27 Jan 2016
Formally announced in 2014, the Orphan Barrel Project has been one of the biggest, albeit sometimes divisive, developments in the high-end bourbon market in recent years. The project of industry giant Diageo has brought a number of well-aged bourbons to the marketplace at a time when such releases are becoming very rare and expensive.
The first releases were the 20-year Barterhouse and 26-year Old Blowhard, the latter being one of the oldest bourbons to be sold. Next came Rhetoric 20, a 20-year bourbon distilled at the New Bernheim distillery in Louisville, which is now owned by Heaven Hill, maker of Elijah Craig and Evan Williams.
Next up was the 22-year Lost Prophet and 15-year Forged Oak. The latest release is a 21-year version of Rhetoric, which is part of a planned annual release that will show off the evolution of the bourbon as it ages, perhaps up to 26 years. (Another Orphan Barrel release, Gifted Horse, is due out soon; it will be a combination of 4-year bourbon and corn whiskey blended with 17-year bourbon.)
Rhetoric 21 is 90.2-proof, a smidge higher than the 20-year version (90-proof). It sells for around $100, and I picked up my bottle for $93 online after tasting a sample provided by Diageo.
Rhetoric 21 pours a deep copper color and has a nose that shows off its age with damp wood, vanilla, and green apple taffy. On the palate, the bourbon tastes of oak, baking spices (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg), vanilla, orange peel, and burnt sugar. The finish is long with cornbread, charred wood, and clove.
At times, the flavors feel slightly muted with the exception of the deep woodiness (over-oaked, perhaps) which is why I prefer the Lost Prophet and Forged Oak. Still, fans of oaky, ultra-aged bourbon will find Rhetoric fits the bill in a way that very few bourbons (you can actually find) will.
For cigar pairings, I think the light wood and sweet spice style of Mexican-wrapped cigars matches up nicely. Specifically, try the Illusione *R* Rothchildes, Room 101 San Andrés, Tatuaje The Face, and Drew Estate’s Undercrown.
photo credit: Stogie Guys