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Whiskey Review: James Ownby Reserve Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Tasting Notes:


Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Ole Smoky. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

In June, we wrote about Tennessee-based distiller Ole Smoky issuing a new small-batch premium whiskey: James Ownby Reserve Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The name honors James Ownby, the 5th generation great-grandfather of Ole Smoky Distillery’s Founder Joe Baker.

According to the whiskey’s own website, Ownby was one of the original settlers of Tennessee, who helped beat back the British in the Battle of Kings Mountain and fought in the Revolutionary War as an Overmountain Man. He enlisted at age 17, served six tours of duty and settled in the area surrounding the Great Smoky Mountains.

The whiskey named for Ownby uses the Lincoln County Process, in which sugar maple charcoal is used to filter new-make whiskey before aging, a method also employed by Tennessee distilling leaders Jack Daniels and George Dickel. It is aged in new American charred oak barrels and clocks in at 94 proof. What did I love about this whiskey most before tasting it? Its recipe card included a recipe for the whiskey: neat. Just so you know, their recipe? It’s  3 oz. James Ownby Reserve, neat. I love a recipe that’s not afraid of a healthy pour! Drink whiskey! (And do it responsibly.)

(My materials also included  a recipe for an “Ole Fashioned” and a “TN Gold Rush,” both of which I approve of, but you can look up old fashioned and gold rush recipes and find the same thing.)

James Ownby Reserve Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey (image via James Owenby Reserve)
James Ownby Reserve Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey (image via Ole Smoky)

Tasting Notes: James Ownby Reserve Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Vital stats: Charcoal-filtered, aged in new American oak, 94 proof, about $40. Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Appearance: Kind of a flat brown, to be honest. It’s got the dullness of a cardboard box tied up for recycling. Also, a slight green tinge.

Nose: Are we ready for fall yet? I think we might be. The early mornings hold a slight chill. And this whiskey brings some of those scents. Granny Smith apples. Fresh tobacco, like smelling an unlit cigarette. Raisins.

Palate: Despite the earnest storytelling and chuckle-worthy recipes that accompanied this whiskey, I find myself really enjoying  it. There’s definitely spice and a little fire initially, but it finishes mellow. It tastes richer than I was expecting.  This is more refined than I expected. Color me pleasantly surprised. It holds back, which I appreciate. It doesn’t share everything at first. It warms quickly, like you want on a fall evening. Did I mention I’m ready for fall? Well, I am. And I want a big glass of this whiskey alongside me as I welcome it in. For about $40, the price is right, too. I wouldn’t pay that much more but I also think it’s worth north of $40 by at least a little…?

Carin Moonin

A decade ago, I traded a 5th floor walkup in Hoboken, NJ for a house in SE Portland and remain grateful for the swap. Portland’s a great whiskey town: It fits the weather and my general mood (even improves it sometimes). I enjoy exploring the many shades of brown liquor and learning what it can do for me. I’ve written for publications including,, Willamette Week, Portland Monthly, and more. When I’m not drinking whiskey or writing about it, I can be found running, reading, or seeking out free samples in grocery stores.

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