American whiskey blender Dixon Dedman may be well-known best for high proof, chest-hair growth inducing Kentucky Owl Whiskey. Now, however, with his latest drink venture, those old chest hairs will fade and you might just go full werewolf.
Enter his new small batch bourbon blend: 2XO: The Phoenix Blend.
I started with the name. I immediately liked “Phoenix,” because of Dedman’s new start, duh. But what in the Gossip Girl was “2XO”? (For those of you who are not millennials, Gossip Girl’s sign-off is “XOXO, Gossip Girl.”) Well, the name had nothing to do with my favorite show during sophomore year of high school.
“2XO” actually refers to Dixon’s unique blending process, meaning Two Times Oak. Also meaning, I needed some elaboration, so I decided to ask the man himself.
“Basically, what I’m doing is taking barrels of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey when they’re six or so years old, dumping them from their original containers, entering them into new charred oak containers, and then continuing to age them for a period of time,” explained Dedman. “That’s the simple answer – aged liquid in new barrels a second time.”
He added that double barrelling was a process he developed and leaned into while he was developing Kentucky Owl and can help a “young-ish liquid taste much older and more mature.”
I will get to that mature taste, momentarily. But first, smell.
I started with a small pour, neat, and immediately smelled cherry. Dedman didn’t get fruit on his first sniff, but my nose didn’t fully fail me.
“To be honest, I think the first thing I smelled was more of the ‘smores’- type sweet and smoky notes,” said Dedman. “I think that jumped out at me before I got to the red fruit, but they’re both there for sure.”
Dedman elaborated that the majority of the product that went into making the Phoenix Blend, in fact, came from a proprietary high rye mash bill that also uses a fruity yeast strain.
Then, I sipped the Phoenix Blend.
I immediately knew that I would be purchasing this whiskey for anyone who attended a terrible funeral and needed a big, stiff drink. It will be life-awakening, if not for the individual, for every hair on his/her body. The single sip raised all of mine.
Dedman explained his thoughts on his ideal ways to consume Phoenix.
“I think that the Phoenix is a very easy sipping bourbon neat, and the proof is intended to have enough flavor and complexity and especially viscosity/mouthfeel so that you can enjoy it neat, but I would by lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it more often than not poured over a large cube,” Dedman said. “It just mellows a little bit without losing the mouthfeel and a lot of the complex character in that blend.”
I did not add an ice cube, but I did add a tiny splash of water to my pour. The water completely opened the whiskey up for me. While the drink was still strong, the Phoenix didn’t feel like it was still on fire after mythically rising from the ashes. It was manageable and I was able to smell more of the flavors – cherry, caramel, and oak.
All of that– prompted the following question from me about adding water, and I think his answer really breaks everything down, so read on, whiskey/Gossip Girl enthusiast!
Emily: When you add a splash of water – do you think flavors or smells disappear – if so – what do they disappear into?
Dixon: Too much water and you begin to lose key elements. It’s not any different than if you poured a can of Coca-Cola over a glass of ice. First drink, it tastes like Coke. Leave that glass out for an hour, the ice melts, the coke is now the color of light tea, and it doesn’t taste anything like it did an hour ago. Basic dilution. Generally speaking, in bourbon, as you dilute, you lose sweet notes and barrel notes first, and provided it’s a bourbon mash bill with rye as the secondary/flavoring grain, the spice will hang on and be the key component of what you taste after it’s been diluted/watered down. You taste spice on the back of your palate and the majority of people are very receptive/sensitive to spice on their palates because it’s not something we seek out in much of what we consume. Sweet and savory are much more sought after in our subconscious when we are tasting things. So, spice tends to be very recognizable to us. When you dilute/add too much water to a whiskey, it generally becomes one-dimensional with that one dimension being the spice notes from the rye we recognize on the back of the palate. As you add water, you lose the sweet and savory notes first.
How do you suggest drinking Phoenix 2XO – on ice, with water, straight up?
I really think that’s a personal decision. Some of the best bourbon I’ve ever had in my life was probably out of a styrofoam cup around a fire with friends. I’m not a big believer in a proper or appropriate way to drink it and I’d never be the guy that said, “you’re doing it wrong!” Obviously, I’m very proud of the Phoenix and I’d put it up against anything I’ve had or made in a long time. I think for the true experience, you should try it neat. After that, it’s about enjoying it, and if that’s with some water, or on the rocks, or mixed with root beer, if you’re enjoying it, that’s the way to do it.
What is the ideal cocktail with Phoenix 2XO?
It’s been fun to see what people come up with in terms of cocktails. At 104 proof, the Phoenix is big, but not over-powering in terms of alcohol. I have had some incredible Old Fashioneds made with the Phoenix, but the best were very simple. A little simple syrup, some old fashioned bitters, orange bitters, a drop or two of syrup from some good high quality cocktail cherries (not the bright pink ones), and some orange zest. I also made Manhattans with it for my parents the other night. They were phenomenal. The only mistake I made was not cutting them off after the first one but that’s a story for another day. I think it generally makes a great cocktail. I was on a Boulevardier kick for a while and enjoy the Phoenix in that too – but my recipe is 1.5 oz Phoenix, 1.5 oz good Sweet Vermouth, .75 oz Campari. I like sweeter and richer Boulevardiers rather than it becoming too bitter for me when you go equal parts of all ingredients.
I feel like Phoenix 2X0 is like Prohibition whiskey with a high alcohol content that inspires an old-school Old Fashioned where you need some ice and add some bitters and a little bit of sweetness? What is your reaction to this?
Totally agree. Wouldn’t argue it. My thought process has always been to make bourbons and ryes that can be enjoyed neat. Whiskies that show very well neat and show off the true intent of the blend where the parts become a whole in the right spot. But, as I have said many times, my intent is never to tell someone how they should enjoy it. 104 is too much for some people and that’s fine. I have my father taste everything I’ve ever made before I sign off on it. I like his perspective because he always adds some water to them and I want his opinion on how he likes the blend the way he likes to drink it. Honestly, for me, it’s more about being a part of someone’s special moment or celebration or get-together than it is about how they’re actually drinking your product. If the ladies book club is getting together and drinking it neat while the macho whiskey club is getting together and making whiskey spritzes but everyone is having a good time and 2XO is a part of it, that is a win in my book.