Pure Kentucky Bourbon 2006 Review [In Depth]

Pure Kentucky Bourbon 2006

Alex author
Founder, writer
pure kentucky 2006 header

Pure Kentucky Bourbon 2006 Details

Distillery: Willett (sourced from unknown Kentucky distillery)

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky

Alcohol: 53.5%

Composition: Unknown

Aged: 10.5 years

Color: 1.6/2.0 on the color scale (mahogany, henna notes)

Price: I paid $53

From the company website:

There’s a site, but there’s no real description.

Pure Kentucky Bourbon 2006 overview

Well well, what do we have here? You already know what this is from the title, but when I found this bottle in Japan, I pondered that question for 20 minutes as I tried to figure out if I should buy it for $37. I’m guessing that you’d resoundingly say yes, but I struggled for a bit…but for kind of a lame reason.
Backing up, Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon has been sold for decades by Willett, best known for their purple top bourbons and other old-school bottlings (don’t even know the names) that are next-level thirst traps, largely because of some of the insane Kentucky bourbons they were able to source decades ago.
These days, they also distill, age, and sell a range of bourbons such as Old Bardstown, Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill, and Willett Pot Still that you can often find on shelves today. And of course they have their green top cask strength small batch rye, that starts at 4 years old.
This particular bottle of Pure Kentucky XO starts to roll back the clock on what Willett used to sell. Unlike today’s version, which throws out the generic small batch and batch number, the older ones apparently provide two dates, which I assume are the barreling and dump date. I’d never seen that before with this brand, even one from around 2012 (I think), so I’m guessing Willett stopped doing that years ago.
This one, batch 06-61, was barreled 1/15/96 and dumped 7/12/06 making it’s about 10.5 years old. These are the types of details that make me think single barrel, although Willett may just have used multiple barrels barrelled on the same day. I’ve never heard of a company taking that type of approach for small batch, but it’s certainly unique.
pure kentucky 2006 back
A bottle this old of Pure Kentucky brings up a point of speculation – what source did Willett use? Willett is and was known to source barrels from all over Kentucky, especially Heaven Hill. If it was sourced from Heaven Hill, then it’s pre-fire Heaven Hill. If it’s from somewhere else, well…it’s still old bourbon from 1996 and that’s really cool regardless. Whisky Auctioneer provides some additional information that might useful for you as well.
Just so it’s documented, this bottle, and I’m guessing older releases of Pure Kentucky XO, has a twist top under the blue wax. I agonized over whether to buy it because I was so concerned about possibly dealing with a broken cork. I was traveling so I didn’t have the gear to remove and strain a broken cork, and wanted to avoid that issue. Thankfully, I found a video that showed it had a twist top, so I bought it, opened it with no fuss (minus the difficult wax), and enjoyed it not long after buying it.
Let’s find out if the $37 price is too good to be true in this 2006 Pure Kentucky XO review.
I hope that the photos capture it adequately, but man this is some dark bourbon
pure kentucky 2006 castle in focus
Wakayama castle
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Pure Kentucky Bourbon 2006 smell

Whoa, what the heck is this? 2006 Pure Kentucky has dense, slightly funky, and fresh maple syrup (not the fake ones made from corn syrup), super ripe prune and red grapes (that’s kind of funky), vanilla extract, dark oak, cinnamon, slightly burnt caramel nougat, cocoa powder, and toasted corn puff that you might find in caramel. There’s a little bite, but it is 53.5% ABV after all. That’s really strange and interesting.
The prune and date are densely sweet and kind of funky, bordering on Pedro Jimenez sherry or port. In a blind tasting, I’d believe it if someone told me this was finished for a few years in sherry / port. As much as I’ve written, this older Pure Kentucky is tough to explain. It’s a totally new and fascinating style of dark and wacky sweetness.
Swirling and some rest blasts out more slightly earthy maple syrup, ripe and funky date / prune, vanilla extract, caramel nougat, dark and kind of roasted oak, cinnamon, roasted cashews (I swear I smell it), and candied orange peel.
pure kentucky 2006 cat
Yup, that building looks like a cat (Wakayama, Japan)

The scents smells so strange because of how wildly unique (and amazing) they are, yet it all feels oddly familiar like sherry / port-matured Scotch. Some bourbons are date and prune-forward, often wine-finished ones, but Pure Kentucky takes it to another level. It is so in your face.

I also can’t get over that awesome funk that’s everywhere. It’s not sour or rancid, it’s sort of like sherry and/or ripe fruit funk. On top of that, it’s dark, dense, and heavy without the overly roasty, oaky, or burnt scents. Every little drop is cram full of magical character. Henry McKenna 10 Year and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof are very roasty, spicy, and occasionally nutty, but Pure Kentucky isn’t that way. What a wild experience.

Pure Kentucky Bourbon 2006 taste and aftertaste

With my first sip, I taste dense and heavy maple syrup, vanilla extract, dried prune / date, old oak, cinnamon, faint nuttiness, and dark chocolate. Pure Kentucky XO is so rich, thick, sweet, and borderline syrupy. It doesn’t necessarily have much range because it leans in so hard on maple syrup, vanilla, and dark fruit, but the depth of flavor is unmatched. There’s a little heat, but it’s not a big deal.
Yup, the amount of prune, date, and overall dark sweetness reminds me of older sherry-aged single malt Scotch (e.g., Craigellachie 21 Year) or the densely fruity and kind of earthy Kavalan Sherry Single Cask Taiwanese Whiskey.
“Chewing” douses me with dense maple syrup, funky ripe prune and date, vanilla extract, caramel nougat with toasted crunchies, earthy and dry old oak, cinnamon, and dark chocolate. Just whoaaaaaaaaa, it’s a lot to process because it’s so dark and viscous, and strangely incredible.
pure kentucky 2006 train
I’ll say it again, 2006 Pure Kentucky XO lacks any semblance of range, but instead expertly specializes in a few notes. Interestingly, it doesn’t have quite the same level of old earthiness and dryness that older bourbons from the 90’s often have.
Well…the old earthiness and dryness is sort of there, but less pronounced. And just like older “dusty” bourbon, the oak provides a lot of dark refinement without any astringency. Or, there’s just so much sweetness that it’s actually there but shoved to the side while the maple syrup and dark fruit happily prance around freely. It’s sort of feels like eating alcoholic dates.
Seriously, this had to have been finished in Oloroso sherry for a year. I’m being slightly dramatic with that point because it definitely wasn’t finished, but finished bourbon today, like Joseph Magnus Bourbon, isn’t even this fruity. I’m dumbstruck by the flavors.
The aftertaste starts with maple syrup, roasted oak, prune, caramel nougat, and hints of nuts and grass. It’s all very sweet but also a little drying. Even though the source isn’t stated, the faint nuts and grass make me think Heaven Hill. I wonder if Willett even knows anymore…yeah they probably do.
And after “chewing” there’s maple syrup, ripe date, roasted oak, cinnamon, and cocoa powder with long-lasting ripe date, oak, and cinnamon. It leaves a slightly stickiness (non chill filtered?), as if the syrupy date sweetness is stuck in my mouth.

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Pure Kentucky Bourbon 2006 Rating

Top Shelf +
Huh…what did I just drink…can bourbon really smell and taste like this? 2006 Pure Kentucky XO has to be the most maple syrup, date, and prune-forward bourbon I’ve ever had, bordering on 20+ year old sherry-matured Scotch, but even heavier. It’s so distinctive, heavy, rich, wacky, funky, and absolutely superb that I can’t believe it was sold in stores at one time, and probably wasn’t expensive.
I might go as far to say that Pure Kentucky XO 2006 may be one of the most date / prune-forward non-finished bourbons of all time. I’m not even sure if the sherry / port / cognac-finished Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend is even this densely fruity. I love finished bourbons, but I’ve never had anything like this.
My best guess is that Willett sourced barrels from Heaven Hill (with little to no certainty). The only giveaway I can identify is the slight nuttiness at times, and I really mean slightly. That’s really flimsy evidence at best.
If it turns out to be Heaven Hill, I know that today’s Heaven Hill bourbons is often densely nutty, caramel-y, and/or spicy (e.g., Henry McKenna 10 Year, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof), but Pure Kentucky XO is out there doing an entirely different thing. Even pre-fire Ezra Brooks 12 Year (barreled 2007) was more roasty, oaky, and chocolatey, although it too had a fruitier side to it, albeit less fruity.
This has to be the best bourbon I’ve ever purchased for around $40, in the same general range as today’s Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Knob Creek Single Barrel, and Stagg Jr (when it was…normal).
I know I’m a broken record at this point, but I’m going to stomp on those records some more – no one makes 10 year old bourbon like this anymore. 10+ year old bourbon these days is usually so much more oaky, roasty, spicy, and earthy, and far less fruity, round, nuanced, developed. It’s a different generation of bourbon.
The only non-finished bourbon I can think of that’s in the general vicinity is a superb barrel of Widow Jane 12 Year Single Barrel Bourbon. As fruity as that was, the viscosity wasn’t all there. It just takes sherry / port finishes to remotely close these days.
I’m going to have to bookmark this particular dense maple syrup and ripe date / prune profile in my mind for the future, because I want to try to find something like this again.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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