Review: Kentucky Owl Mardi Gras XO Cask Rye

First St. Patrick’s Day and now Mardi Gras. What holiday will Kentucky Owl celebrate next? (Arbor Day! -Ed.) Kentucky Owl Mardi Gras XO Cask debuted late last fall, alongside another pricey bottling, Batch 12 Bourbon, and well in advance of the Big Easy’s famous Carnival season. It’s been several years since Stoli offered a Kentucky Owl Rye, so it was surely a welcome surprise to fans, although the brand isn’t exactly telegraphing a big return for the label. Described as “an extremely small release,” I might not hold my breath for more rye to come, which Stoli will surely tell you is factored into the price. As for the vitals, this is an 11-year-old sourced Kentucky straight rye finished for over a year in casks that previously held Bayou XO Rum. Ever since Angel’s Envy popularized the style, we’ve encountered several rum-finished rye whiskeys from different producers over the years, but never one quite this old (at least not to my knowledge). Does it justify such a hefty admission price? Let’s taste and find out.

On the nose, this rye is expressive and rich, reminiscent of the earliest batches with plenty of dark baking spice and toffee to complement and balance the minty rye spice. It doesn’t come across immediately as a rum-finished expression with the secondary aging showing a deft integration with a delicate, torched sugar sweetness and a mildly tropical component – bananas foster almost – that works nicely with the rye’s clove and spearmint high tones. For a rye at this proof, the palate is surprisingly gentle. Initial notes of Demerara syrup, grated cinnamon, and warm rye bread give way to pie spice and a soft, peppery warmth. Like the aroma, the rum finishing hasn’t really contributed any unique flavors, but it has clearly added a deep, brown sugar dimension to the experience. The finish arrives with a flourish of rye spice and lingering notes of dark vanilla bean. While it’s hard at times to find the rum influence, you’ll get no complaints from me on the quality of this rye. But for the asking price, you can buy a whole lotta drinks on Bourbon Street, for you and your friends and probably their friends, too.

102.8 proof.

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