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Kentucky Vintage

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Kentucky Vintage

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Kentucky Vintage

When I tried the Kentucky Vintage for the first time (about a year ago), I felt it was very ordinary. I disrespectfully even called it Willett’s bottom shelf product. After all, it is dirt cheap and in my honest opinion an entry level bourbon. But a friend in the States – with whom I sometimes trade samples – told me to drink a quarter bottle and then leave it for a few months. So that it was I did. The bottle has been opened for four months now. Second chance? Here we go.

Well, who would have thought? The nose is quite pleasant now. A touch of woodsmoke precedes some corn on the barbecue, a touch of red fruit appears with a hint of marzipan and the rye in the mix offers up a soft spiciness. The smoldering wood and overpowering caramel I had the first time around are gone. Good!

It is honeysweet on violets (I mean the purple candy), sweet butter and something floral, but also quite alcoholic. The spices scream a bit now, nipping my euphoria in the bud.

On the finish – which is not long, but pleasant enough – I get another surge of woodsmoke.

Admittedly, it gets a lot better on the nose, but I still find it somewhat rough and unbalanced on the palate.


It may sound a bit disrespectful, but the Kentucky Vintage is the cheapo bourbon from Willett’s. A dirt cheap entry level bourbon. Can you taste that?

The nose is quite alcoholic with loads of caramel, a hint of corn on the grill and a rye driven spiciness. Surprising amount of oak. Woodsmoke. Make that smoldering wood. It is far from bad, but to be honest completely uninteresting as well. So far, the nose fulfills the low expectations.

The arrival is syrupy, honeysweet and immediately reminds me of parma violets. Again quite alcoholic and that does not really work. Soft, sweet butter, corn, flowers. But one thing comes after the other, if you know what I mean. It is almost like the tastes are not well integrated. The corn dominates, which is not an advantage. And the alcohol burn is too much, in my opinion.

The finish is short and smoky, but quite pleasant.

Only the finish was agreeable with me, to be honest. Last seen at 33 EUR, which I find too much for this stuff. Am I being too harsh? I think not.

@Mark When I first opened my bottle I found it heavy, closed but with an incredible mouthfeel. It took 2 months to open. It is for me one of the bottle that changed the most and for the better. Far better. Obviously my experience differs from yours but I would realy like to know what you will think of it in 2 months.

@Robert99 unfortunately I will not be able to make that comparison as I tried it from a sample that I poured at a recent festival. But I have heard other people making the same comment, so maybe I should try to track down a bottle and give it another go.


Kentucky Vintage is one of the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers 'Small Batch' products, along with Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, and Pure Kentucky XO. I reviewed one other batch of Kentucky Vintage, and found it the most over-oaked bourbon, indeed, the most over-oaked whisk(e)y I have ever encountered. This sample from my sister's newly opened bottle is much much better, and like the batch which Jim Murray rated at 94.5 pts. There is no age statement on the bottle, but most reports are that this is at least 17 years old

Nose: deep rich maple, sweet, but not over-sweet, spicy, but in good balance

Taste: this translates onto the palate as oak a mile deep, but beautifully mellow...not the least intrusive nor overdone. Make no mistake, the oak influence in Kentucky Vintage is often some of the strongest you will see in any whisk(e)y, but in the case of batch 12-116 the flavours are delicious and the oak is mature, but neither overripe nor bitter

Finish: beautiful sweet maple finish, with plenty of rye spice to keep it in contrast. Sweet, long, and the best possible manifestation of "oaky"

Balance: some people like the flavour of oak, others not so much. The oak here is profound, but also clean. If you like the basic flavours coming from new oak, then this is a wonderfully rich whiskey, and very highly recommended. Beware though, some batches may not be as good. Note that Kentucky Vintage is not a commonly sold whiskey, but, where it is offered it is really very inexpensive, especially for a 17 yo bourbon. So if you see a bottle of Kentucky Vintage for sale, typically at around $ 25-30 in the US you should consider whether you feel lucky. If so you might get a fantastic bottle on the cheap. If you crap out on your bet, you may wind up with something with just too much oak. Good luck!

Still working on the first bottle I bought. I got one of the good ones.

@KMAK28, excellent to hear! A good batch of Kentucky Vintage represents a serious "steal of a deal" in value for money.


Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd., a family company owned by the Kulsveens, is currently bottling and marketing bourbon and rye whiskeys procured from other distillers. KBD brands include the Johnny Drum series of bourbons, the Old Bardstown series of bourbons, the Vintage bourbons and ryes, Willett Pot Still Bourbon, and four "small batch" bourbons: Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, Pure Kentucky XO, and Kentucky Vintage. The Willett single barrel bourbons and ryes are usually barrels privately sold by KBD to others and bottled by KBD.

For me, there is good news and bad news with KBD. The good news is that most of their products are quite good. The bad news for a connoisseur is that you never are quite certain where the whiskey came from. Why is this bad news? First, it is a little unsatisfying not to know the story and origins of the whiskey. Second, if a brand has no firm distillery roots, it can change distilleries and character without notice. Where I live Kentucky Vintage is the hardest to find of the four KBD "small batch" bourbon brands.

The reviewed bottle is from Batch # 10-46. There is no age statement on the bottle, other than "...allowed to age long beyond that of any ordinary bourbon...." Wikipedia reports Kentucky Vintage to be 17 years old. The reviewed bottle has been open approximately 12 months with only about 50 ml consumed prior to tasting for this review.

Body: medium

Colour: quite dark and woody

Nose: strong vanilla with maple, quite sweet, mostly middle and high notes. A little dried fruit. Very strong but undifferentiated rye spice.

Palate: sweet, woody, actually too much wood, continues with the undifferentiated spice and the medium and high notes. The vanilla is less in the mouth than is present in the nose.

Finish: pleasant, medium length, but with a bit of a bitter note, probably from the wood.

Balance: overall, this is a nice bourbon, but the bitterness on the finish detracts from the total effect. This batch of Kentucky Vintage just seems to have been too long in the wood. A few additional bass notes would also be helpful here.

Jim Murray rated a different batch of Kentucky Vintage 94.5 pts in his 2012 Whisky Bible. Batch # 10-46 doesn't get to that level for me.

I love the nose on this..it has great legs too...it just hangs on the side of the glass for what feels like minutes. I agree with the palate as well with sweet and woody, although I tasted the vanilla through the entire process. Its so funny you say that it 'stayed too long in the wood". The aftertaste to me, felt like...and please dont laugh at how crude this is but, like when I used to chew on my pencils during a test. It had that nasty wooded taste....almost like a popsicle stick taste...so I think you nailed it....bitter follow through. It may make someone gasp, but this has been relegated to one of my "bourbon and coke" bourbons.

@stevesmyth30, I understand your consideration of a too-woody batch of Kentucky Vintage for bourbon and coke, or some other type of mixer. I was able to buy this bottle of Kentucky Vintage for less than $ 30. It could stand to reason that these are probably not the best barrels if one can buy 17 year old bourbon for under $ 30. I don't dispute, though, that Jim Murray might have sampled one of the better batches of it, when he gave it a very high grade this year.

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