I’m continuing my journey along the bottom of the whiskey shelf. Today’s choice spirit: Kentucky Deluxe. The woman behind the counter at the liquor store tried to warn me and get me to pick something else, but this is my chosen profession: ruining my taste buds for the education and entertainment of others.
Founded in 1935 shortly after the end of prohibition, Old Heavenhill Springs Distillery was founded by a group of investors in Bardstown, Kentucky. They were gambling on the idea that alcohol production would be a booming business and invested heavily in being one of the first companies to stand up and service that market. One of those investors was well known distiller Joseph L. Beam, first cousin to Jim Beam, and would become the first master distiller of the facility.
As the years went on, the Shapira family bought out all of the other investors to become the sole owner of the business and changed the name to “Heaven Hill Distillery.” Despite being bought out, the descendants of Joseph Beam remain the master distillers of the facility to this day.
Their primary distilling facility burned down in 1996, burning down 90,000 barrels of whiskey and lighting the creek that feeds the distillery on fire for nearly two miles downstream. The business survived and they purchased a new distillery in Bernheim from Diageo in 1999 where production now takes place, but all aging still takes place at the original Bardstown facility.
The 1935 bet has paid off — big time. Heaven Hill Distillery is currently the biggest family owned distillery in the United States and the second largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. Their flagship brands include Evan Williams and Elijah Craig, and their facility hosts the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
Kentucky Deluxe is technically a “blended whiskey” meaning that it isn’t one of those hifalutin’ “single barrel” products. In fact, right on the back of the label it proudly states that the contents are only actually 20% whiskey and 80% neutral grain spirits.
That whiskey is made from… well, we just don’t know. Corn? Rye? Malted barley? It’s a complete mystery. There’s no details about what the grain bill consists of, and their other products are similarly mysterious so there’s no hints as to the contents.
The neutral grain spirits are similarly mysterious in origin, but since they are listed as separate from the whiskey I assume that they were produced elsewhere. Grain spirits are a nice way of saying they are un-aged and flavorless distillation products. Or, in other words, vodka. Straight alcohol.
So, really, this should technically be called “whiskey flavored vodka” if we’re being honest with ourselves. Since it’s most likely 80% vodka.
There’s a claim that the contents are aged for thirty six months, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s only the whiskey that has been aged or the added neutral spirits as well. I’m also not sure what the spirit has been aged in, since as a whiskey this isn’t required to be placed in a new charred oak barrel like its bourbon counterpart. As far as we know, this could be placed into a stainless steel barrel with a chunk of wood.
Despite all of that alcohol, the spirit is still bottled at only 40% ABV or 80 proof. That’s right in the sweet spot for whiskies, about average compared to others.
There’s nothing of note here. It’s a plain white label with some bare minimum of design elements to the brand name. The bottle is so bland that the bar code on the front is the most interesting part of the label. The bottle is plastic with a plastic screw-on cap.
What’s interesting to me is that the label on this bottle appears to be plastic and waterproof, not simply a paper label. Less likely to be washed off or destroyed in rough handling.
There’s really no smell to the liquid beyond the alcohol, which is very present and very strong. To the point where the old trick of “keep your mouth open while you’re smelling it” doesn’t work anymore. There might be a slight hint of vanilla tinted caramel somewhere in the distance, or it might just be the last of my nose hairs being singed off.
As for the taste, the closest thing I can compare it to is a fresh coat of polyurethane. Initially there’s no taste to the spirit, only a general burning sensation that slowly builds as the liquid sits in your mouth. Then, as that burn dissipates, there’s a distinctly chemical flavor that settles in and stays with you for a little bit.
Given how little actual “whiskey” is in this spirit, I’m more tempted to believe that what I’m tasting is the after effects of the alcohol eating away at the bottle from within than anything deliberate from the producer.
In general, I don’t hate it the same way I hate the Old Crow I reviewed earlier. It isn’t patently offensive, it just isn’t very good at all.
With a little ice and some dilution, the spirit is actually approaching palatable. There’s no new flavors being brought out, but the distinct taste of varnish has retreated further into the background. It’s still there, just not as “in your face” as before.
Don’t get me wrong, it still tastes like I’m in gym class and just face planted onto the gymnasium floor. But with an ice cube, it’s like there’s a mat between my face and the hard wood.
Good news first: the lacquer taste has been vanquished. It is no more. It fought a good fight, but it just wasn’t strong enough for the orange bitters and garnish.
But that’s all you taste at this point. I feel like I could have added some orange bitters to vodka and had the same result. Considering that this is pretty much 80% neutral spirits, I’d say that would be expected.
There’s just too much orange and nothing to balance it out. Pass.
It’s not a Kentucky Mule. It might as well be called a Moscow Mule.
Just like with the Old Fashioned, there’s no flavor from the whiskey added to the ginger beer. It barely has its own flavor to begin with and the ginger beer just completely overpowers what little flavor exists. Which might be a good thing, since the flavor isn’t that good.
At this point I feel like it would be better to just use vodka. Or really anything else.
It’s not great, but it isn’t blatantly offensive. I’d honestly even take a bottle of this over a bottle of Fireball. You can add things to this to make it palatable and drinkable, but on its own I would rather just drink water.
Kentucky Deluxe Blended Whiskey
Owner: Heaven Hill Distillery
Production: Bardstown, KY (aging only)
Classification: Blended whiskey
Grain bill: ??
Aging: 36 months
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $5.99/ 750ml ($0.00799 / ml)
Overall Rating: 2/5
This definitely deserves to be on the bottom of the shelf, but it probably deserves to be a little closer to the front of that shelf than Old Crow.