When Kentucky Owl was purchased by the Stoli Group in 2017, many whiskey aficionados wrung their hands in worry. They feared that Kentucky Owl, a boutique brand whose limited-release blended bourbons had quickly become one of the most sought-after bottlings in the market, would soon be diluted by coming under the control of a global spirits house.
They need not have fretted. Instead, the opposite has happened. The brand has thrived and become a cornerstone in the Stoli Group’s efforts to create a portfolio of ultra-premium brands that today’s consumers ask for. The recent announcement that Scottish whiskey luminary Dr. Maureen Robinson would take the reins as Kentucky Owl’s Master Blender from Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Famer John Rhea highlights the brand’s commitment to innovation and creativity.
A member of Whiskey Magazine’s Hall of Fame, Robinson spent her entire 45-year career working for Diageo, where she became one of the first women ever to earn the title Master Blender. Working with scotch whisky brands Johnnie Walker, Old Parr, Buchanan’s, and Singleton, her deft touch helped craft many of those brands’ identities.
Her first experience with Kentucky Owl came when Rhea contacted her to collaborate on its third edition release in their International Collection. Launched in 2022 to disrupt the ordinarily staid bourbon world, it had seen Rhea partner with a different whisky blender from around the globe to create a bourbon that delivers the unexpected. The two would attempt to make a hybrid liquid resembling his partner’s hometown whisky using only bourbon.
Their first release, the St Patrick’s Edition, saw Irish Whisky Bonder Louise McGuane bringing her intimate knowledge of Irish Whisky to Kentucky. The second iteration, the Takumi Edition, saw Japanese Master Blender Yusuke Yashida working to bridge the gap between the thriving Japanese whisky world and bourbon. Both bottlings were met with rave reviews and won numerous awards.
Kentucky Owl’s Maighstir Edition, released in the fall of 2023, has continued the tradition of merging two distinct yet similar worlds. By using Robinson’s intimate knowledge of scotch whisky and partnering with Rhea, the man behind the phenomenal success of Four Roses Distillery, the liquid produced bridges a gap and continues the mission of the International Collection. To introduce bourbon to a newer audience around the globe.
During their partnership, the idea of Rhea stepping down and Robinson taking over took root. He was ready to retire after shepherding the brand’s growth after the acquisition, and she was looking for another project to dive into. Even though she had no history with bourbon blending, she realized that becoming the 3rd Master Blender in Kentucky Owl’s history made sense.
“There is a lot of similarity between scotch and bourbon. Their flavor profiles are slightly different, but the blending is very similar,” says Robinson. “You are working with different mash bills but striving to create a flavorful blend. Even though I had never worked with bourbon before, I found myself quickly understanding its nuances as I worked alongside John Rhea for the Maighstir Edition. I am excited about what we will do with the brand over the next few years.”
Kentucky Owl wants to expand its portfolio and build off its recent successes. Its mid-tier priced bourbon, The Wiseman, launched in 2021, has made significant inroads for the brand with everyday drinkers. While it’s Kentucky Owl Confiscated Bourbon has quickly become one of the brand’s best sellers. Plus, they will soon be dropping Batch 13, the next product in their luxury lineup. Demand for their Batch 11 and Batch 12 bottles, priced at $499, has been strong, highlighting their fan’s demand for the type of premium product Kentucky Owl was built upon.
Work on its ambitious Kentucky Owl Park, a distillery, tasting complex, and several rickhouses continues on a 420-acre parcel in Bardstown, Kentucky. It is slated to open in late 2025. According to Robinson, she plans to oversee the operations at Kentucky Owl for the next two to three years. She will help the brand fill out its bourbon roster with full-time and limited-release offerings during that time. With her credentials and the brand’s legacy of innovation, the chances are good that drinkers will be satisfied with the direction the brand is heading.