[The Whiskey Wash] Whiskey Review: Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper Bourbon
September 1, 2023
Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
There’s a new Senator in town, folks, but don’t expect it to stick around for a full six-year term. The revived Kentucky Senator Bourbon brand released its fourth bottling this summer. This edition, named for John Sherman Cooper, a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, uses the same mash bill as previous releases, with an additional year of aging. The bourbon was distilled and aged in Kentucky and bottled by Bluegrass Distillers of Lexington, KY.
Originally produced by Crigler and Crigler, the Kentucky Senator brand found a temporary home with Double Springs Distillers in Bardstown before being abandoned. Andre Regard and Damon Thayer revived the brand in 2019. Regard, an entrepreneur and equine attorney (a job title I had never heard of but absolutely love), is from Louisiana but his family heritage stretches back for centuries in Kentucky.
Thayer is a Kentucky state senator and two time recipient of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s (KDA’s) 100 Proof award. He received the award in from the advocacy group in 2018 in recognition of his efforts to “promote and protect” Kentucky bourbon by modernizing alcohol laws, encouraging tourism, and expanding job opportunities in spirits production and sales. In 2020, after a difficult year for the spirits business nationwide, he received the award again for his assistance during pandemic-related shut downs and closures.
Regard and Thayer’s first release together under the Kentucky Senator brand was a 15-year-old named for Senator Alben W. Barkley. It received praise from Fred Minnick, who ranked it as one of the Top 100 Whiskeys of 2021. The brand won the Gold ASCOT Award for taste and a Double Platinum ASCOT Award for overall marketing and brand design as well.
This release I’m reviewing, the fourth in the series, is named for the US Senator from Kentucky, Republican John Sherman Cooper. Senator Cooper served for three partial terms and two full terms during the mid-20th century. Born in 1901 to a family heavily involved in politics, he worked in law until enlisting in the Army during World War II at 41 years old and assisting displaced persons in Nazi occupied areas.
Aside from being a United States Senator, Cooper assisted in the formation of NATO and was a delegate to the United Nations. He served on the Warren Commission, having been a close personal friend of President John F. Kennedy. Senator Cooper passed away in 1991 at 89.
Only 1,000 bottles of this bourgon were released and made available in select stores in Kentucky, online, and at the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in D.C.
Tasting Notes: Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper Bourbon
Vital Stats: Aged for eight years in new American oak, 53.5% ABV, mash bill: 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley, SRP $134.99/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: This is moderate amber in color with a lovely rose gold undertone.
Nose: Initially, the bourbon is fruit-forward yet refined with notes of Mission figs and juicy watermelon. Gentle spice and tea notes are also evident, with aromas of black tea, hibiscus, and star anise. There are aromas of sugar cookies, sea salt caramels, toasted cedar planks, and a floral note like rosehips. With time, it develops an intriguing and refreshing note like lemongrass. Its malty character begins to show through. This is very pleasant and promising.
Palate: The palate is rich and viscous with a fiery burn. The fruit flavors become more tropical, with notes of pineapples and bananas. It’s sweet and malty like amber ale. I still pick up notes of hibiscus tea with buckwheat honey, pink peppercorns, and sea salt. There are notes of red licorice and Italian plums on the finish.
Water helps to cool the fieriness. It also brings out cracked black pepper and fruit salad note. This seems to be barrel strength or close to it, so add ice or water to taste.
The aromatics are fantastic. I love the interplay between floral, tea, and spice. I went back and forth on scoring this review because the ABV seems a touch off balance when tasted neat. In these days of complex political rancor, it’s nice to find a Kentucky Senator that only requires a dash of water or an ice cube to appeal to a broad base.