King of Kentucky Bourbon 2023 Review
Since its relaunch in 2018 (original labels date to 1881), Brown-Forman’s King of Kentucky has become one of bourbon’s most sought-after — and celebrated — limited bottlings. The single-barrel releases are cask strength and generally aged at or over 14 years.
King of Kentucky received rave reviews right out of the gate, and its highly allocated nature only added to the allure; most releases are limited to well under 4,000 bottles, the majority of which are available only in the Kentucky market.
As with all King of Kentucky bourbons, the 2023 release is made from a mash bill of 79 percent corn, 11 percent rye, and 10 percent malted barley. This year’s series of single barrels all come from the same distillation date — July 19, 2007 — and carry a 16-year age statement.
Today, we’re tasting a sample from 2023’s Barrel #22, which is bottled at 125.8 proof and Brown-Forman calls a “representative barrel.” Let’s see if the King can hold its crown for another year.
King of Kentucky Bourbon 2023: Stats and Availability
There were 51 total barrels in the 2023 King of Kentucky release, and each bottle carries a suggested retail price of $300. (That’s up from last year’s $250.) However, given the highly allocated nature of this bourbon — and high demand — prices on retail shelves and the secondary market can quickly reach north of $1,400. Simply put, it’s both one of the most sought-after and limited releases on the bourbon calendar. The laws of supply and demand will have a field day.
Most of the bottles will be made available to retailers, bars, and restaurants in Kentucky. Some “limited quantities” will be released to select accounts in Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, New York (metro), Ohio, and Tennessee.
King of Kentucky Bourbon 2023 Review
As with all of VinePair’s whiskey reviews, this was tasted in a Glencairn glass and rested for at least five minutes.
Things start off with mint chocolate chip, a bit like fresh scooped ice cream, which is a familiar note I often encounter with King of Kentucky bottlings. That’s backed by a captivating mix of herbs and oak, different ends of a vegetal spectrum. Baked pear, vanilla extras, and cloves are up next, with a light sweetness akin to warm demerara simple syrup.
More time in the glass brings elements similar to brandy, with damp, earthen notes, and fresh-picked mushrooms. If you told me this had been finished in an Armagnac barrel, I might believe you, as those elements are quite prominent the longer the spirit rests in glass.
It noses at about its proof, but it’s not astringently hot or so heavy on the ethanol as to numb. If anything, the slightly minty, menthol quality is refreshing and opens the nostrils.
Dark butterscotch, cocoa, and semi-sweet chocolate kick things off on the first and second sips. There’s a cream-soda-like quality here, almost (but not quite) effervescent, the thick mouthfeel coating the tongue and punctuating with flavor from front to back in short order.
Further in, and nearly as prominent, are sweet pipe tobacco, cooked oatmeal, and rice pudding; it’s at once leathery, grainy, and mildly sweet. These stand somewhat apart from the oak, which gradually builds with each sip and dots the end of each sip, playing backup instead of lead fiddle. Previous King of Kentucky batches have seen the age and bountiful flavors arrive a bit more equally, and while they’re not completely out of sync here, they fall just short of that truly superlative harmony.
The same clove and baked pear notes from the nose return, albeit not immediately, adding welcome fruit and spice. Those transition again to rich chocolate at the back and sides of the mouth.
Chocolate continues from the back palate, coupled with spearmint and nuts — macadamia, hazelnut, and cashew — leading to a lengthy and fatty finish. The finish gets slightly sweeter and slightly oakier with each sip. It’s a lovely and welcome build that features on just a few annual releases, but to me, it’s become a King of Kentucky hallmark.
A drop of water actually helps bolster the oak, morphing the butterscotch to a dark and decadent caramel. It can be tempting to leave such a rare and treasured bourbon unadulterated, but a judicious drop or two of water can only help here.
King of Kentucky Bourbon 2023 Rating
It’s worth reemphasizing that King of Kentucky is a single barrel product; flavors and experience will absolutely differ from one barrel to the next. This sample from Barrel 22 is hopefully representative of the broader 2023 release, but results may vary!
That said, 2023’s King of Kentucky is a delicious, rich, and vibrant bourbon that brings familiar flavor with a few tiny curveballs. The chocolate on the palate stayed bitter for just brief seconds longer than I would have preferred, and at times the flavors weren’t as composed as some previous barrels I’ve sampled.
That’s tough criticism, and frankly, there isn’t a lot not to love here. Though this isn’t the best King of Kentucky barrel I’ve tried, the expression still stands head and shoulders above the average bourbon. If you’re lucky enough to snag a bottle, I can only encourage you to open it and share immediately.