Well, now, this caught my eye when it arrived unannounced—not least because I know an Ownby in Tennessee. (He’s a good guy.)
before I say more about James Ownby Whiskey, let me offer a little backdrop.
Ole Smoky Distillery in Gatlinberg, Tennessee, has been going gangbusters since Joe Baker founded it in 2010.
I wrote of the company in Moonshine: A Global History, as Ole Smoky is an example of 21st century entrepreneurism. They drew on family history and spawned a range of new ‘shine products based on ones that have been made illicitly in Tennessee for who-knows-how-long.
For a time, Ole Smoky focused sole on ‘shine products that it sold in jars (e.g., Lemon Drop), a bunch of which I tried and enjoyed. The next frontier for Ole Smoky is whiskey, and they have rolled out a lot of flavored ones: rootbeer, mango habanero, peach, etc. They also sell lower-proof flavord whiskeys, one of which is Cookies and Cream. (I’m not joking.)
With this new James Ownby whiskey, however, Baker is playing it straight. This is a 94 proof straight whiskey, with no flashy flavors added. Here he is not playing to the newbie whiskey drinker—he wants to sell to the serious hooch hound. (Like that Ownby guy I know.)
I approached this spirit with some apprehension. Making good whiskey is not easy—small goofs can throw the flavor off. But Ole Smoky did well here. Is it a little fiery? Yep, which I expected. But it shows interesting flavors: nuts, nougat, feint banana, char….
This is a young tasting whiskey, but a very promising one. I finished my glass in short order. Give it a taste!