Bourbon is booming. Now, Brown-Forman, an old name in the category, is finally getting in on the ultra-premium fight. The American liquor giant dusted off their King of Kentucky label and unveiled a new $199 per 750ml bottle line this week.
At a media event with Brown-Forman’s Master Distiller, Chris Morris, the new bottles (each hand signed by Morris) were unveiled. Starting in June, the limited edition bottles will be available in (of course) Kentucky. (Expect to find it nationally on the web for inflated prices soon!)
Despite the high price tag, the King has some decidedly non-regal roots. The bourbon utilizes the same formulation as B-F’s well brand, Early Times: 79 percent corn, 11 percent rye and 10 percent malted barley. However, King is aged for 14 years compared to Early Times’ one year. Likewise, the premium whiskey is bottled from single barrels at barrel proof between 123 and 135 proof. (Also, Early Times retails for about $188 less.)
The brand itself is a toss-back. King of Kentucky first appeared in 1881. The name is an homage to horse-racing, then known as the “sport of kings.” In 1936, Brown-Forman picked up the label. The company explained that the acquisition was intended to fill out inventory in the post-prohibition period while the Early Times and Old Forester lines came up to speed.
Notably, the brand appears in the Frank Capra masterpiece, It’s a Wonderful Life. When Clarence tries to order a mulled cider or flaming rum punch in the alternate-universe version of Nick’s. However, Nick refuses and tells the duo, “We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere.” Then, the barman pours the angel and George Bailey a couple shots of King’s.
The brand enjoyed this sort of low-level reputation for a few decades until the Fern Bar era began. In 1968, production was halted and the brand was relegated to Brown-Forman’s famed vault.
Fourteen years ago, the corporation decided to revive the brand and began production. The inaugural run only involved 16 barrels which amounts to 960 bottles released. Each bottle is drawn from a single barrel and each barrel undergoes a unique hybrid hot-cycle/traditional maturation process.
For good measure, clean-edged black wax seals keep each bottle hermetically sealed. The wax is indicative of the slow nature of the bottling process. A new, dedicated line only bottles about two barrels a day. For comparison, B-F noted that Woodford Reserve’s line only needs about 10 minutes to knock out what would be two weeks’ of work for the King line.
Tasting notes by INsider Louisville describe “immense notes of tropical fruit — pineapple, coconut — followed by the typical peppery spice and sweet caramel and vanilla notes found in most bourbons.”