Taste Test: Kentucky Owl Failed at Making a Bourbon Taste Like Scotch. You Should Drink It Anyway.

Inspiration and concept are all well and good, and sometimes they are even crucial to a whiskey’s success. In the case of the new Kentucky Owl Maighstir Edition, however, the inspiration has a tenuous relationship with the actual bourbon in the bottle. The good news is that said bourbon is quite good, and ultimately that’s the most important thing.

Maureen Robinson was recently named the new master blender for Kentucky Owl, and she knows her stuff having worked in the scotch whisky industry for nearly 50 years (she retired as master blender for single malts and blends at Diageo in 2022). Robinson is replacing current Kentucky Owl master blender John Rhea, the former COO of Four Roses, and the two worked together on this new whiskey which is the third release in the brand’s international collaboration series (previous releases were the St. Patrick’s Edition and Takumi Edition).

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The stated goal of Maighstir (Gaelic for “master”) was to capture the spirit, essence, and (if possible) flavor of scotch via a blend of different bourbons. In this case, the blend consists of four-, five-, eight-, and nine-year-old bourbon, one of which had a wheated mash bill, which was bottled at 100 proof. That’s a difficult task considering the inherent differences between scotch and bourbon. Bourbon is made from a mash bill that is mostly corn and aged in new charred oak barrels, while single malt scotch is made from 100 percent barley and aged in used casks, and blended scotch is a blend of malt and grain whiskies also aged in used casks. Still, the concept is nothing if not interesting and unique, and if anyone is up for the challenge, it might as well be Robinson and Rhea.

All that being said, this whiskey will require more than a stretch of the imagination to pick up notes of scotch—specifically blended scotch, according to Robinson. She thought the wheated bourbon element brought citrus notes to the palate while playing against the oldest whiskey in the blend, which to her registered as a true representation of bourbon. “When you nose it, it’s almost like you’re nosing a scotch,” she told Robb Report. “You’ve got lots of citrus and a sweetness of stewed fruits. Then the bourbon attributes start coming through, like sweet vanilla and oak, but not overtly oaky.”

This is a good bourbon, and extends the successful track record Kentucky Owl has established since the departure of one its founders, Dixon Dedman. And while I get the need for this concept to make the whiskey stand out, I struggled to flavors that read like blended scotch here. The thing is, Robinson has come up with a damn good product, blending sourced components into a balanced, complex, flavorful bourbon that sings with notes of caramel, oak, baked apple, and toasted almonds.

Maybe this whiskey is more about bringing a scotch blender’s methodology to bourbon, in the way that other releases from Kentucky Owl, as well as brands like Beam Suntory’s Legent, have worked with Japanese blenders to create new whiskeys. But that’s not really how Maighstir Edition was pitched, and that might be a sticking point for some whiskey fans. And, given the track record of other Kentucky Owl releases, this may very well skyrocket past its $150 SRP on the secondary market. But if you find a bottle, forget about the scotch inspiration (or don’t and see what notes you can pick up), and just enjoy a high-quality new bourbon blend.

Score: 90

  • 100: Worth trading your first born for

  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet

  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram

  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market

  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable

  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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