Sour Mash Manifesto

Bourbon and American Whiskey

Review: Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon

Pure Kentucky XO Straight Bourbon is one of the many brands produced and bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. (KBD) out of Bardstown, KY. If you are unfamiliar with KBD as a company, you will probably recognize many of the whiskeys they produce – Willett Family Estate Bourbon and Rye Whiskeys, Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon, Noah’s Mill Bourbon, Rowan’s Creek Bourbon, and numerous others.

KBD operates out of the Willett Distillery, which it has owned since the 1980’s. As an aside, it’s a charming distillery that sits atop a bluff not far from Heaven Hill distillery. The whiskey that makes up Pure Kentucky XO, as well as the others mentioned above, are sourced from unnamed distilleries. KBD has built their supplies by purchasing new make spirit sourced in bulk, and then aged in the Willett Distillery’s aging facilities on property. They’ve also procured fully or partially matured whiskeys that were distilled and aged elsewhere. I’m sure many of you know by now that a lot of this stuff is shrouded in mystery. I’m certainly not going to be able to clear that up – it’s sourced and I suppose that is that.

In January 2012 the Willett Distillery began distillation once again. This past fall the company released their first rye whiskeys that were distilled, aged, and bottled on property. I have bottles of both the 107 and 109 proof ryes (purchased at the distillery). The whiskeys absolutely need more time in oak to realize the complexity and depth that longer aged rye whiskey typically possesses, but Willett has a good foundation with these whiskeys.

Let’s get back on track to the whiskey in question. Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon is a high proof (107) small batch straight bourbon whiskey. It has no age statement (NAS) so we really don’t know how old the whiskey is, but that’s not uncommon nowadays. As recent as 2-3 years ago, Pure Kentucky XO stated the whiskeys in the bottle were at least 12 years of age. We can venture a guess that is no longer the case. Age only matters to a point, and at the end of the day what matters is how the whiskey tastes. Let’s find out….

pure-kentucky-xo-300x300Pure Kentucky XO Straight Bourbon, 53.5% abv (107 proof), $28/bottle
Color: Copper/Medium Amber
Nose: Cinnamon and barrel spices (right up front), toffee, maple sugars, dry dusty oak quality. Faint dried apricot and fruit notes linger on the edges.
Palate: Spicy, rustic, and woody. Cinnamon, clove, and some bitter barrel notes (and grip) make way for oily corn, vanilla, and faint toffee sweetness.
Finish: Warming spice/heat and zip, corn, and a fruit. Long finish.
Overall: Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon is a good choice for those that like spicy and oaky bourbons. It’s not overly sweet, and the price point is good considering the proof. It does take water well, and is recommended to brighten up the party a bit. If it has a fault it’s that it’s not particularly well balanced, but it fits a profile that many may appreciate.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good)


  1. I really wish they would state the age and the distillery where it is distilled and aged.

  2. I think we can all agree that producers should be as transparent as possible, but it’s complex. I’m not defending any of them. In a day and age where transparency is valued, and I dare say a differentiation, it’s interesting that many Independent Bottlers are still not doing so. But from a business point of view, some of that may be due to contracts. Distilleries that sell product would prefer that the company not disclose where the whiskey was procured. Why let a smaller operation ride on the cape of your brand? None of us can really know all of these details. What we can do is gauge the price and the value proposition. It’s fair here I feel. We can taste it, and judge that too, and just go from there.

  3. To add to my comment, let’s also think about the context for KBD. Understand that KBD’s relationships with other distilleries goes long long back. We’re not talking about late 90’s and early 2000’s and LDI/MGP stuff. We’re referring to 30 plus year old relationships (or longer I’d imagine given the operation’s history). Let’s the company sourced new make distillate right off another distillery’s still, put it in their own barrels and trucked it up to their own aging facilities. If barrel and age and aging location has a dramatic impact on flavor (it does), who’s whiskey is it? It’s a little of both now. A lot of KBD’s products are made from whiskey they aged on property. And yet I’m sure some of it’s not, but again it’s complex. There’s also no argument that being more up front is achievable by most all Independent Bottlers.

  4. “…not far from Heaven Hill distillery” actually, they are literally next door neighbors.

  5. I bought a bottle of this a year and change ago (no age statement) and found it to be overwhelmingly sweet when sipped neat, though a bit of water really helped balance it out. However, your review saying it wasn’t to sweet leads me to my question – do you know how consistent KBD is batch to batch for the same brand? I.e., even though they may go younger, is it consistently 1 barrel of Beam + 1 barrel Heaven Hill = Pure Kentucky (or whatever that recipe is)?

    As to the transparency comment – don’t many distillers not want their name used by the NDP’s (save MGP), to the point where that may even be specified in the distillers contract with the NDP?

  6. I’m with you Mark. Bought one a year ago, and I’m still trying to choke it down in old fashioned’s. Mine is cloyingly sweet.

  7. I definitely noticed some big differences among bottles of Johnny Drum, which is why I stopped buying it, so I’d say they have some difficulty maintaining consistency. Hopefully, going to in-house distilling will fix that.

  8. Good to see you back, Jason. I did not care for this one. The bottle I had was a weird combination of initial overpowering sweetness followed by astringency and alcohol.

  9. I’ve only tried this bourbon once. What the comments bring up for me is that perhaps PKYXO is inconsistent. When I tried it, it was rather bland, especially for 107 proof. There were hints of cinnamon and bit of oak but nowhere close to oaky goodness of Elijah Craig 12 or Eagle Rare. I guess I got lucky when I purchased a bottle of Johnny Drum Private Stock because it was delicious.

  10. I recall PKYXO from the couple of bottles i have had in the past being actually very dry and woody. The last thing I would describe this as was sweet. Sure as all bourbons it will have a sweet component in the start but this was not sweet at all. I have fond memories of liking it at $22 a bottle but now I see it at $30+ and there are many more i would choose at that price point.

  11. I’ve heard that KBD releases different blends under the same label for different markets. That is to say, a bottle of Noah’s Mill sold in VA might be filled with entirely different juice from a bottle of Noah’s Mill in TX. Makes a lot of sense when you read tasting notes that make you question your palate.

  12. Wouter Stoffels

    July 27, 2015 at 4:27 AM

    Hello to al you bourbon lovers. Pure Kentucky xo and a view others from Kentucky bourbon distillers are small batch bourbons. That means that the next batch can or will be different than the other batch. Different barrels and different locations in the warehouse are the reason for that different taste. And of course a new bottle needs some time to open up couse its 107 proof. I like it very much and also the Johnny Drum 101 and kentucky vintage 90 proof. Greetings from Holland.

  13. As a neophyte to bourbons (except to drink it straight), is there such a thing as a pure sour mash bourbon whiskey and if so, what are their names? Jack Daniels used to be my signature drink.


Comments are closed.

© 2019 Sour Mash Manifesto

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑