Diageo Bottles Lost Bourbon Casks as Orphan Barrel Whiskey

  • From left; Rhetoric ($85), Old Blowhard ($150), Barterhouse ($75).
  • Photo by Michael Hnatov; www.mhnatov.com
    Photo by Michael Hnatov; www.mhnatov.com
  • Photo by Michael Hnatov; www.mhnatov.com

The annual Universal Whisky Experience in Las Vegas has become a celebrated gathering for aficionados of rare spirits to discover some of the most exclusive whiskeys in the world. This year’s event kicked off with a specially arranged tasting of some recently rediscovered bourbons, attracting a packed room of connoisseurs. These were very old bourbons that had been aging in barrels in Louisville, Kentucky’s historic Stitzel-Weller distillery, which dates back to 1935. Although the distillery has been shuttered since 1991, its owner, Diageo—the world’s largest spirits conglomerate—is rumored to be reviving it. As part of this endeavor, under the aegis of the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company, limited editions of these rare and no-longer-made bourbons, which have been aging in barrels sequestered in the dark, dusky confines of various distillery warehouses, will be periodically bottled by hand and released.

The first two releases were brought out with the rather intriguing names of Barterhouse and Old Blowhard, each as distinctly different as their labels. Barterhouse ($75), at 20 years old and bottled at 90.2 proof, takes its name from the 1880s practice of bartering whiskey for goods and services. It is as smooth as the derby-wearing fox on its label, with notes of honey, cherries, and roasted grains in every sip.

Old Blowhard ($150), which was bottled after an impressive 26 years and at 90.7 proof, is thick with honeyed oak, creamy butter, and a hint of dried orange peel in the finish. Having been bottled in 1988, and in spite of the 19th century–style “blowhard” whale on its label, it is not boisterous at all. Rather, it is a mellow whiskey to linger over.

At 90 proof, Orphan Barrel’s third and latest release, Rhetoric ($85), is only slightly tamer than the rest. It carries distinct notes of smoky vanilla and dried fruit, making it ideal for serving on the rocks or as the base for classic cocktails such as an old-fashioned, a Sazerac, or a Ward 8. But even though this 20-year-old whiskey is a limited edition, there are more barrels of it still aging; each year—until supplies are exhausted—gradually older bottlings will be released.

Interestingly, all three Orphan Barrel bourbons were distilled with identical mash bills of 86 percent corn, 6 percent rye, and 8 percent barley, suggesting a recipe originally used by the old Bernheim distilleries (one of which Diageo once owned). And considering that Diageo still owns the George Dickel distillery in Tennessee, among others, it is not inconceivable that in the near future we will see other Orphan Barrel limited editions as well. After all, as Nick Morgan, Diageo’s director of whiskey outreach, told the crowd at the Orphan Barrel tasting in Las Vegas, “There is no such thing as a lost barrel of whiskey.” (www.orphanbarrel.com)

From Around the Web...
The key ingredient in these cocktails brings less sugar and more spice…
These new releases may not be on store shelves come autumn, so drink up now…
Until Cuban cigars are legal, cigars from the Dominican Republic may be your best bet…
Photo by Alan Copson/Getty Images
Distillers are blasting spirits into space or sending them to the ocean floor in pursuit of flavor…
Brazil’s national spirit, best known as the base for caipirinhas, can make a great sipping spirit...
Photo by Dylan + Jeni
A tiki revival is in full swing, resurrecting classic cocktails and creating complex, modern drinks…
Recipes and drink-making tips from Brooklyn Bartender: A Modern Guide to Cocktails and Spirits…
A blanco direct from the stills showcases liquid agave in its purest form…
Photo by Dave Burk
Premium smokes, luxury spirits, and small plates may soon be joined by food from Nobu and Guy Savoy…
The latest release from the Macallan is among the rarest offerings from the brand…