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Cigar Spirits: Forged Oak Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

14 May 2015

The Orphan Barrel Series is an easy target for some bourbon aficionados to turn their nose up at. First there was the claim, or at least the implication, that these whiskeys were lost and found (Here’s a hint: No company big or small just loses hundreds or even thousands of barrels, especially since they are responsible for taxes on them). Then there are some strange or even goofy names: Lost Prophet, Rhetoric, Old Blowhard.

forged-oakAnd yet, despite those fair criticisms, I think Diageo (who owns the Orphan Barrel line, along with George Dickel, Bulleit, and I.W. Harper) is doing the bourbon world a great service with these old bourbons. In a time when extra-aged bourbon is in very high demand, they’ve released 15- to 26-year-old bourbons that, with a little work, can actually be found at retail prices.

For example, Rhetoric and Barterhouse are 20-year-old straight bourbons selling for under $100, notable at a time when most similarly aged whiskey costs at least twice that (more like $800+ or some drop-everything-and-head-to-Vegas luck for Pappy Van Winkle 20). The newest and youngest of the 5-bourbon line (at least for now) is Forged Oak, a 15-year-old straight bourbon which sells for $65-75 a bottle.

Diageo doesn’t currently own and operate a full-scale Kentucky distillery (though that’s changing), but we know Forged Oak was distilled at the New Bernheim Distillery, which Diageo’s corporate predecessor sold to Heaven Hill (maker of Evan Williams and Elijah Craig) later. At some point, the aging bourbon was then transferred to the aging houses at the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery, where the rickhouses remain the site of lots of aging bourbon, although the facility is no longer running new whiskey off its famed stills.

The 90.5-proof Forged Oak has a deep copper color. The nose is classic with caramel, dry spice, and a hint of orange. On the palate, it’s light clove, wood (not in overwhelming amounts), roast nuts, and light caramel. The finish is long with winter spices.

In many ways Forge Oak is a very classic bourbon. It features the oak you’d expect from an older bourbon but it’s tempered and balanced. I’d particularly recommend it to Elijah Craig 12 fans who want to see what a bit of extra age can do to a bourbon’s flavors (no coincidence as they come from the same distillery).

Pair it with a spicy cigar like the Arturo Fuente Opus X Perfecxion No.2, Litto Gomez Diez Small Batch No. 2, Ramón Allones Specially Selected (Cuban), or My Father El Hijo.

Once you’ve hit the highlights of the sub-$30 bourbons, this is the next step in age (and price). I’ve tasted all the Orphan Barrel bourbons and, despite being the least expensive, Forged Oak is, in my opinion, second only to the limited release 22-year-old Lost Prophet.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

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