Kentucky Tavern Straight Kentucky Bourbon – Review

*A sincere thanks to AP & Sazerac for the sample.

After scouring the inter-webs for some historical/hysterical background on Kentucky Tavern, I found out that there was indeed a tavern in Louisville called the Kentucky Tavern. That doesn’t strike me as the most unique name in the world, but I suppose if you woke up there in some kind of alcohol/chemical induced stupor, having no clue where you were, it would help clarify things a bit to hear, “You’re in the Kentucky Tavern.” I mean, under the same circumstances if you woke up and heard, “You’re at Butch’s Place.”, you’d still have no idea where the hell you were and you’d have the added worry of dealing with somebody named “Butch”. So, yeah, apparently there once was a tavern in Kentucky called the Kentucky Tavern, but while this Kentucky Tavern brand of bourbon has been around for quite a while, it’s unclear if there was any real connection.

Kentucky Tavern Straight Kentucky Bourbon is a fairly old and stalwart brand in the whisky world. Though the name was likely used earlier in the 1800’s it was officially registered as a trademark by one James Thompson in 1903. Thompson had snatched up a bankrupt distillery in 1901, renamed it the Glenmore Distillery and proceeded to become a pretty darn successful whiskyman. Kentucky Tavern went on to become Glenmore’s biggest brand. Today, Kentucky Tavern is owned by Sazerac and, while it still displays the Glenmore name on the label, is actually produced at the Barton 1792 distillery and is more of a “value” brand.

The Nose:  Simple, clean, and a somewhat light “bourbon” nose. A juicy orange spiked with cloves along with raisins, vanilla bean ice cream, and roasted corn. Lesser notes of burnt caramel, corn oil, and bright Vietnamese cinnamon. A subtle hint of barrel char, maybe a little burnt popcorn. It’s a little solvent-y, though you might expect that for the price.

The Palate:  Again, fairly straightforward and simple at first with brown sugar, burnt popcorn, vanilla, and a bit of candied citrus. A bit more woody than I expected, dusty cinnamon and clove, sawn oak. A bit of peppery rye towards the end. Again, like the nose, it’s a bit harsh, but maybe a little less so than the price would suggest.

The Finish:  Shortish and a little empty, with a bit of sweetness, a bit of heat and more slightly burnt, woody notes.

Thoughts:  Kind of an old school, inexpensive bourbon. There’s nothing earth-shattering going on here, but really, were you expecting there to be? There wasn’t much evidence of the Barton 1792’s reportedly high-rye mashbill, this one is straightforward, simple and pretty young-ish seeming. At around $12-$17 for 750ml bottle, an obvious comparison would be Evan Williams Black Label, which I like much better.

Kentucky Tavern Straight Kentucky Bourbon


Score: 71


20 thoughts on “Kentucky Tavern Straight Kentucky Bourbon – Review

    1. I think that speaks more to the quality (or lack thereof) of the San Francisco World Spirits Competition than it does to the quality (or lack thereof) of Kentucky Tavern.

  1. For me, a new bourbon drinker, Kentucky Tavern tastes good.It is smooth, tasty, and inexpensive. So-called Bourbon critics may turn their nose up at this bourbon, but I enjoy it and that’s all that matters to me. I suggest that you give it a try. What do you got to lose, ten bucks?

      1. I see what you did there, sir. Bravo! I just gave this a try as well – $14 for a handle with no burn or solvent! My go-to is usually 6 yr old Heaven Hill ($8.99/750ml), but it was cleaned out tonight. This does not give the thick tongue feel as the HH, but mixes right nice with some Coke Zero!

  2. At $9.99/750ML and $12.99 – $14.99/1.75L, here in Evansville, KT is a far better value than your relegating it to a comparison to admittedly better quality Heaven Hill distillery products costing $4 more.
    I was pleasantly surprised to find it superior to Very Old Barton, which itself is inferior to rubbing alcohol.

    1. Well, I don’t know what to tell you, to each his own, I guess. I will say that you’re comparing today’s prices to prices and whiskeys I used as a basis of comparison four years ago. Things change. Besides, around here (Minneapolis,) Evan Williams and Kentucky Tavern are still around the same price.

      As for the Very Old Barton, I think the conventional wisdom is that that one has slipped since they removed the age statement, but I think as long as you’re drinking the 90 proof or above versions, it’s still darn good whiskey for the money, better than Evan Williams, and in my opinion, better than Kentucky Tavern. I might also add that those higher proof VOB’s sell pretty quickly these days, you don’t often see them on the shelves. I see dust on Kentucky Tavern bottles. But that’s the beauty of whiskey isn’t it? One man’s pleasure is another man’s rubbing alcohol.

      1. All true. But here in Evansville, “KT” quickly has become the widely appointed rail bourbon touted as reminiscent of Walkers Deluxe, an old local favorite that’s discontinued. Local liquor store routinely sell KT for $10/750lt, while bars are selling it for $2.50 – 3.50 per pour.
        For a real bargain, check out Old Crow which can be found here for $13 – 16 per 1.75!

      2. Oh, I’ve checked out enough Old Crow in my life. Last time I had it, a few years ago, I was surprised to find it not that bad. I didn’t find it that good either but it wasn’t horrible.

        I thought Kentucky Tavern was a relatively solid bargain pour. I think there are better ones out there, though. Evan Williams Black Label being the first that comes to mind.

        Thanks for the comment!

  3. I wanna give Kentucky Tavern a try to see if it is comparable or better than my daily pour of Benchmark. In AL Kentucky Tavern is a little economical than Benchmark. Can anyone tell me if Kentucky Tavern or Benchmark better?

    1. That is something you can only tell yourself. I’ve not yet tried Benchmark. While they’re both Buffalo Trace products and probably similarly selected and aged, they’re produced at different distilleries, so in theory there should be some noticeable differences. You should give each the ol’ side-by-side and see which one floats your boat.

      Thank you for the comment and if you’re in AL, thank you for electing Jones. Roll Tide.

  4. I went to a higher-end liquor store in a nicer part of town. The proprietor had just expounded to the previous customer that he himself was strictly a bourbon drinker – I was expecting a put-down for my $10/750 bottles. He looked at them for a moment and then said something to the effect of: “That’s a good choice.”

    It wasn’t that it was a great bourbon, but that for my money I really couldn’t do better. He was very kind and didn’t make me feel like crud for buying off the bottom shelf.

    As for the experience of drinking KT, I really couldn’t ask for much more for my money. Are there better bottles out there? Of course. But I can drink this stuff for a long, long time at this price and not feel a twinge of guilt for the money or the experience.

    Please drink your very good $40 – $50 bottles and leave me my quiet evenings with a good book and several shots of KT.

    1. I like this dude- well said! I prefer the cheap Bondeds (EW white, HH green, JTS Brown). I mean, when you think of it, they’re all very similar processes – distill ethanol over and place it in a charred barrel for 4+ years. Not rocket science. I think bourbon peaks at 7-9 years, but then again I’ve never tried 23 y o PVW! KT don’t offend, like our sage author has pointed out. That’s good enough for me.

      1. Hank, I’ll heartily second you on the cheap Bondeds, they’ve been the best value and best kept secret for a long time. Unfortunately, the secret’s out, Bottled-in-Bond is back and those inexpensive Bondeds will soon be more expensive, or will soon be discontinued in favor of some new Bonded brand that will be…more expensive. Stock up!

        As for that 23 PVW, skip it, it’s garbage. I’m not kidding. Ok, I might be exaggerating, it’s not garbage, but it’s really not very good. Certainly not worth the money. It’s consistently completely over-oaked. Some people may claim to like it, but basically they’re just trying to convince themselves that they didn’t just waste a shit-ton of money on a mediocre bottle of overhyped booze.


    2. Sam, give it time, your Kentucky Tavern will either be re-branded and bumped up in price, or phased out completely, only to have the same juice used in a new, cooler sounding bourbon…with the price bumped up. Either way, the bourbon industry is cashing in right now, if you don’t like the idea of spending $40 on a bottle, pretty soon you’ll just be having your quiet evenings with a good book and that’s it. If Kentucky Tavern’s working for you, I hope to hell it stays around and works for you for a long time. There’s almost nothing better than a glass of whiskey and a good book.

  5. I can’t find KT straight bourbon here in St Louis, just special reserve, which is overly sweet. My go to is Old Crow. Mixed with Pepsi, I can’t tell it apart from Jim Beam white label.

    1. Scott, I know your post is about 8 months old but if you’re still looking for KT try Total Wine, Randall’s or A1 Wine & Spirits. All three normally have it on the shelves.

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