Rhetoric Bourbon: All Six Releases Header

Rhetoric Bourbon: All Six Releases Reviewed

In Bourbon Whiskey Reviews by Steve Coomes2 Comments

There’s a lot to love about Diageo’s recent press-sample release of Rhetoric Bourbon. For one, the company’s generosity with old, pricey whiskeys can’t be overlooked. The decision to provide six bottles, each representing each age of Rhetoric releases from age 20 to 25, was also a bonus--especially since this is the last of that line. It’s one thing to get a sample bottle each year a series is released, then taste it, review it and drink any remainder later. But to get all six to compare alongside the other is pretty nifty. I don’t recall the last time I did a single brand comparison of such size.

That I’d try this sampler all at once--in ascending order of age first, descending order later--was an immediate given. Not only did I want to see how results would vary, I wanted to know whether any could be influenced by starting at the younger end of the spectrum or the older.

Predictably, the results were different, but much more so than I’d expected. I’ve got spirits drinking friends who sometimes say, “I usually like this, but I’m not loving it today for some reason,” and sometimes I experience the same. The remarks that follow express that.

I’ll denote Round 1 as the tasting done in ascending order, Round 2 as that done in descending order. The proof of each release was 91/45.5 ABV. Additionally, I added some drops of water on Round 2 sips to gauge any changes.

Rhetoric 20 Year Old Bourbon

Round 1 (ascending)
  • NOSE: ethanol, edgy, alcoholic, unpleasant
  • PALATE: tannic, fruity and floral
  • FINISH: semi-dry, soft and short

Round 2 (descending)
  • NOSE: cooked fruit, corn, dried peach, oak, allspice
  • PALATE: oak, rubber, ash, vanilla-cream cookie
  • FINISH WITH WATER: warm, dry, heavily oaked

Rhetoric 21 Year Old Bourbon

Round 1 (ascending)
  • NOSE: caramel, brown sugar
  • PALATE: tannin, banana candy, floral, old oak
  • FINISH: semi-dry to dry, long-lasting
Round 2 (descending)
  • NOSE: fruit, green pepper, toasted oak, cocoa, butterscotch
  • PALATE: warm, vegetal, apple, oak
  • FINISH WITH WATER: warm, dry, toasted oak, warm bread

Rhetoric 22 Year Old Bourbon

Round 1 (ascending)
  • NOSE: ripe banana, acetal
  • PALATE: full bodied, citrus, light-brown sugar, cinnamon
  • FINISH: semi dry, good warmth, short
Round 2 (descending)
  • NOSE: rye, oak, creamed corn, graham cracker
  • PALATE: modest fruit, banana candy, modest oak
  • FINISH WITH WATER: viscous but muted, cocoa powder

Rhetoric 23 Year Old Bourbon

Round 1 (ascending)
  • NOSE: cake donut, light brown sugar, a bit of cinnamon, divinity candy, dried flowers, oak
  • PALATE: pleasantly mild oak, some bitterness, toffee, milk chocolate, brown sugar
  • FINISH: short, fairly dry, disappears fast
Round 2 (descending)
  • NOSE: oak, rubber, green apple, cut grass, clove
  • PALATE: all oak, tannic, dry, acidic
  • FINISH WITH WATER: welcome viscosity, lemon peel, acid-dry finish

Rhetoric 24 Year Old Bourbon

Round 1 (ascending)
  • NOSE: dominant acetal, banana, overripe pineapple, bubblegum
  • PALATE: brown sugar, toffee, dark caramel and graham cracker
  • FINISH: short and soft
Round 2 (descending)
  • NOSE: oak, cooked sweet corn, cooked cherries, bubble gum, nail polish, cotton candy
  • PALATE: quite soft, cotton candy, bare hints of cocoa and cinnamon, thin mouthfeel
  • FINISH WITH WATER: roasted pineapple, semi-dry

Make sure to check out our other Rhetoric bourbon reviews:

Rhetoric 25 Year Bourbon Review

Rhetoric 20 Year Bourbon Review

Rhetoric 25 Year Old Bourbon

Round 1 (ascending)
  • NOSE: a little cherry, powdered-sugar cake donut, rye, corn whiskey, toasted oak
  • PALATE: tinny, metallic and tannic, overly oaky; when tasted 15 minutes later honey comes in, oak softens
  • FINISH: arid, long, tannic, no burn
Round 2 (descending)
  • NOSE: oak, fruit, cocoa powder, dark bread crust
  • PALATE: heavily oaked, dried flowers
  • FINISH WITH WATER: viscous and oaky

CONCLUSIONS: To quote Fred Noe, III, “Just because a bourbon is old doesn’t mean it’s good,” and in this instance, he was referencing a comparably young 16-year-old bourbon. For my palate at least, moving into 20-year and older stock signals a treacherous trip down the tannin trail. In most cases, super-old bourbons are not my thing, but others love them, which is fine. I’ve got a good friend who’s a Rhetoric fan, and he has several releases. I respect his palate, but I’ll not be nagging him for a pour of those. 

Drinking “young-to-old” is nearly always the way to go as tannin common to older stocks can mask the palate from subtleties found in younger liquids. But I had to go old-to-young just to see what would happen. Some fared better, but most didn’t. Lesson learned. 

As always, it’s ultimately up to the preferences of each drinker, and market prices for this whiskey prove plenty of people like Rhetoric. I’m fine not being one of them.

Disclaimer: Diageo provided Bourbon & Banter with samples of their product for this review. We appreciate their willingness to allow us to review their products with no strings attached. Thank you.

About the Author
Steve Coomes

Steve Coomes

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Steve Coomes is a Louisville restaurant industry veteran turned award-winning food writer. In his 27-year career, he has edited and written for dozens of national trade and consumer publications including Pizza Today, Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. As a spirits writer, Steve's byline can be found in Whisky magazine, Bourbon Review, WhiskeyWash.com and other publications. In 2014, he authored the book, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and has authored other titles as a private ghostwriter.


  1. Avatar

    I had the opportunity to enjoy a bottle of the RHETORIC 23 year old over a one week fishing trip in the wilds of northern Quebec this last year and I must say that I absolutely loved it and have been searching ever since for another bottle. It complemented my FUENTE OPUSX cigars perfectly. The best part about that week is there were 8 of us in the fishing camp and only one other guy was a bourbon drinker. He happened to be a very good, long time friend of mine, so I didn’t mind sharing a little with him. He loved it too and about 3 months later, he found a bottle of 22 year old. We drank that bottle together as well and found it to be just as good and complex as the 23 year old. I’ll never walk past a bottle of Rhetoric without buying it, no matter what it’s age, if I’m ever lucky enough to find one again.

  2. Steve Coomes

    So glad to hear you’ve enjoyed those Rhetoric releases, Gil! When people sometimes ask, “Are there too many bourbons on the market?” and I need to remember to reply, “Only if we run out of unique palates.” Never going to happen, of course, so there’s no such thing as too much. I think it’s great that others like things I don’t–today, anyway. I didn’t like bourbon at all until six or eight years ago. Now I dream about the stuff. Perhaps as I lurch further into geezerdom, my palate will shift to preferring old whiskey.

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