Kentucky Owl, the legacy Kentucky whiskey revived by Dixon Dedman in 2014 and acquired by Stoli USA in 2017, has named Maureen Robinson as its new master blender. Robinson takes the reins from master blender John Rhea, who is retiring.
Robinson previously spent 45 years at Diageo and was one of the first women to hold the title of master blender. Her work centered around Johnnie Walker, Old Parr, Buchanan’s, and Singleton, as well as the renowned Prima & Ultima special releases range. She retired from Diageo last year.
The move is unusual because, despite her long tenure in scotch whisky, Robinson has never worked in American whiskey. Kentucky Owl cited her experience in using second-fill bourbon barrels in the scotch milieu, but her direct exposure to bourbon and rye is essentially non-existent.
However, Kentucky Owl has worked with non-American whiskey makers before, last year teaming up with Nagahama Whisky’s master blender Yusuke Yahisa on Kentucky Owl Takumi, a blend of 4, 5, 6, and 13 year old Kentucky straight bourbons. Those four bourbons were selected by Rhea and sent to Yahisa in Japan, where he did the blending. In addition, last year Kentucky Owl also worked with bonded Irish whiskey blender Louise McGuane of J.J. Corry to produce a St. Patrick’s Day limited-edition bourbon. That 50% ABV whiskey was made from Kentucky bourbons aged 4 to 11 years and blended by McGuane.
Rhea, who joined Kentucky Owl in 2021, previously had been at Four Roses for 40 years. After joining Four Roses right out of college, he served in a variety of roles overseeing quality control, maturation, and blending.
In 2019 Kentucky Owl announced plans to build Kentucky Owl Park, a $150 million distillery complex on a 420-acre parcel of land in Bardstown, Kentucky. Plans for the campus include the distillery as well as rickhouses and a variety of visitor amenities. Completion originally was slated for 2020, but Covid significantly slowed progress, and now cost overruns have raised the project’s price tag into the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to local reports.