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Ky. Owl debuts three new whiskeys; updates public on construction project

The pyramids are still coming to the Cedar Creek Quarry, the site of the long-awaited Kentucky Owl Park distillery.

But it’s going to take some time, and some tweaks of the original plans will give guests a chance to see what’s going on at the secluded site while construction is ongoing.

“Really great things sometimes take a long time,” said David Mandell, who helps oversee real estate for the distillery. “Kentucky Owl Park is an absolutely beautiful destination.”

An update of the distillery’s construction and a special release of three new whiskeys was delivered Thursday at Kentucky Owl’s downtown office, with dozens of guests getting a chance to participate in a tasting with master blender John Rhea, who enjoyed a 40-year career with Four Roses before joining Kentucky Owl.

Damian McKinney, the global CEO of The Stoli Group, which owns the famed Kentucky Owl bourbon label, talked about the progress the company has made in the year since a major staff shake-up brought people such as Mandell and Rhea on board. McKinney, an ex-Royal Marine, said building the Kentucky Owl staff was a lot like building his mission teams while in military service.

“We’re really going to move this forward,” he said.

Part of the delays of getting the building project off the ground included back-filling the quarry to feature the lake-like nature of the site. Once opened — 2025 is the projected date to start whiskey production — the distillery and visitor center will be part of three pyramids on the site, designed by award-winning architect Shigeru Ban. The company found that once the 18-month process of backfilling the quarry was through, it altered their expectations of what they had to work with as far as topographical features at the site.

McKinney talked about the “tension” his team has as a company between making money while also being environmentally stable during the building process of the distillery. One of the key features of the construction of the buildings designed by Shigeru Ban includes using cardboard and other reusable materials.

That effort extends out into what will now be their “interim” visitor center that will be across the water from the main peninsula at the site, where visitors can come and view the building of the main distillery. The interim visitor center will also feature reusable materials, such as cardboard tubing. Mandell said an announcement on that will come next year.

“It’s unusual to design a distillery around a lake,” said Dean Maltz, with Shigeru Ban. He said the interim visitor center will later be repurposed as part of the Kentucky Owl campus once the main visitor center opens.

Rhea introduced his company’s three new whiskeys, including Takumi, which was a partnership with a Japanese whiskeymaker and features a blend of whiskeys that range in age from 4 years to 13.

He also featured an 11-year-old rye that was finished in Mardi Gras XO rum casks, softening out the typical rye spiciness.

“I’m confident that people are going to enjoy it,” Rhea said, also noting that he expects the rye to be particularly hard to find, as they only produced 37 barrels of it.

Rhea’s final unveiling was of the distillery’s flagship, Kentucky Owl’s Batch 12. He said it was a continuation of past batches of the bourbon, trying to keep it in the same lane as its predecessors. Nine different bourbons were blended to make it, with an age range between 4-15 years, with most of the whiskey being 12-13 years old.

“When I blend something, I’m doing it for you,” Rhea said to the crowd. He said he wondered what could be done to “not so much change it, but to elevate it.”

Also at the tasting, it was announced that Mandell would be taking a hiatus from his post with Kentucky Owl while still working with the company on projects. Lorenzo Alvarado, who helped with the start-up of the Old SteeleHouse Distillery, will join Kentucky Owl in Mandell’s stead.

 

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