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winter 2018

Dixon Dedman ’03 revives Kentucky Owl Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Wins Garden & Gun Made in the South award

Eleven years ago the strongest thing the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Ky., served was black coffee. That all changed when Dixon Dedman ’03 graduated from Wofford and returned to the family business.

“Until 2003, this was a dry county,” says Dedman, who just shrugs his shoulders at the coincidence. “Now we have three restaurants with 120-plus bourbons on the shelves. There might be a handful of places with a larger selection of bourbon than we have.”

Dedman’s favorite label served… Kentucky Owl Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a revival of the brand that his great-great- grandfather, C. M. Dedman, distilled, bottled and sold before Prohibition. The legend of Kentucky Owl Bourbon grows with each telling of it — confiscated bottles that never made it to the warehouse, a robbery followed by a suspicious fire, Speak Easys up and down the eastern seaboard serving black market Kentucky Owl, even whisperings of government conspiracies. One thing’s for certain, the Dedmans were out of the Bourbon business… until now.

“Every generation since C. M. Dedman has wanted to do this,” says Dedman. “A highlight of my career was bringing back this family label that generations have talked about.”

The original 1,250 bottles of Kentucky Owl sold within 10 days of release. The first bottles sold for $175 each with the last going for upwards of $350.

According to Dedman, the five barrels that “showed themselves” were blended and bottled at the barrel to produce premium 118.4 proof bourbon. There’s no water added.

“If you’re going to make a premium product,” says Dedman, “you want to allow the consumer to decide how much water they want.”

Dedman’s formula must have worked because Garden & Gun magazine just named Kentucky Owl Bourbon the winner of its “Made in the South” award in the drinks category. Dedman and his wife, Elizabeth, went to Savannah for the awards gala on Nov. 6, and Kentucky Owl will be featured in the magazine’s December 2014/January 2015 issue. They’ve also been featured in the November/December issue of Whiskey Advocate.

For those who didn’t get a taste, Dedman says that the Beaumont Inn, Old Owl Tavern and Owl’s Nest Lounge have a stash available for patrons. In the heart of the Bourbon Trail, the inn, restaurant and lounge (the latter two conceived and opened after Dedman returned to the family business) see their share of traffic from bourbon lovers. Dedman also holds regular bourbon tasting events.

“We are perfectly centralized for people coming to do the Bourbon Trail,” says Dedman. “They can set up shop here then take short day trips and be back in time for dinner. We’re no more than one hour from any of the nine stops on the trail.”

Now that the restaurants are successful and running smoothly and the Kentucky Owl label is back in business, Dedman says that the family will focus more energy on updating the original inn, which is as much a museum with antiques and Civil War artifacts, including an extensive Robert E. Lee collection.

It’s all in a day’s work for Dedman, who always knew he would return to work at the inn after his graduation from Wofford. That’s actually one of the reasons he chose Wofford.

“I knew I would be coming back to the family business,” says Dedman, “so I wanted to live far enough away that if someone didn’t come in to work on Friday night, my dad couldn’t call.”

Still, he and his sister, Becky Dedman Bowling ’05, who married Adam Bowling ’04, worked summers and holidays at the inn. Dedman’s children, Simms (3) and Samuel (1) aren’t quite old enough to roll up their sleeves and join the family business yet, but Dedman says Simms already enjoys helping clear tables in the dining room on occasion.

“My grandparents had dinner every night at the same table in the dining room. My sister and I would eat with them sometimes, and my grandmother would walk me around the room introducing me as the fifth generation of the Beaumont Inn,” says Dedman. “As my dad and grandfather used to say, this is not a job or a career. This is your life, and you either love it or you don’t need to be in it. I cannot imagine doing anything else. I have no interest in doing anything else.”

Although he’s only 11 years out of college, Dedman already has enjoyed a productive career.

“There’s no doubt that the thing I’m most proud of is that, before my grandfather passed away, I was back as the fifth generation working with my father at the Beaumont Inn. It means as much to me as anything,” says Dedman, who says that bringing back Kentucky Owl Bourbon runs a close second.

Dedman says that he and his family took one of those first bottles to the cemetery where his ancestors are buried. They raised a glass to C. M. Dedman and the generations that followed that lost and tried to recover the label.

“It took 98 years,” says Dedman, “but we’re back in business.”

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89