Kentucky Owl Smartass Timeline Graph

Why I Will Never Buy Kentucky Owl (Again)

In Banter by Matt Self22 Comments

So The Whiskey Wash reported yesterday the acquisition of Kentucky Owl by Stoli Group USA, parent company S.P.I. Group. I’m not a real journalist I just play one online, but after surfing around on all of the S.P.I. Group related websites; this appears to be the first whiskey related brand for the company based in Luxembourg. That is saying something considering S.P.I. Group owns over 300 brands. Stoli group is best known for flavored vodka, not a “super-premium bourbon” as their press release describes Kentucky Owl. I like the Kentucky Owl that I have tried. It’s good. It’s overpriced for what it is, but it is good. One problem for me is that Stoli Group USA plans to take this from 15-20 barrels per batch that are sourced and aged distillate to national and international distribution. Where in the world are they going to find that much “super-premium bourbon” you may ask?

I certainly asked that question, and the answer is they won’t find it anywhere. This is a company that sells flavored vodka in droves. They know how to market horse piss. And they apparently peddle horse piss all over the world, so I am sure they can craft a story that will be compelling in the far corners of the world. So for all of you people in Azerbaijan that may be reading this post in 2020 after seeing “The Wise Man’s Bourbon” for the first time…Stoli Group USA is buying shit barrels and screwing with them to try and make them palatable, or they are flat out lying to you that the whiskey is “super-premium.”

I can’t blame the owners of the Kentucky Owl brand for selling. They pulled out some old pictures of a hundred-year-old, defunct, family-owned brand. They did some updating to the label. They bought some barrels from somewhere and dressed them up. Bottled and released them and the height of the bourbon boom in a limited release only in Kentucky at barrel proof. And S.P.I. probably offered them enough money to take care of multiple generations down the line. Bravo, Kentucky Owl.

This whole story reminded me of California Vineyards Inc. You probably know them better as the brand they started and owned: Black Maple Hill. Back in the 1990s bourbon wasn’t a big deal. Excess production was laying around aging because no one was buying it. So for a few thousand bucks, a bottling company connection, and a few TTB filings, you could bottle up some really old whiskey that tastes amazing and sell it for $100/bottle on retail shelves as “super-premium whiskey.” Has anyone asked Drew Kulsveen if he’ll sell a barrel recently? Will you make sure to record a video on your phone of his response? I’m assuming there will be some frothing at the mouth and throwing of things.

YOU CANNOT BUY REALLY REALLY RIDICULOUSLY GOOD WHISKEY ANYMORE. Not on store shelves. Not in gift shops. Sure as hell can’t buy it by the barrel. Donald Trump himself can’t negotiate to buy it in enough quantity for national and international distribution. So whatever they distribute whenever that Stoli backed brand spits something out, steer clear. I don’t speak many foreign languages, so I thought a picture will help our international whiskey friends get the gist of this post. I do speak smartass and English, so here is a smartass timeline graph in English of both the Black Maple Hill and Kentucky Owl Brands since 2000:

Sr. Contributor |

Raised in the great state of Tennessee, Matt has a hard time admitting the native spirit of the Bluegrass neighbor to the north captured his obsession (& most of his wallet). Having progressed through the red solo cup days to a passion for a barrel-proof wheated bourbon, neat, Matt is always on the hunt for the next bottle. When he is not scouting or sipping bourbon, Matt spends time with his wife and four children. When he needs money for the next trip to Bardstown, Matt manages a wealth management firm. He always buys bourbon to drink and believes nothing should come between friends except two rocks glasses and a three-finger pour.
Read Matt's full profile.

About the Author

Matt Self


Raised in the great state of Tennessee, Matt has a hard time admitting the native spirit of the Bluegrass neighbor to the north captured his obsession (& most of his wallet). Having progressed through the red solo cup days to a passion for a barrel-proof wheated bourbon, neat, Matt is always on the hunt for the next bottle. When he is not scouting or sipping bourbon, Matt spends time with his wife and four children. When he needs money for the next trip to Bardstown, Matt manages a wealth management firm. He always buys bourbon to drink and believes nothing should come between friends except two rocks glasses and a three-finger pour. Read Matt's full profile.

  • Mickey Martin says:

    I just hope Stoli doesn’t mess up to many of the really good barrel programs using sourced whiskey. I had the pleasure of sipping on some Batch 6 and had a flipper try to sell me a batch 7 which I declined, there are enough issues getting good bourbon near retails it is.

  • Joe says:

    Correction, you CAN BUY RIDICULOUSLY GOOD WHISKEY. You just have to pay extra for it and quite often cannot source enough of it.

  • J Dyle says:

    meh….I just scored a bottle of Batch 8 for $250 at my local store and it’s absolutely delicious. Sure it’s pricey, but that’s relative too.

  • Steven says:

    Bravo! Someone with enough brass…… to speak the truth. Batch 8 just arrived here at a $300.00 retail price, are you kidding me. This could well be the biggest scams in the “New Age” Bourbon era. Pricing for some Bourbons has gone up, modestly, and understandable, due to the current, out-of-control madness, and I accept that, HOWEVER, there are far too many “Kentucky Owl” types over hyping and putting ridiculous prices on average juice. The unfortunate thing is, it’s selling. But be forewarned, the bubble will burst and all you so called distillers and collectors will be sitting on stock no one is willing to buy, while the rest of us have been simply enjoying GREAT Bourbons from the second, and even the third shelves at our local liquor stores. Again, thank you Matt for your courage and insight. Love your site and keep up the good work!

  • Mark Homan says:

    Ah, Black Maple Hill. From the sublime to the well ordinary – then gone. Informative piece, Matt. Thanks.

  • Ozark says:

    🙂 Keep on keeping on.

  • whiskeyplease says:

    Two years later and this post still shows up in the top 10 search results for “Kentucky Owl”. Well done sir, you have some great SEO.

    I can certainly agree that there is a concern for these types of bourbons being purchased by larger companies. It pains me to see this happen as well. In Stoli and Kentucky Owl’s case, the marketing language used that they will continue to produce small batches, is part true. Recently they announced that “Confiscated” will be KO’s first national product. I have to imagine Confiscated is the result of Soli. What else will fund their bourbon “Theme Park”?

    As for the limited release batches. I expect those will stay the same. Maybe I am wrong, but that would be an awful waste.

  • Was considering to buy Kentucky Owl. I guess that is now out of the question.

    Comments concerning Paddy Van Winkle?

  • as long as the bourbon is good who the hell cares?!…if you want to talk about overpricing a good whiskey, look no farther than buffalo trace allocating all of the big selling good stuff to drive the price up…specifically pappy

  • Robert Rackuzius says:

    Kentucky Owl is a bourbon for special people. It’s almost always locked in a special case with an extra special high price for extra stupid people.

    There are two different price classes with bourbon. One for stupid people who don’t know what they’re paying for and the other that understands that under no reasonable terms this bottle is not worth more than $70.

    Additionally, there is a special market called the secondary market, where people can pay more than ten times the manufacturer price for bourbon. This market is for stupid people also. People shop here instead of stores full of similar products. Interestingly, most stupid people can’t tell the difference between the products they’re overpaying for versus the readily available bourbons on the shelves.

    Kentucky Owl is here because people allow it to be here. Stop buying it and it will go away.

    • Ted Kelly says:

      With all these stupid people that don’t know what they’re paying for must make you the smartest guy in the world. If you can’t afford the finer things in life, keep going to McDonalds. If you want to enjoy fine bourbon and rye, you pay for it. Have you any idea what it costs to manufacture a premium whiskey and lose 50% of your product during the aging process. Discussing it with you is probably just a waste of time. If your palate is undeveloped, just buy a large bottle of Coke and grab some ethanol from the bottom shelf and party til you puke.

      • Matt Self says:

        So Ted seems pretty angry and I’ll do my best to clarify a few points here. The cost of distilling a barrel ranges from a few hundred dollars to ~$1,500 depending on operational scale. The smaller, craft distilleries are almost all over $1,000 in production cost per barrel. Whiskey loses, on average 3-5% volume per year. So a 10-year product may lose anywhere from 30-50% of the volume. But this is at cask strength, so a brand like Pappy Van Winkle that bottles in the 90 – 107 proof range is adding water before bottling. At cask strength, a 53-gallon barrel is going to provide about 250 bottles. A 6-8 year product may yield that volume after proofing down, and a cask strength product at 10-12 years may yield 75-125 bottles. To shorten the narrative, and to help with the math, distilled product in the 10-13-year range is probably running a producer $17-25/bottle all-in. The problem with non-distiller producers like KY Owl, Smooth Ambler, Willett, etc. is that they have to purchase sourced, aged whiskey. A 5-year Kentucky bourbon may cost $6,000 in today’s market. So instead of a batch cost of ~$25,000 for a product like Kentucky Owl, the NDP is starting out at $125k to $150k for 5-year product. A 10-year plus product may be closer $250,000 for a 20-25 barrel batch. I think Robert’s point here is that if you’re buying a distilled product that the distiller aged to 10+ years, say an EH Taylor Barrel Proof, you’re going to get an MSRP at 5-6x production cost or about $69-79. The Kentucky Owl, because it is virtually the same product, but sourced and purchased rather than distilled and aged, is going to be $300/bottle at MSRP with a similar multiple/profit margin as the Sazerac/Buffalo Trace product. This is why you can purchase a 20-year Pappy Van Winkle at $179 and a 23-year at $249, roughly 60% and 83% of the cost of Kentucky Owl. Sazerac, because they are distilling Pappy Van Winkle, controls the source product and can maintain consistency of both product and pricing. Kentucky Owl is competing with other NDPs and an increasingly demand-driven market so the product will get worse and the price higher. So an alternative is to choose a different bourbon that is at a lower price point but may be just a “premium.” I have tried just about everything released in the domestic market in the past decade and there are definitely lower priced bottles with as good and many better profile than NDP products. Eventually, product substitution behavior will drive consumers to these lower-priced, similar or better quality products.

        Is Pappy Van Winkle worth it? I think it absolutely is worth it at MSRP. But it was hard to find 10-years ago at MSRP and it’s nearly impossible to find it at MSRP now. Some Old Weller Antique store picks reach 10+ years and are the same proof point as the ORVW and the PVW15, so that’s a reasonable substitution, even at the new $59.99 price point. I hope this commentary helps all of you that have read and commented.

        I won’t judge you as stupid, Ted, if you want to buy Kentucky Owl. It’s just not my preference to put $300+ into the purchase of that product when I could almost buy an entire case of a Buffalo Trace store pick for the same money. Happy Hunting to you all this fall. And whatever you buy, make sure to enjoy it responsible with friends. #DrinkCurious

  • Robert Bradford says:

    Very thorough information I have not had the pleasure of sampling the Kentucky Owlyet but have a great great connection with trying to get rare and exceptional bottles so what I will do is get a bottle and try it as for overpricing I understand because for example pappy Van winkle used to be very very reasonable and now for your base bottle you talking 2000 dollars in up but it is still the Cream of the Crop !

  • Steven says:

    Robert and Ted….Ted and Robert, you guys made my day 😉 Hey Matt, great clarification response! P.S. I find it very interesting that their latest release, “Confiscated” is sitting on every shelve I see, including pallets at Costco. Maybe the jig is finally up! Keep up the good work Matt!

  • Tracy Adams says:

    Matt, I enjoyed your response, but I was told there would be no math.

    I need a bourbon….any recommendations?

    • Matt says:

      Tracy – Good bourbon that is <$100 can be found readily in store pick bottles, but my favorite go-to bourbons are Buffalo Trace flagship at $26-30, Russell's Reserve at $55-65, New Riff Single Barrel at $50, Four Roses Single Barrel at $45-55, Elijah Craig at $25-35, Henry McKenna at $35-40 …just a few good examples

  • Sallie says:

    Matt, thank you for information about attainable, affordable, Good bourbon. It stinks when something like bourbon goes, inevitably, by way of the InBev route. We all just want a damn good bourbon.

  • Chuck says:

    I really enjoy Buffalo Trace, Basil Haydens, Larceny as my go to bourbons and they are very affordable. I have Blantons, EH. Taylor, Eagle Rare and all three Weller’s and a Pappy 10 Year. I keep the fancy lables on the shelf so people say look you fill in the blank…. But I drink Buffalo Trace, Basil Haydens weekly…..swap in a Larceny or Angles Envy.