Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Kentucky Senator Spirits, LLC
Distillery: Sourced from undisclosed Kentucky distillery(ies)
Release Date: March 2021
Age: 15 Years
Mashbill: 78.5% Corn, 13% Rye, 8.5% Malted Barley
Color: Tawny Mahogany
Price: $200 (2021)
Kentucky Senator Spirits’ Managers include Andre Regard, an entrepreneur and equine attorney, and Damon Thayer, a Kentucky Senator since 2003. Thayer is a supporter of bills that benefit the alcohol industry, and with his involvement with Kentucky Senator Bourbon that would only seem to further his support for that cause.
According to the company website, “The Kentucky Senator brand was originally distilled and bottled by Crigler & Crigler in Covington, Kentucky, then by Double Springs Distillers, Inc. in Bardstown. Revived by Kentucky Senator Spirits, LLC in 2019, each release of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey will carry the name of an esteemed U.S. Senator from the Bluegrass State.”
The first release is named for Senator Alben W. Barkley of McCracken County. Barkley served as a U.S. Senator (D-Kentucky) from 1927-1949, and then again in 1955 until he passed away in 1956. He served as Vice President of the United States under President Harry S. Truman from 1949-1953.
This first release of Kentucky Senator is a (very) small batch bourbon consisting of only 1,350 bottles. It was distilled, aged, and bottled in Kentucky. The bottle in review is number 1,264.
A hint of cinnamon bark combines with aged oak to form a light spicy base. Vestiges of graham cracker and toasted bread offer a fleeting moment of complexity. The unembellished combination of scents is straightforward in its delivery, highlighting aged oak with just a bit of additional depth.
Punchy rye spice teases initially, though it is quickly overshadowed by seasoned oak, clove, and toasted marshmallow. A dash of cinnamon tickles the taste buds, which combines with a hint of caramel to provide a balance of sweet and spice. Like the nose, the palate is straightforward in its delivery, hinting towards the bourbon’s age but finding an enjoyable balance between oak, sweet, and spicy flavors.
The bourbon is not shy here, as tongue-gripping spice takes shape making the bourbon’s 107 proofpoint known. Accented by rye, cinnamon, and dab of baking spices, the spicy smorgasbord meets more savory dry flavors of tobacco and charred oak as the finish persists. Long, complex, and delicious, the finish is unequivocally the highlight of the sip.
While older Kentucky-sourced bourbons are popping up in various forms recently, the quantities are often relatively small. Kentucky Senator joins others such as Knob Creek 15 Year, Blue Run 13 Year, Chicken Cock 15 Year, and Three Chord Whiskey Drummer, to name a few. Kentucky Senator shares the same mashbill as Chicken Cock 15 Year, and is very close to Knob Creek 15 Year. Its proofpoint is second lowest among those listed, but certainly packs a punch at 107, especially in the finish where it really takes shape.
While it does highlight oak, it doesn’t come across overly oaky as its 15 years in barrels might suggest, especially given the buildup of spice that overshadows the oak as it transitions into the finish. In fact, it doesn’t really veer too far in any direction - it’s not overly sweet, not overly dry, not over proofed or under proofed, and not even overly spicy for that matter (though that is its most notable quality). Instead, it manages to find a middle ground among all of these flavor characteristics. Because of this, it’s not a bombastic bourbon, but is instead more matter-of-fact and to the point. This lands it within the range of those other high aged Kentucky bourbons mentioned, and will ultimately please those who prefer a more traditional and straightforward flavor profile who enjoy a bourbon with solid oak underpinnings.
Kentucky Senator is a prime example of bourbon’s growing demand, and the fact that the market has changed from what it was just 5-10 years ago. At only 1,320 bottles for this release, it will easily fetch its asking price of $200 per bottle and then some. Notably, it's lower priced than Chicken Cock 15 Year ($300), and about the same as Three Chord Whiskey Drummer ($190), though it's more than Blue Run 13 Year ($170) and quite a bit more than Knob Creek 15 Year ($100). Of course due to availability and timing of releases few people, if any, reading this could go to a store and actually choose from these bourbons at these prices. The comparison merely supports the fact that Kentucky Senator's pricing is not all that surprising, and certainly within the range of recent, comparable releases.
It’s also the first release from the company, and with that reason will turn heads. Few kick off their inaugural release with a $200 15 year old Kentucky sourced bourbon...only to then have the challenge to follow it up with a second release. In the end it is a nicely balanced, high aged bourbon, but it’s a splurge, plain and simple.
Kentucky Senator’s inaugural release is a 15 year old Kentucky bourbon that is like the best of our politicians - nicely balanced, straightforward, and to the point.
We're beginning to see more limited release, high aged, and thankfully (relatively) high proof Kentucky bourbons hit the market. Unfortunately, the trend supports a high price point of entry and volumes are relatively small, so the bourbons certainly are not accessible to all. However, with more well known high aged limited releases such as Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and the Van Winkle line either inaccessible or outlandishly expensive (pick your poison), these one-off high aged releases like Kentucky Senator offer a glimmer of hope. Small batch blending, barrel selection, and proof variation can yield some gems from time to time. And if your finger is on the pulse, finding releases like this around asking price might require a quick trigger, but the chance seems to present itself. On the other hand, $200 for a single bottle of bourbon is a lot, and quite frankly more than anyone really needs to spend. But exploring bourbon isn't about what anyone needs, so whether a bottle is ever worth the splurge is a decision we all face, and one each of us has to make on our own.