By Father John Rayls
Opinions are like, well, it suffices to say everyone has one. There are lovers and there are haters and nothing brings them out of bourbon circles like The Orphan Barrel series. Some consumers chalk it up to a mere marketing gimmick, or disdain it because they have an axe to grind with its makers at Diageo. Others love to get a chance (a shot?) at a relatively lower cost ancient bourbon.
The fourth release of Rhetoric bourbon whiskey, now as a 23 year old, is sure to bring them all out loving and hating. This is another bourbon from their progressive releases, each one drawn from the same stock after an extra year of aging. Diageo certainly has used its marketing prowess to move these “orphaned” barrels to market. The original 20 year old release dates to 2014. The back story involves barrels that the company simply forgot and asks us to believe they didn’t remember they were there. This despite the fact that they were paying Kentucky taxes on all these barrels.
However, the important issue isn’t about good, bad or inappropriate marketing or whether they were actually lost or forgotten barrels. It’s about the bourbon tasting experience. Do you enjoy it enough to pay the price?
This release was aged in the Stitzel-Weller warehouses in Louisville, Kentucky, and was bottled in Tullahoma, Tennessee (home of Diageo’s George Dickel) at 90.6 proof. It has a mash bill that’s 86% corn, 8% barley and 6% rye.
The whiskey color is medium brown with gold and copper highlights. The legs are long, thick and persistent, and literally everywhere on the glass. The nose is surprisingly moderate and hints at oak, vanilla/caramel and leather. There is no alcohol burn even when inhaling deeply.
There is a very soft, creamy mouthfeel with flavors of oak, caramel and cinnamon. It’s mostly a back of the mouth experience. It drinks slightly hot, but not overly so. The experience on the palate is soft and almost lulls you to sleep with a slightly sweet presence of faint dried cherries.
The finish announces itself with some authority. It comes on boldly after delaying its appearance until you think it’s not going to happen. You have to wait for it, but it’s long and satisfying. It’s a little hot, with strong cinnamon, building gradually in the background until it finally involves the whole mouth up to the tip of the tongue.
I you enjoy cigars, I suggest a low cost Nub Habano alongside this interesting bourbon. It matches well with the flavors of the bourbon and doesn’t break the bank.
The suggested retail is in the $120.00 area. I found it for $114.00. It is another opportunity to experience history that will soon be lost. I am glad I bought it once, but might not purchase another one at the same price.