PHC10: Parker’s Heritage Collection #10: 24yr Bourbon

Another one of the epic releases for the year, exploding in price on bottle-spot… and I had to have it so I could share my thoughts with my readers.  I wish I bought it at retail, but unfortunately I paid up for it… was it worth it?

It has a beautiful dark, root beer-esque color too it.  But is it too dark?  We shall see…

Really rich and powerful nose… stewed berries, cocoa, leather, pencil shavings, cigar box, toasted marshmallows and Twix.  So much going on in the nose and really nice… you can smell wood but the wood is not overpowering, which is tough to do on a 24yr Bourbon.  Mild heat on the nose.`

The taste is great… all those flavors on the nose come out in the palate, heat only on the way down, and the finish is long and it improves as it dissipates.  The mouthfeel is ok, but a little thinned out, and I’m a little surprised that it’s not chill filtered.  I had to wait three minutes before the second sip because the finish was going on and on.

It’s amazing comparing this to Old Blowhard… this really nails it while Old Blowhard is the epitome of everything wrong with an old overoaked whiskey.

This is a very special whiskey.  It’s not going to be for everyone’s style, and it will be in even less people’s budgets, but it’s a great Bourbon from Heaven Hill.  I’ve seen it trade online for between $400 and $600 and I think it will probably settle down somewhere in the $450 area at the end of the day.  It’s my third favorite 2016 release this year so far (behind FRSB Elliot’s Select and Barrell Whiskey 002), but by far the most expensive.  I’ll be savouring this one for a while.  96/100



Gifted Horse: Orphan Barrel’s Newest Release

Ok…. Let me be upfront here. I’ve bought every Orphan Barrel release to date and have been largely disappointed by all of them. The only two I have legitimately enjoyed were the Lost Prophet 22yr (overall) and the Forged Oak 15yr (for value).  I picked up this bottle for $59.99.

Gifted Horse is a blend of 17yr and 4yr whiskey. Is the story about the accidental blending true? Probably not but it’s still a fun diddy to put on the side of the bottle.  It’s about 60% 4yr and 40% 17yr.

The color looks about right for the age mix with a medium dark amber hue, and the bottles all look good with a very cool design on the label.  For this release they changed the bottle to have a much larger cap and wider opening–subtle change, but a good one making it look more substantial.

Ginger snaps, mushrooms, chili peppers, plantains and fresh leather. So much going on here. For 115 proof the nose isn’t that hot.

Nice gritty mouthfeel, really bringing out the earthiness on the palate. Heat is extremely manageable, barely even recognizing a cask strength bottling. Enjoyable palate with a decent finish.

The story about accidentally blending a 17yr and a 4yr is probably complete horse shit as opposed to gifted horse. It probably was an over oaked 17yr that when blended with a 4yr was very enjoyable. Whether the blend was on purpose, fated by the stars or a random occurrence, I’m glad they released this batch the the public. 93/100.

Enjoy this release from Diageo and I deem it to be the best value they have released to date.  If you can get it from your local liquor store for $60, it’s definitely worth it.



Forged Oak: Orphan Barrel Series Continued: More Focus on Marketing, Less on Distilling/Blending…

As promised the continuation of the Orphan Barrel Series tastings: Forged Oak.

Forged Oak, the youngest of the Orphan Barrel Series clocks in at a 90.5 proof level and 15 years of age in the barrel.  It is also the least expensive of the bunch, costing me a mere $60, although some retailers have decided to charge upwards of $100.  I found it in Cape Cod over July 4th weekend, and everywhere in NYC has priced it higher.  Too bad shipping across state lines has been severely curtailed–call your Congressman!

I repeat my earlier thoughts on Old Blowhard for Forged Oak: the bottle looks really cool, and it looks great on my shelf.  All five together look great, and it is a testament to the marketing folks at Diageo for coming up with some spectacular label designs, although it seems they spent more effort on the label and the PR work than with the whiskey itself.  The label is silver with a huge stag on the front, perhaps an allusion to Mr. Stagg?  Who knows… but they do drop the S-W Bomb on the side label, claiming to have “found” this bottle “while foraging through the racks of barrels in the historic Stitzel-Weller rickhouse.”  OK, who doesn’t get excited by S-W, but from what I can tell online, this was distilled at New Bernheim (now owned by Heaven Hill) and stored at the S-W rickhouse.  The mash bill is 86% corn, 8% barley and 6% rye.  This is “hand bottled” with pride in Tullahoma and is number 11,596.

The color is dark butterscotch, very reminiscent of a 18 year old Scotch.

My initial prejudice was to get a ton of wood on the nose, however, that was not my initial impression.  I got apple pie, butterscotch, baking spices, and only on the second time did I get the wood notes.  Old Blowhard had gotten me all ramped up about over-oaking, but this bottle does not suffer from the same neglect.  It also hits you like you are going to get a bunch of heat, but teases you because the heat on the back of your throat never kicks in.

The sweetness on the nose is confirmed on the palate, with medium heat.  The finish is more heat than flavor though as it does not linger as long as I hoped it would.  The wood comes though on the tongue, but the tannins are just fine.  It’s unfortunate that this was bottled at only 90.5 proof as it seems to be lacking a backbone that it could have had if it was cask strength.

I added some water to see what would happen and the nose changed.  This time it was more fruit forward, apples, bananas: sweeter and lighter.  However, when I tasted it, everything just fell apart.  The water removed whatever flavor there was and just left me with wet disappointment personified.  Warning: DO NOT ADD WATER.  This reinforced my previous notion that had Forged Oak been bottled at 115-130 proof it might have been an impressive whiskey.

Overall, this was an enjoyable Bourbon. It’s not amazing, and it’s probably not as limited release as people think it is either.  If you can find a bottle for $60, it’s probably worth buying because it looks nice on the shelf, and your friends might want to try it, but there are many better buys for the same price or less out there.  If your local store has it for $100, the decision not to buy it becomes far easier.  I’m rating this one higher than Old Blowhard because it’s cheaper and the overall experience was more enjoyable–I even went for seconds.  86/100


Balcones & Chip Tate Continued… The Magic of the Blend, Do Not Underestimate It.

For those who also follow me on Twitter, you probably already saw part of this exchange today, but for those of you who didn’t, Chip Tate, the former Master Distiller of Balcones replied to my tweet on a the Balcones Rumble.  He wanted to make sure that I, and all of you, knew that he had nothing to do with any of the Balcones production since August 5th, 2014.  We also exchanged several direct messages that you didn’t see and it is very clear that he is very proud of what is has accomplished, and is looking forward to his next project and leaving this all behind him.

For those of you who are not familiar with the history, the New York Times wrote an article providing the background (  Essentially it’s a classic story of once a company gets to a certain size, the investors are no long happy with the founder and after continued disagreements, run him out of town.  These types of growing pains are unfortunately a recurring theme throughout the history of corporations (anyone remember Steve Jobs and Apple, the first time around?).  Restraining orders were exchanged, nasty words thrown back and forth, and as a result Chip Tate was no longer part of Balcones and the investors had the distillery, the brand, and the whiskey to do with what they pleased.

Chip made a very good point to me via twitter: “None of those bttls were blended by me. Good blending is extremely important, especially for young spirits.”  What I have noticed from reading other blogs, is that there appears to be too much emphasis on the origination of the distillation.  Certain blogs freak out about NDP (non-distiller producers), whether it’s Templeton’s, Whiskey Pig, or myriad other brands out there.  The negative connotations that bloggers put out about Indiana’s MGP kinda of makes me laugh–did they even try the product, or did they assume because it came from Indiana it must be bad?  On the flip side,  take some of the Orphan Barrel bottles (I owe you all reviews on them, I promise to get them out soon), or the post-Chip Tate Balcones… you could have the best master distiller, from the best distillery aged in the most historic rickhouse in the world… but if you don’t have a good blender, it’s all for naught.  So much of the magic that goes into the bottle is through finishing the whiskey, blending the right barrels together adding the correct amount of distilled water, and so much more.  Just because it was made at Stitzel-Weller doesn’t guarantee that it will taste like liquid gold… if it wasn’t aged enough, or too long (cough cough Old Blowhard), it will take one helluva blender to take the patient from code blue to resuscitated–or maybe a strong enough person is needed to tell the investors that they need to put it back in the barrel for another couple years??  A combination of both lesser blending and rushing product to market is what I think Balcones has been suffering from for the past 11 months, and it’s clear to me from tasting it.

Ultimately, a brand is only as good as it’s current product, and if the talented people who build the brand are gone and the replacements aren’t of the same caliber, the cache will erode and eventually fade away into history’s abyss.

Like I’ve always said, I judge a whiskey but it’s smell, taste and how it makes me feel.  The new Balcones product make me feel like I want my money back.

I haven’t tried the old stuff, and if anyone is willing to send me a sample, please direct message me on twitter as I’d love to try it and do another review.

Orphan Barrel: Old Blowhard… nice to add to collection, not worth the price

Over July 4th I was in Cape Cod and went into a couple liquor stores and felt lucky to find a few of the Orphan Barrel whiskeys from Diageo, still at normal prices.  I picked up one of each and over the next couple weeks I will be reviewing each of them.

You can still find Forged Oak (15yrs) at a reasonable price, and most places have Barterhouse (20yrs) and Rhetoric (20 and 21yrs) too, but Lost Prophet (22yrs) and Old Blowhard (26yrs) are basically impossible to find these days unless you want to pay up online.  I probably should have started with Forged Oak, but I’m not the kind of person who has a lot of patience, so I started with the oldest.

First a bit about the Orphan Barrel Whisky Distilling Co.  It’s one of Diageo’s newer brands, and it’s from “orphan” barrels from old distilleries.  Perhaps from distilleries they purchased along the way, or barrels they purchased from others.  The truth is unclear, and depending on which blogs you believe it could be Stitzel-Weller (very unlikely), Old (or new?) Bernheim, or who knows.  Ultimately, I pretty much only care about how it smells, tastes and makes me feel.  All of their production is bottled in Tullahoma, TN.  They have a very cool rectangular shape to them, and look nice on your shelf.

Old Blowhard is the oldest offerings of the Orphan Barrel series and was retired last year.  I have bottle number 4,179.  It’s bottled at 90.7 proof, which is too bad in my opinion–something like this should have garnered a barrel proof.  Some people have blogged that given the age it had to have come from Old Bernheim and aged at Stitzel-Weller, but I guess only Diageo and those who dumped the barrels know for sure.

The color is really cool, nice dark amber, richly colored and looks great in the bottle against the blue labeling with the whale right in the middle.

On the nose I get burnt orange, toasted walnuts, a bit of old stale baguette… on a deeper smell I’m getting candied orange peel but now a lot of wood, like a woody log cabin smell with a wood burning stove.  Overall it is hard to really handicap this one because it’s the oldest Bourbon I’ve ever tasted, but I’m not sure it’s that good.

The taste is unfortunately extremely woody, oily, and overwhelmed by wood tannins… The palate isn’t too complex, because all the other aromas that I was getting hints of on the nose are trumped by the extended exposure to wood. On the positive side, the finish is long and enjoyable.  I haven’t really mentioned a burn here, and that’s because it’s very mellow, which I rather appreciated, but given that the proof is on the low side compared to what I generally drink, I’m not giving it a ton of credit.
I let it sit out for a while and tried it again, and like a very tannic wine, a little air improved the smell and taste… although that could also be because I was drinking more and the last drink of the night always tastes the best?
I’m confused here.  I did enjoy it, and it’s certainly unlike anything else I’ve ever tasted before; but in my opinion it isn’t worth anything remotely close to what it retails for and more so to where it trades on the secondary market. To make a comparison to the wine world, this is a “trading whiskey” not a drinking whiskey.  I’m happy to have it on my shelf along with my other Bourbons, but it will probably stay there for a very long time as I don’t see myself reaching for it on a regular basis.
The rating here is a tough one, because it was enjoyable, and a unique experience for the age, but not worth the money.  85/100.