Updated July 7, 2017
By Kurt Maitland
It’s no secret that Diageo has started what they call, their “Orphan Barrel” project. Essentially, Diageo will be making several limited releases of rare, aged whiskeys they have, drawn from the many distilleries under their roof. In some respects, this project is the child of the old United Distillers’ Rare Malt project, which rare scotch casks that “were too special to put in a blend” and sold them as a limited release. The first two Orphan Barrel releases were the 20 yo Barterhouse and the 26 yo Old Blowhard, made from stock in the old Stitzel-Weller warehouses in Louisville.
Barterhouse is a 20 year old bourbon, bottled at 45.1% abv in Tennessee at a Diageo property that has been very much in the news lately due to a clash between Diageo and Brown-Forman, namely George Dickel.
Color: Rich, almost ruby red
Nose: Spice, Vanilla, Honey, Oak
Taste and Finish: The honey and vanilla are the dominant presences here. You can taste the oak but it is definitely not overly oaky and there is a spice note that keeps it the whiskey from being too sweet. Barterhouse has a dry finish, and I found it smoothly un-woody for 20 yr old, with an almost rum raisin finish. The taste stays dry with the addition of water but gets a little sweeter and a little more floral.
I love the idea of this project and these various whiskeys hitting the shelves. There are amazing whiskeys lurking in Diageo’s worldwide slew of distilleries and this gives us a chance to taste them. The Orphan Barrel project is starting out with bourbons but will eventually include releases from Diageo’s distilleries in Ireland and Scotland.
Addendum by Father John Rayls
Whether certain Orphan Barrel releases are truly rare is worth asking, since my bottle of Barterhouse was labeled as bottle number 40824.
The bourbon is a medium brown with copper highlights in the glass, with legs that are long and persistent. The nose is of medium intensity and does give off some slight alcohol burn even though it’s bottled at only 90.2 proof. The oak makes its presence known, but it isn’t overwhelming. You may also notice leather, caramel, cinnamon with some very distant raisin. It’s a very enticing combination of aromas.
The mouthfeel is lightly creamy with all of the main action occurring at the back of the mouth. You get caramel and cinnamon on the palate along with a predominate oak. It’s a dry tasting experience and the mouth is left feeling like you’ve spent an afternoon boarding on the sand dunes. The finish is long and spicy. It begins with cinnamon and all-spice and quickly transforms into an Atomic Fireball (hard candy) experience. It drinks a little hot anyway and then the finish kicks in.
This started at $75 dollars in 2014. You may still find it priced at that recommended point, but expect some of the bottles that are still out there are marked up to $150.