December 15, 2014

What's a Christmas Story without some Orphans???

"Oh Please, Mr. Scrooge..."

What, you may ask, is Christmas time without some good old fashioned orphans? Not much! We couldn't agree more. Whether it's a stodgy British chimney sweep like Tiny Tim (ok technically not an orphan nor a chimney sweep thanks Billy Abbot), or a curly haired Annie mopping the floor in a red dress, it just don't feel like the holidays without some dirty orphans. So heading into Christmas week, we figured we're review the orphans of the bourbon world.

Diageo's "Orphan Barrels" fit the bill on two levels. First of all there's the marketing hype that Diageo crafted in releasing this line. Diageo bought the famous Stitzel-Weller Distillery which has been silent in terms of actually producing whiskey since the early 1990's, but was responsible for some of the greatest names in bourbon from Van Winkle to Old Fitzgerald to William Larue Weller.  Earlier this year they started to release some interesting press hinting that old barrels of bourbon had been discovered in one of Stitzel-Weller's rickhouses.  This is from the Kentucky Herald:

"What they turned up at the old Stitzel-Weller rickhouses in Kentucky... were a few dozen barrels of great whiskey that have been bottled as distinct releases. The first two — Barterhouse, a 20-year-old bourbon, and Old Blowhard, a 26-year-old bourbon — hit the market this month in limited quantities."

Barterhouse, Rhetoric, and Old Blowhard - The Orphan Barrels

Holy Crap, 20+ Year Old Stitzel-Weller??

Even your hardened, cynical narrators here at the beast got really excited for a minute. Diageo was releasing old stocks of Stitzel-Weller, with 20 - 26 year age statements, for $80-$150/bottle? Where do we sign up??  It seemed too good to be true.

And of course it was. As people started to ask questions about these newly adopted orphans, it became obvious that they couldn't have come from Stitzel Weller.  Stitzel was famous for their wheated bourbon, and none of these were "wheaters". Besides, even Pappy Van Winkle had to stop using Stitzel bourbon since there were no remaining stocks. Surely they'd get first dibs if there were enough barrels left for a public release. 

Eventually Diageo came out of the closet about the source of this juice.  It's all Heaven Hill. Old Blowhard came from their Old Bernheim distillery, and Barterhouse comes from New Bernheim. Rhetoric appears to be a mix of the two.

Bah Humbug!

Well this really pissed people off. Bourbon folks are a proud group and they have very little tolerance for malfeasance, particularly when it comes to milking the reputation of their heroes at Stitzel. In some peoples minds it was like trying to pass off some new Disney musical as a forgotten Shakespeare masterpiece. There were some tough words. There was an entire blog post written by the venerable Chuck Cowdery with the headline "Orphan Barrel Project Shows Diageo Disrespects American Whiskey".  Ok Chuck, how do you really feel?  :)

Well we're going to try not to let all the controversy distract us. It's not that often that you get to go out and buy 20+ year bourbon off the shelf, let alone for a decent price.  And we know that Heaven Hill makes some delicious bourbon (see Elijah Craig, Willett, Parker's Heritage Collection, etc).  So in the spirit of Christmas, we're giving these orphans a chance at happiness and doing a fair review of what's inside the bottle.  Just call us Daddy Warbucks.

Barterhouse 20-Year Kentucky Bourbon

Nose: Really good nose on this guy.  Brown butter, peanuts, honey, like a Planter's Peanut Bar. Then it moves to some deep wood and some little pops of citrus fruit.

Palate: A little bit thin on the palate, but nice and sweet, staying with wood and sweets.

Finish:  Very nice woody crisp finish.  Very very smooth but still has a little punch so that the finish lingers a bit on the tongue and nose.


While a few more points on the proof might have made this an absolute home run, it's still a damn good dram.  We were not at all disappointed by the purchase and actually picked up a second bottle for a spare.  Granted, if you have a cabinet full of old Pappy Van Winkle from Stitzel Weller, it ain't that.  It ain't close to that.  But in today's market it's no slouch.  If they'd just taken it easy on the irresistible urge to use that Stitzel-Weller name in their marketing, we think people might have really liked this one.

Stay tuned for orphan #2, Rhetoric 20-Year.  Bet your bottom dollar that...



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Hey sorry Funky Tape. we liked your comment. I fatfingered "reply" and somehow hit "remove content" and now can't figure out how to get it back! It's a good point about mixing batches to come up with this taste over that many barrels. Not sure how different that is from what Pappy or BTAC do as those aren't generally single barrels either, but chances are there was a lot of old whiskey that was past its prime in here for sure. Sorry again about the comment. Anyone know how to 'undo remove content'??

  2. No prob. My point was I don't buy this idea that someone like Diageo 'found' these poor old orphans and 'rescued' them. They knew what they had, tossed old rank ones and then blended it till it was just right. No one wanted all that whiskey because it wasn't any good.

    That should be commended if its true, I suppose. Very different than the intent and purpose of BT making VW or BTAC stuff.

    1. Oh yeah clearly they didn't "find" any of it. That's just stupid. Figure if there were 20,000 bottles of Barterhouse released (just making that up, but it's probably at least that much), that's like 200 barrels. So across all these different releases what maybe 500 barrels? 1,000 barrels? Totally ridiculous to even pretend they just "turned up" hahaha. But as far as old rank ones, if they're all 20+ years than you'd think a majority of them had to be decent or else it would taste like crap right?