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.