In Defense of Orphan Barrel
Orphan Barrel Bottles Reviewed
Before you grab your pitch forks, let me explain. I understand, for some bourbon enthusiast defending Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Project is like rooting for Ivan Drago in Rocky 4 or wearing an Iceland jersey in Mighty Ducks 2. Forget the marketing. I want to focus on the taste in the Oprhan barrel line up. Yes, I do believe there are several good – great bourbons in the Orphan barrel line.
If you’re not familiar, here’s what happened. Diageo is the world’s largest producer of spirits and a major producer of beer and wine. In late 2013 Diageo announced their new “Orphan Barrel Project”. Also, check out Chuck Cowdery’s post for more information about the history of these barrels.
The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Company was started to share barrels of rare and delicious whiskey, hidden away and nearly forgotten in the back of rickhouses and distilleries.
Stories of these lost whiskeys have become the stuff of legend. Our goal is to bottle these rare, small offerings for the world to try.
The bottles were over-marketed and Diageo lied about or withheld info from the consumers. Diageo tried to use every buzzword possible (rare, Stitzel-Weller, Limited Edition, etc.). When bottles of Barterhouse started popping up every where, some with bottle numbers in 80k range, Bourbonr’s took notice. How do you lose and then find thousands of barrels? After being pressed on the bourbons source Diageo admitted that these bottles weren’t distilled at Stitzel-Weller but just aged there. It was downhill after that and rumors began to fly. Oh, and every bottle was around the $100 mark.
Is it Good?
Forget about the price and marketing. High prices and crazy stories are basically the norm in today’s in bourbon market. Is the bourbon good? There are plenty of people that think the Orphan bourbons are swill but are they rating the bourbon or the brand (see the halo effect)? Before reading the reviews I need to mention that the Forged Oak was a sample from Diageo but I’ve since bought my own bottle. It didn’t affect my opinion but some people appreciate this information. Old Blowhard was a sample from a friend (Thanks Jason! Follow him on Instagram) but all other bottles I purchased myself.
Source: New Bernheim in Louisville, KY ( Now a part of Heaven Hill)
Review: The nose is full of honey and orange with a surprising absence of wood. The taste is fairly light with a little bit of caramel, orange peel and spice. This would be like an all day IPA of bourbon. There is some good flavor but not intense flavor. I wouldn’t pay $100 for it but I have seen it packed on to shelves around the $70 mark. That’s a much better price point in my opinion. Barterhouse has probably been proofed down too much.
Review: What’s interesting about the nose on this one is you’re expecting and overly woody. Nothing too strong but notes of dried apricots and oranges, rye spices or toasted rye bread. I’m expecting pine sol on the taste but that’s not the case. Sure, it has an overall dry taste but there’s also caramel apple, peppercorn and tobacco.
Source: Old Bernheim
Source: New Bernheim in Louisville, KY ( Now a part of Heaven Hill)
Review: Nose: mature wood, leather and a little fruitiness. The taste is HOT. Dry, mint, oak and orange peel. It was surprisingly hot for a 20 year old at 90 proof. I compared side by side with a 2013 ER 17 which is very close in age and it lacked complexity and was hotter in comparison. If you’re a collector with money to spend maybe it’s worth it but if you’re a bourbon drinker on a budget I’d pass. I’ve had pretty good success with letting bottles sit for a couple months and then coming back to them to be pleasantly surprised. After tasting a couple of months after opening the bottle it did mellow out. Nothing higher than an 80 but still improvement.
Review: The nose reminds me of a spiced cake with fruit topping. It’s a complex nose with a balance of honey and baking spice. The taste is honey and cherry with spice on the back end. Maybe it’s because I know this bourbons heritage but I think it’s delicious. Surprisingly sweet for a 22 year old bourbon.
Lost Profit History:
Source: George T. Stagg Distillery (now Buffalo Trace)
Sipp’n Corn also makes a compelling argument that it’s mash bill #2
Yes, it was distilled at the former George T. Stagg Distillery. Ever wondered what an ultra-aged Stagg would taste like? This is your chance. Is Stagg and Lost Prophet identical mash bill from the same distillery? For obvious reasons this will never be officially confirmed but looking at the circumstantial evidence I’d say it’s pretty clear. Lost Prophet was distilled in 1991 while the George T. Stagg (GTS) Distillery was still owned by Schenley (which was owned by Guinness P.L.C. who later became Diageo). The GTS Distillery was sold to the Sazerac Company in 1992 and they changed the name to Buffalo Trace Distillery in 1999.
In 2002 Buffalo Trace added George T. Stagg bourbon to the Antique Collection. George T. Stagg is an uncut unfiltered 15-16 year old bourbon which was obviously sourced from bourbon acquired in the purchase of the GTS Distillery. What’s interesting is there is one year of distillation missing from the early George T. Stagg releases (between the 2006 and 2007 release). Yes, there is no George T. Stagg release that was distilled in 1991. That would make Lost Prophet mash bill #1 from Buffalo Trace. Obviously it was aged at a different location so it’s not a direct comparison. It’s kind of like comparing a fuji apple to a gala apple instead of apples to oranges.
Source: New Bernheim in Louisville, KY ( Now a part of Heaven Hill)
Review: The nose is dry and spicy similar to toasted almonds with allspice and licorice. The taste is mildly sweet with tobacco, wood and cinnamon. It’s well balanced and very good. It’s not exactly what I’m looking for in a flavor profile but with a $65 retail I think this is a great buy
Here’s my order for the Orphan bourbons: Lost Prophet (by a wide margin)> Forged Oak> Old Blowhard=Barterhouse (these are pretty equal based on price differnce)> Rhetoric (improved since I first tasted but still not very good)
Basically, I’d treat Orphan Barrel like any other purchase. Look past all the marketing garbage and people bashing it just to bash it. Try it at a bar first. If you like it buy a bottle. I can’t say that every bottle is worth the price tag but I’d buy a second bottle of Lost Prophet or Forged Oak. I’d even grab another bottle of Baterhouse if it were around the $65-$70 mark. Maybe Orphan Barrel is just a marketing experiment riding the bourbon wave but I’d rather pay a premium for a nice looking bottle with 20 year old bourbon from legendary distilleries in it rather than a pretty re-bottling of MGPI with a elaborate back story. Ultimately, trust your own taste.
What do you think? Are you a fan of Orphan barrel or do you think it’s pure marketing hype?
Good post Blake. Despite the hatred of the marketing from many enthusiasts we’re still getting a variety of fairly high aged bourbons with different flavor profiles at reasonable MSRPs with this lineup. Also, despite the high numbers of production you don’t tend to see these on the shelf for too long, so people are buying them. I’m not going to say I agree with Diageo’s marketing concept – they could have actually given some better history on these and appeased the enthusiast crowd… but then again maybe they deliberately kept quiet to generate some stir in the community and leave it up to the bloggers of the world to dig into the details… who knows? I think the worst thing you can have is no one talking about your product, which is not the case here. All-in-all these are not the worst bottles you can buy at their MSRP. Barterhouse, which I thought was a little too watered down at first, has actually grown on me quite a bit. For the $69 I paid I kind of wish I had bought another when I had the chance.
I think all of the OB are under whelming. And I have the experience on the Barterhouse and Rhetoric not being blown away by them at first but liking them better after several days and retasting them. They are bad by any means and they do not taste like mouth wash, but they simply do not live up to their billing.
I ‘d like to see a barrel proof release. Then we can talk about it from a legendary perspective.
I bought the entire lineup and was pretty unimpressed with the lot. They all have their ups and downs but ultimately after the expense of searching them out and paying a enormous chunk of change. This was something that was supposed to be rare and it left me bitterly disappointed that I got caught up in the marketing.
A friend and I recently did a comparison between Forged Oak, Rhetoric and Lost Prophet. Overall, I think these are all pretty decent, offering an interesting flavor profile. I think the thing that stood out to us the most was the difference between the nose and the flavor across the board. We felt they all had a great nose, but the taste didn’t always match up (not necessarily a bad thing, just interesting). The biggest offender was the Forged Oak … if the taste was closer to the nose I think that one would be out of the park.
Thanks for the reviews and the info!
Great write up!! I would drink these any day before I start paying black market, super-inflated prices for my bourbon. Judge them by what’s in the bottle and ignore the BS marekting….. Keep ’em coming Blake!!
Agree too much hype. I bought 2 barterhouse at $80 and the four roses single barrel 10years is better at $40
I obtained samples from a few friends of Blowhard, Rhetoric, Lost Prophet, and Barterhouse. In my opinion the Blowhard was over oaked and past its prime and quite honestly the others seemed thin to me. They all lacked the richness in the body or an outstanding nose that I would hope would come with a well aged bourbon. Couple that with the fairytale marketing Diageo spun with it I will not purchase any of these. I do miss the days of pride from the distilleries. I understand it’s a business, but it seems to me most recent releases of almost every brand lack pride in the product in exchange for fast money. It’s a shame honestly.
Thanks Blake for the review. I recently posted a photo on a Facebook site that showed all 4 of the first releases on the shelf at a local grocery. The post blew up from others around the country looking for certain bottles. One local went and bought all of the Oldblowhard that they had. I asked ‘why?’. He said that as this is run out of distribution, drinkers will want the full collection one day and pay ‘the price’. . . . . .so, once again it sounds like buying into the marketing rather than the product. I bought an Oldblowhard and thought it was good, but not in the league of $150+/bottle bourbons. I think I will go back for a Lost Prophet though. . .!
Where do you live, Just city and state is fine? I live in MD where it is really hard to find any of these.
I was in by the Mall off of 81 in Hagerstown, MD today and they had three of the five at Cafe Liquors.
Found forged oak and Rhetoric 20 at liquor store in Reisterstown. Yesterday!
Yeah, that’s kind of blurring the line of bourbon enthusiast/collector and bourbon investor for me. He probably has a point but I don’t want to make purchases based on that. I agree with you though. Blowhard isn’t a $150 bourbon but I assume you can’t price a 26 year old bourbon at less than $100. I think the point here is 26 year old bourbon just isn’t good (except for the Parker’s Heritage that one was good)
Bogus bourbon marketing makes me sick. Such deception. How does a distillery “lose barrels”? It is highly unlikely in my opinion, especially when they have to account for every barrel and pay inventory tax on it. That said, Orphan Barrel and Lost Prophet are good but not outstanding. Both are overpriced in my opinion. Four Roses Ltd Editions are way better tasting and priced.
I thought the same thing but had a conversation with Mike Veach and he mentioned that it happened several times. He was referring to a situation where 3-4 barrels were “found” so I’m guessing there was some truth to the story and Diageo ran with it.
Also, I’m pretty sure I could blindly pick a Four Roses private barrel and make a convincing argument that it’s just as good, if not better than 99% of what’s on the market today
Etched into my memory….
“… I could blindly pick a Four Roses private barrel and make a convincing argument that it’s just as good, if not better than 99% of what’s on the market today.”
I like what I like. I’ve not tasted the Old Blowhard or the Forged Oak. The Forged Oak is not yet available in my area; but I will purchase when it becomes available. I like the Barterhouse and the Rhetoric. I think they stand up as excellent bourbons, way better than most except the super premiums. The Lost Prophet is a bit hot for me and I find little heat in the others. Barrel strength is lost on me. I have tasted the George T Stagg, William Larue Weller and they are just too hot. I bring all my bourbon down to 45% ABV, after doing a good tasting at it’s original strength of course. The Maker’s Mark cask strength was actually very good and surprisingly not hot without adding water. Drinking 70% ABV is just not to my liking so sorry to all you “it’s got to be cask strength, proof lowered too much and all the rest” people. I am not a fan of the Diageo hype and wish they would not do that; but I’m not going to rate the bourbon on that. I’m glad they offer it for sale and I like it. Any of you have a new bottle of Old Blowhard or Forged Oak that you want to send to me, I’ll take it. I’ll even pay a reasonable price and shipping. So , I like these bourbons and they get great taste reviews from me: color, nose, mouth feel, taste and finish. Rhetoric, Barterhouse, Lost Prophet in that order from me. We all have different tastes of course and they are all valid for us individually. This is my opinion.
Ultimately, that’s what it’s about. You like what you like. Never pay more or less for something you’re “supposed” to like
Thanks for the excellent as always reviews Blake. I have to say that marketing hype aside I enjoy both blowhard and barterhouse. They’re similar but distinct. Barterhouse has less wood and a much simpler finish in my mind. Ya I’m disappointed in the marketing and I bought these early in the release but my purchase was more like “I’ll buy them at msrp just in case – caveat emptor” and with that in mind they are both in rotation for me as good to excellent bourbons.
I got to ” was a sample from Diageo but I’ve since bought my own bottle. It didn’t affect my opinion ” and stopped reading. The fact that you don’t think it affected your opinion clearly shows your loss of objectivity.
Disappointed. Cause I know you can do better.
Maybe it should say “I don’t feel obligated to give a good review” since everything affects our opinions. The level of affect $12 of whiskey has is very small. Not sure how I would “do better”?
I tend to only buy my own bottles in terms of reviewing. I’ve been offered samples and while I have taken a few, I feel like I’m obliged to give a non-harsh review if they are providing me with samples, so I prefer to buy my own and not feel beholden to the manufacturer. The times I did take samples, I had the thought of, “Well if I destroy them I might not get any future samples”, so I try to avoid that.
I think by Black buying his own INCREASES objectivity, rather than diminishing it.
Thanks as always, Blake. I agree marketing is getting in the way of these. However, my preference of the lineup is dramatically different then yours. I would go LP=Rhetoric > Barterhouse > Old Blowhard > Forged Oak. Though I’ve only sat down with FO twice, it’s watered down oak, bitter palate, with a sour finish. I was a big fan of Rhetoric and ended up doing a blind SBS when LP came out and found them strikingly similar, so much so, that I was confused by people raving that LP was the clear winner in the entire lineup. Barterhouse was uninteresting at first, but after trying it a few months later I found it a bit more intriguing. I’ve seen so many reviews that offer dramatically different tasting experiences I wonder how consistent the bottles are.
You post the cost for the retailer on forged oak and a lot of these other ones. Very misleading. I own a store and it cost me 60.99 for Forged oak. Not a big deal but you must have a good connection for them to not be making money off of you.
No connection. The majority of retailers have this at $65ish. What state are you in? Sounds like the distributor is jacking the price up
I got mine for $65 with no connections. Saw them at two other stores for $65-69.
Thanks for the reviews. I found a few grammar errors, and you spelled the first one baterhouse 🙂
Is the review for Forged Oak correct… in the picture, it shows the writing on the label as Lost Prophet.
Thanks! I changed it. It is Forged Oak. I just grabbed the wrong picture
Great writeup and review – agree with you on tasting profiles. Regarding the LP mashbill, since GTS/BT mashbill #1 is 80% corn and we’re being told by Diageo that LP is less than 80% corn (75%-78%) shouldn’t we conclude this is Age Intl’s /BT mashbill #2?
I have to disagree with the Orphan Barrel hatred…. well sorta. Some of it has been absolutely horrible (Barterhouse), and some has been fantastic. I think Old Blowhard with time to open up is one of the best bourbons I had in 2014 and I had just about every high end release. I also liked the Rhetoric, it’s got a very good flavor profile especially for those instances of introducing bourbon to non-bourbon people. I spent some time comparing Old Blowhard and Rhetoric to some of the similar ages Scotches. What I found was in terms of smoothness they were pretty equal.
In terms of flavor they were a bit farther apart, especially the Speyside scotch which is just sweeter. The finish I found with Rhetoric was very smooth. For Old Blowhard I got a bit of orange finish, that honestly reminded me a bit of certain Pappy Van Winkles (while not as good overall, the finish had some similar notes).
Overall, I think it’s hit and miss. I bought the Forged Oak but passed on the Lost Prophet which I kind of regret, but haven’t opened the Forged Oak as of yet.
However it’s a very close comparison, but of all the 2014 Bourbons, Old Blowhard was high up there for me personally.
had the orphan barrel didn’t really care for that much especially for the price. I’ve had much better for half the price
Great information here…thank you…I’ve been collecting some of these and wonder what you all might think of the potential for increased worth of any of OBs variations?
I don’t get your rating and Rhetoric is anything but hot. Frankly, it has the best mouthfeel of them all from Orphan Barrel. Yes I am a fan but I will say that the latest Rhetoric 21 is actually far more as you described the 20 year bottle; not the other way around. This proves that everyone has very different palates and preferences. OB may have over hyped marketing but in a market that is as crazy as the bourbon market right now, you have to do something to stand out. At least you can get your hands on OB most of the time, good luck getting a BTAC bottle or god forbid a Pappy.
I just grabbed a Rhetoric 21 and man it was good. So much old leather on the front and spice swell with a slightly tannic dark chocolate on the back end. Well balanced. I picked it up on a sale for 72.99. It’s one of the better tasting bourbons I’ve ever had and its hard for me to not go back for seconds and thirds after a dram. I need to conserve this delicious bourbon.
Take a look at my full review… interesting bourbon, looks cool on the shelf, but not worth the money.
My review on Forged Oak can be viewed here… in the process of reviewing the entire Orphan Barrel series…
POPPYCOCK, Diageo is just producing grain neutral spirits in a ethanol plant in Illinois and adding Liquor Quick flavoring to produce a whiskey like product .Just like they do with George Dickel. Why doesn’t any one question ,WHY is the distillery (owned by Diageo) always on “QUIET TIME”? Or how can they flat out lie,telling the public,we distill here but ship the liquid hundreds of mile away to bottle. Shipping is expensive! Oh here is a good one from their Dalwhinnie Scotch Distillery,we have removed the age from the bottles. the number now stands for the recipe. Again they are on “Quiet Time” when you visit. But they claim to distill there but bottle it in Glasgo. You experts should visit ALL their Distilleries. On the same week unannounced. I have done just that.
If you are a big whiskey drinker, I challenge you to get anything near what Orphan Barrel offers in this price range. 20 – 25 year old bourbon is tough to come by. I’ve tasted them and while I will agree that some offerings may be over oaked a bit – that’s not the case for some of the lineup. In fact, there are some hidden gems in the lineup that rival bottles costing hundreds more. If you can find a bottle between 20 -25 years old that falls at or below $200 and provide this much quality – let me know.
(This is 2019 and we all know where prices are at for anything with an age statement…)