Kiamichi Whiskey Review: 2 Stellar Ryes from a Collab You Wouldn't Expect

Willett Distillery and Kings of Leon join forces to start a whiskey label — and their initial offerings are delightful.

kiamichi rye whiskey
David Bailey / Nashville

Odds are good you're at least a little familiar with the band Kings of Leon. At least, assuming you were alive and capable of pattern recognition in 2009, when the band's single "Sex on Fire" was blowing up the airwaves; it was all but impossible not to get its earworm-y chorus stuck in your head at least once. (It's in your head right now, isn't it? Me too.)

Depending on your musical proclivities, you might have followed the band since then, or you might have moved onto other trends and tracks. But Kings of Leon has endured, playing show after show and releasing album after album in the interceding decade and a half. This band is family, after all — and not in the Fast and Furious sense. The artists of Kings of Leon are all members of the Followill clan: brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared and their cousin Matthew.

And now, as many folks — famous or otherwise — are wont to do these days, the Followill boys have created a whiskey. But rather than run off half-cocked or cocky, they did the smart thing: they sought out a great collaborator. Specifically, the Kulsveens — the family behind Willett Distillery, who've been making Kentucky bourbon and other spirits since before the Civil War. While Followillett might have seemed like an obvious name for their collaboration, the Followills and the Willett team instead dubbed their joint venture Kiamichi — the name of the river where the Followill clan has long gathered for family reunions.

three bottles of whiskey

Kiamichi Whiskey launches with 3 expressions: two ryes and a bourbon

At its debut this year, the joint venture hit the ground running with three different bottles: a 5-year rye, an 8-year rye and a 19-year bourbon. All are a bit on the pricier side — the 5-year retails at $149, the 8-year at $249, and the 19-year at a hefty $1,499 per bottle — and all three are limited releases, with the elder two already sold out on the Kiamichi site.

That said, while the idea of spending $150–$250 for bottles of rye whiskey might seem like celebrity price gouging to some — a bottle of Willett Family Estate Bottled Rye 4 Year, for comparison, sells for $65–$80 in the New York City metro area — the resulting bottles are certainly pleasant as hell, with little to none of the qualities that make this bourbon-and-scotch man generally seek out those over a rye. (I didn't have a chance to taste the bourbon, as only 374 bottles were made, leaving none for reviewers.)

The Kiamichi 5-year rye whiskey:

5 year whiskey

The 5-year rye whiskey is cask strength, and comes in at a peppy 108 proof after the 12-barrel blend of rye mashes is aged in 24-month cured oak barrels. On the nose, it's woody to be sure, with notes reminiscent of cologne and a subtle honey sweetness. Dive in, and the first taste plays up that honey quality, with the finish moving more in the direction of vanilla before leaving a slight, not-unpleasant oily taste and texture on the gums.

The Kiamichi 8-year rye whiskey:

8 year whiskey

The 8-year rye clocks in at 110 proof; its age statement, according to Kiamichi, is a tribute to the eight Kings of Leon albums to hit the shelves over the band's career so far. On the nose, it smells a bit sharper and more acidic than its 5-year kin, with an ever-so-gentle hint of fruit hiding in the scent. On the palate, it's richer and fruitier than the 5-year rye, with unexpected smoothness; at the finish, all that segues into an escalating volley between sharp and sweet, with a slight cherry taste left on your tongue.

Kiamichi Whiskey: The Verdict

As with any celebrity-backed whiskey, whether these bottles are worth the money is in large part a question of your own enthusiasm for the folks involved. That said, the Kiamichi ryes certainly feel like anything but a cash grab. If anything, it feels very much as though Kings of Leon seems damn proud of these new whiskey — and rightfully so, I'd say.


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