Private label bourbon from Costco? How could we pass up this opportunity for some fun and excitement? The answer is simple. We could not, in good conscience, pass this up. And with that, we got around to consuming a bottle of Kirkland Select Premium Small Batch Bourbon from Costco.
Now, before we get into the flavor, we must address the mystery. Who makes Kirkland Select Premium Small Batch Bourbon? Obviously, it is not Costco themselves. However, the labels on the bottle are somewhat cryptic. The bottle mentions Clear Springs Distillery (now reportedly Kentucky Springs Distilling Company on some bottles) and both Clermont and Frankfurt, Ky. Therein lies the first, and best, clue. As all you budding bourbon historians out there know, Clear Springs Distillery (not necessarily Kentucky Springs Distilling Company) was founded in 1913 by one David M. Beam in 1850. David was of the Jim Beam side of the family (as opposed to the Heaven Hill side of the family).
So case closed, right? Unfortunately not. According to a Certificate of Assumed Name filed with the state of Kentucky in March of 2011, the Clear Spring Distilling Company (Kentucky Springs Distilling) is in fact owned by Buffalo Trace. Buffalo Trace makes sense, given that the label listed Frankfurt, KY which is the home of Buffalo Trace.
However, this tale has one more turn before the conclusion. Someone with far better detective skills than I found an actual scan of the Certificate of Label Approval online. As you can clearly see, it was submitted by Jim Beam. At the end of the day, that makes this a Jim Beam product. The only twist remaining is who makes it now. Beam filed the COLA in 2010, then Buffalo Trace acquired the rights to the Clear Springs Distilling Company (Kentucky Springs Distilling) in 2011. So does Beam still make this? Most people believe that somehow as part of the deal, Beam is continuing to make this private label bourbon for Costco, but only time will tell if production will eventually shift to Buffalo Creek.
Mystery solved! Oh wait, no it isn’t. Not at all, in fact. Just because we know that Beam produced this bottle of Kirkland Select Premium Small Batch Bourbon, we don’t yet know which Beam product is actually in the bottle. Back to the label! It tells us that this bourbon is a seven year old, 51.5% bourbon. Beam has a few seven year old bourbons like Baker’s and Jim Beam Black, but the former is 53.5% and the later is 45%. Beam does not have any bourbon at 51.5% that I know of, but a few are close (other than the aforementioned Baker’s). Knob Creek and Old Grand Dad are both 50%.
What this seems to indicate is that this is not a direct private labeling of an already existing Beam product, but some kind of slightly tweaked or blended varietal. At the end of the day, do most Costco customers even care? No, I can definitely say they do not. All they care about is if this $20 bottle of bourbon tastes good.
Kirkland Bourbon from Kentucky Springs Distilling: The Verdict
I can tell you without hesitation that it is thoroughly decent. It’s not great, but it is not bad. There are plenty of other choices for around the same price point that put the Kirkland Select Premium Small Batch Bourbon from Costco in the middle of the pack. Would I buy it again? Well, if I was throwing a party and was already buying the rest of my supplies at Costco and wanted to save myself a trip to the liquor store, perhaps. Half the joy of Kirkland Bourbon is in the journey of discover with Clear Springs Distilling / Kentucky Springs Distilling.