding me of Jolly Ranchers. “Chewing” leaves long lasting honey, candied cherry, licorice, and dried oak that turns into light dried ginseng, eucalyptus, and pine that complement the sweetness. It’s all super sweet and amazing. Even when I stepped away for a few minutes to take care of an errand mid-review, the finish just kept going and going. After my third or fourth sip, I get some light lingering Islay peaty smoke and earthiness. Wow, yes, amazing, four thumbs up.

Place on the Whiskey Shelf

Top Shelf +

Wow…Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1 is heavenly: the best rye I’ve ever had up till now. If I were to create my own rye whiskey, I would aspire to create something as good as this. Every smell and taste is purely magical, expressive, complex, and so easy to appreciate and savor, making me say “wow” every time. I wonder what this might have been like at a slightly higher ABV, as it’s not confirmed to be cask strength / barrel proof, but clearly nothing is lost at this “paltry” 55.3%. Actually, the slightly lower ABV might be a significant factor in it being so easy to appreciate. 


A major part of Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1’s allure is how it brings a unique twist to rye, often veering into Armagnac territory with very dense and dark citrus and dried ginseng that make me enjoy it that much more. Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye has a similar personality, but is under-developed and under-proofed in comparison. Kentucky Owl Rye is just so good that I acquired another bottle, unfortunately not quite at retail. I hold onto hope that I’ll find another one at retail, but I doubt it will happen again. Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1 is special, magical, amazing, immaculate, superb…the list of superlatives goes-on.

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