*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.