Review: Cream of Kentucky 11.5 Years Old

Cream of Kentucky 11.5 Years Old

Cream of Kentucky 11.5 Years Old is the first release from J.W. Rutledge Distillery, founded by former Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge. Construction on the distillery is expected to break ground in 2019, and when construction is completed, the distillery will produce straight bourbon and rye whiskey the “old-fashioned way”. In the meantime, Jim Rutledge is sourcing and blending whiskey from other distilleries to put out new releases under the J.W. Rutledge brands, starting with Cream of Kentucky.

The Cream of Kentucky brand was originally introduced in 1888 by I. Trager & Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio. Just prior to the end of Prohibition, the brand was acquired by the famed Schenley Company and subsequently re-introduced in 1934. Through the 1930s and 1940s Cream of Kentucky grew to become one of the leading bourbon brands, with renowned artist Norman Rockwell provided much of the award winning artwork for the brand during its heyday. Cream of Kentucky is now owned by J.W. Rutledge, and Jim has recently purchased a limited supply of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey he feels is worthy of the rebirth of Cream of Kentucky Bourbon as a premium whiskey.

Cream of Kentucky 11.5 Years Old is a blend of 60 barrels, rumored to be Barton sourced distillate of an unspecified mash bill.

Cream of Kentucky 11.5 Years Old Specifications:

  • Spirit: Bourbon.
  • Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
  • Region: Kentucky.
  • Age: 11.5 Years Old.
  • ABV: 51% (102 Proof).
  • Source: Barton (Rumored).
  • Mash Bill: Unknown.
  • Price: $129.99 for 750 ml.

Elias’ Notes:

  • Color: Chestnut.
  • Nose: Maraschino cherries, cola, vanilla, peanuts, citrus, some astringency (nail polish remover, wood varnish), a hint of confectionery goods.
  • Palate: Lots of tannins. Sweet. More Maraschino cherries, cola, vanilla. Citrus note from the nose develops into blood orange. Nutty, oaky, caramel. A cotton candy note pops up on the tail end of the palate. The sweetness and lack of spice notes suggest this is a low rye mash bill.
  • Finish: Medium length. More tannins. Slightly dry. Pipe tobacco, floral, peppery. Blood orange and cotton candy notes from the palate continue and linger on the finish.

I understand that the Cream of Kentucky brand has a famed history, but it has a rather unfortunate abbreviation (CoK) and whenever I see the word cream, I can’t help but think of coffee and cream liqueur, not premium whiskey. However, this is supposed to be a review of the whiskey, not a discussion on branding, so I’ll cut to the chase.

Cream of Kentucky 11.5 Years Old is a well balanced, complex bourbon. Is it worth the suggested retail price of $149.99? Not to me. There are very few bourbons for which I’d pay over $100, and this isn’t one of them. Cream of Kentucky is a great bourbon, but it’s not exceptional. It doesn’t have a wow factor; that moment where you take a sip and think to yourself, “Wow, this is gooooood!”

This is a $75 bourbon masquerading as a $150 limited edition because the current state of the industry allows it. Much like many other premium bottles of bourbon, people are buying this as a collector’s item and few are opening and consuming the whiskey inside. It’s telling that this has practically sold out in all markets, yet we’re the first publication (as far as I’m aware) to officially review it, nearly three weeks after release.

Elias’ Rating: 85/100

Jayson’s Notes:

  • Color: Chestnut.
  • Nose: Vanilla, fresh cut grass, butterscotch, cherry Pop-Tarts.
  • Palate: Warming mouthfeel. Creamy. Sweet. More vanilla. Cinnamon French toast. Caramel. Some oak.
  • Finish: Vanilla continued. Frosted Flakes corn flakes. Baking spices. Cotton candy.

At first I was a bit disappointed, but this grew on me. The longer it sat and the longer it breathed the better it got. It’s fairly well balanced, complex, but a little too sweet for me. I’m glad to have tried this, but I wouldn’t purchase a full bottle. Worth a try if you can find it at a bar or have friends willing to split a bottle.

Jayson’s Rating: 83/100


  • Wayne Sachleben says:

    I disagree with your comment. The only reason I bought this bourbon is because I tasted it first. VERY smooth to the palate. 102 proof drinks like an 80 proof. Vanilla and Carmel. No hint at all of Maraschino Cherries which I would easy pick up on because I despise. Smoothest bourbon I ever tasted.

    • Elias Aoude says:

      Other than the slight astringency on the nose, I didn’t find Cream of Kentucky to be harsh. I hope that was clear in the review.

      As for the Maraschino cherry note – I had multiple pours of Cream of Kentucky over the course of three weeks and was able to pick out that note each time. For me, it was definitely there. It’s important to remember that everyone’s palate is different and we all have our preferences. That’s the beauty of this hobby.


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