8.4

Sweetens Cove Kennessee Bourbon Review

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Sweetens Cove Kennessee Bourbon Review

The first few releases of Tennessee’s Sweetens Cove bourbon brand were well-received by most reviewers, but rankled some drinkers all the same, and the issue ultimately comes down to that always arbitrary and hard to nail down concept of “value.” Because the liquid in Sweetens Cove was being drawn from TN powerhouses Dickel, even a 13-year age statement had a hard time in justifying the $200 price tag for some consumers—particularly because Dickel’s own Bottled in Bond series released whiskey nearly as old, with MSRPs in the $40 or $50 range. That’s a truly large differential, for two products that are very similar, at least as far as the specs are concerned. In the end, though, we concluded in our own tasting that the liquid in the Sweetens Cove bottle really speaks for itself—it’s an exceptional bottling of Dickel’s bourbon, and it stands out nicely even in a tasting next to the more affordable Dickel BiB product. Overall, that certainly helps to justify the $200 price tag, although some portion of it will always be propped up by the “celebrity owners” factor of the brand being owned by the likes of Peyton Manning and Andy Roddick.

Now, though, the Sweetens Cove brand is becoming more accessible with the release of its new “mainstream” bottling, dubbed Sweetens Cove Kennessee. Like the original, age-stated Sweetens Cove bottlings, this brand was developed by whiskey industry consultant and former Castle & Key master distiller Marianne Eaves. Unlike the original, though, which was solely composed of Tennessee whiskey, this one is a blend of distillates from both Kentucky and Tennessee. It’s presented with no age statement, but sports a higher strength of 55.35% ABV (110.7 proof), and also has one final, relatively subtle gimmick: It’s finished in stainless steel on “special wood spirals” made from toasted sugar maple. Eaves describes it as being “like a Kentuckian’s take on the Tennessee Lincoln County Process,” adding flavors (mostly sweet and nutty) through the intentional deep toast, instead of the way charcoal removes flavors and ‘mellows’ the whiskey.”

So what we have here is a younger blend of bourbons, at an elevated proof, finished with a novel technique that evokes something similar, perhaps, to what Maker’s Mark does with their proprietary finishing staves. The MSRP certainly reflects that this is a much more accessible product, being only $60, while the core Sweetens Cove expressions will apparently become a limited release that arrives each autumn season. Kennessee, meanwhile, is launching initially in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, and then expanding wider in the U.S. as the year goes on.

So with that said, let’s see how this significantly more affordable taste on Eaves’ Sweetens Cove tastes.

On the nose, Kennessee is bringing warm and familiar impressions of heavy caramel and brown sugar, along with trailing notes of clove and nutmeg. There are traces of oak as well, but the wood here is the most telling indication that the whiskey is on the younger side, as the oak has a more “green” and freshly cut note. The ethanol, however, is impressively integrated into this profile and is quite mild for the 110.7 proof, allowing you to tease out more nutty cacao nibs over time.

On the palate, this bourbon blend turns quite sweet and rich, with heavy brown sugar and toffee, supported by vanilla bean and flashes of bright orange citrus. It has an appreciably silky and smooth texture, and hints of x-factor elements—I was getting flashes of raspberry at one point, while there’s also a nicely toasty, brown butter biscuit-type note, evoking Biscoff cookies. There’s also some herbaceousness and a little mint, possibly derived from rye, closing with moderate ethanol heat.

Overall, this drinks quite well neat, offering sweet and somewhat decadent flavors with enough complexity to not seem like simply a brown sugar delivery vehicle. It lacks the age statement that would give it a bit more legitimacy, but at the same time it doesn’t really need one. This blend might be a bit too sweet for some drinkers, but I feel like it pretty neatly overcomes whatever downsides are present from its lack of maturity, offering expressive, classic bourbon notes. All in all, it’s an engaging and easy to enjoy neat drinker.

Distillery: Sweetens Cove
City: South Pittsburg, TN
Style: Blended bourbon whiskey
ABV: 55.35% (110.7 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $60 MSRP


Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.