By Richard Thomas
When Diageo announced Whoop & Holler was being added to its Orphan Barrel line, it instantly grabbed my attention. Reading the stats of who made it, where it was made and aged, the mashbill used, and the application of the Lincoln County Process revealed the whiskey to be a George Dickel of an amazing 28 years of age. Not only was it the oldest Orphan Barrel to date, it was also the oldest George Dickel to date.
Except, of course, that Whoop & Holler wasn’t released as a George Dickel. So, technically the oldest Dickel remains the Dickel 17 Year Old released this past August. Why Diageo chose to make this an Orphan Barrel rather than a Dickel remains an uncommented-upon mystery, but I am willing to hazard a guess as to why they called it “American Whiskey” instead of “Tennessee Whiskey.”
Back in 2013, Nashville passed a state whiskey law that finally gave legal definition to the Tennessee Whiskey category. As Jack Daniel’s is nipping at the heels of Diageo’s Johnnie Walker for bragging rights as the world’s top-selling whiskey brand, Diageo mounted a campaign to undermine and overturn the new law, which has to date failed. Keeping that in mind, they were highly unlikely to call anything Tennessee Whiskey that they didn’t have to, and if it’s not a Dickel, they don’t.
In the glass, the whiskey has a surprisingly unaged look to it, a golden copper coloring resembling apple juice, and lacking the deep amber one associates with a couple of decades or more spent in new white oak. That was just the first intriguing aspect of Whoop & Holler. The nose is brown sugar and honey sweet, seasoned with vanilla and cloves, and endowed with a certain straw-like grassy character.
From there, the liquid (bottled at 84 proof) is quite light on the palate. It has some of that corn candy sweetness of a high-corn whiskey (technically, Dickel is aged corn whiskey, what with the 84% corn in the mash), and the cloves note becomes a bit peppery. Throw in a hint of butterscotch, and that is about all there is too it. It’s not just that the whiskey is light in texture, but also lacking a bit in substance. The finish is a pinch of pepper, and so light that it’s gone almost before you know it.
My experience with Whoop & Holler combined with what I’ve read about the Dickel 17 Year Old has led me to wonder if the Lincoln County Process might not take something out of the spirit necessary to success with long aging. As it is, an American whiskey needs to be cossetted to come out well after 20+ years in the barrel. Yet Whoop & Holler seems to have lost much of what younger Dickels have that I am left to wonder if something crucial to the chemistry of a well-aged, very old Bourbon got lost back in the sugar maple charcoal.
Whoop & Holler is priced at $175.