For months now the bourbon world has been abuzz about Diageo’s new Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company. The stated goal of the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company is “to locate lost and forgotten barrels of whiskey from around the world and share them with discerning adult fans.” The first two releases from the company are Barterhouse and Old Blowhard bourbons but future releases may include other types of whiskey like Irish and Tennessee.
Based on how Diageo is positioning these whiskies, along with the ornate way they packaged the pre-release samples they provided Bourbon & Banter, it’s clear that Diageo is pulling out all the stops to bring some rare bourbons to market in an attempt to take advantage of high demand in super premium whiskey category.
Here’s what Diageo had to say about Barterhouse Bourbon in their official press release:
Barterhouse Whiskey stocks were discovered in old warehouses at the Stitzel-Weller facility in Louisville, Ky. Rumor has it warehouse workers have already begun lining up for the first taste of this beautiful whiskey with a soft nose reminiscent of warm spice, biscuit and buttercream. The whiskey’s mellow taste includes notes of roasted grain, charred oak and a brown sugar finish. Barterhouse Whiskey is bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn. and will be expected to sell for a suggested retail price of $75.
“The whiskey warehouses and rickhouses these spirits come from are special places filled with the incredible smells of seasoned oak, rough textures of weathered wood and amazing tastes of precious liquid,” said Ewan Morgan, Master of Whiskey for DIAGEO. “It’s every worker’s dream of finding that forgotten barrel of delicious whiskey and sharing it with their friends. That’s exactly what we’re doing.” Like the rickhouse and warehouse workers who uncover them and the consumers who drink them, Orphan Barrel Whiskies have distinctive personalities in taste and packaging. Barterhouse Whiskey packaging nods to the inspiration behind the whiskey’s name. A vintage khaki and brown label features a sly fox front and center after he’s made a smooth deal at the local trading post. Because when there’s no money on the table, Barterhouse Whiskey turns give and take into an adventure in provocation and persuasion.
It’s important to note that Barterhouse and Old Blowhard bourbons were only stored at Stitzel-Weller. Barterhouse was distilled at the current Bernheim Distillery, while Old Blowhard was distilled at the Old Bernheim Distillery. Both whiskeys were then bottled at the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, TN.
I’m pretty excited to see these older bourbons coming to market and can only hope that they live up to the marketing hype and don’t wind up simply being a way for Diageo to take advantage of the current bourbon boom. I’m all for brands making money as long as the product they’re selling lives up to expectations and is worth the price.
Let’s go ahead and jump into my Barterhouse Bourbon review and see if Diageo’s got a hit on their hands or not.
Barterhouse Bourbon Review
Age: 20 years
How I Drank It: Neat, in Glencairn whiskey glass.
My Nose Noticed:* Oak | Almonds | Nutmeg | Cherries
First Sip: Heavy Oak | Spice | Mint
The Burn:** The finish on this one is long and lingers nicely with a warm surge when you want it most. However, it’s overly spicy without the balance that vanilla and caramel could have brought to the party. Its’ very dry and actually tastes quite bitter. I tried it 3 different times and each time I found it lacking.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: Adding water brings out more of the traditional notes of caramel and brown sugar on the nose and tames down the unbalanced spice resulting in a slightly less bitter flavor than when drank neat. I would definitely recommend drinking this one with a small splash of water.
Share With: Share with a bourbon drinker who appreciates new releases and wants to check this one of their list. I would not share this with someone who you’re looking to impress with what’s in the bottle.
Worth The Price: Suggested retail price for this release is $75. I personally think this one is overpriced for what’s in the bottle. You’re paying for the age and novelty of the program – not the quality of what’s in the bottle. There’s better ways to spend $75 when it comes to buying bourbon.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: Try this one at the bar or with a friend who rushed out and bought a bottle already. Only add it to your collection if you want to check it off your collectors list. I think they’ll be quite a few of these available for sale after folks realize it doesn’t live up to the hype.
*I like to let my bourbon sit in the glass for at least 5 minutes before I start to smell it or have a drink. I personally find that it’s better to let some of the alcohol waft off before diving in. If I’m drinking bourbon on the rocks I skip the waiting and dive in both feet first.
**Some of you refer to this as the “finish” but let’s be honest. Don’t we all just want to know if it burns good?
As I started to write-up my review I took a look around the web to see what other people thought about Barterhouse bourbon. I found that many people found it to be a decent drinker but not overly impressive. I don’t know if they got their hands on a sample from a different batch but mine wasn’t anything like the ones described in their reviews. I’m very disappointed in this release and worried about my next review of its older cousin, Old Blowhard bourbon.
Have you tried it yet?
Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think. I’m really curious to hear if this one is living up to everyone’s expectations.