Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distillery Company is a new venture by booze giant Diageo. Its first two releases are Barterhouse and Old Blowhard and a third is on the way in Rhetoric. Barterhouse is a 20-year-old Bourbon and Old Blowhard is a 26-year-old. Rhetoric will also be a 20-year-old Bourbon. The concept behind Orphan Barrel is these are barrels that were in warehouses that have no scheduled release and for whatever reason haven’t been sold off for others to bottle. Presumably these barrels lost there destined bottle brand or maybe never had a destination, and have just sat aging. The Barterhouse bottle claims these barrels were “lost” but since someone was paying taxes on these things, they weren’t really lost or forgotten. The plan is Diageo will offer one-time (or so) releases of these barrels from their empire of warehouses.
There are all sorts of shenanigans surrounding these bottles, from where they were distilled to what is really a “limited” release. I don’t have the energy or go that far into the weeds. Whiskey nerds can be peculiarly skeptical and cynical over anything new in Bourbon, but at the same time drawn like moths to flame over rare, new, and special releases. Feel free to explore the mythology around these bottles, if you’re so curious. There are links at the bottom of the review for your entertainment.
For this review, we’ll try to stick to the whiskey and whether it’s a good buy. What we have in Barterhouse is Kentucky Bourbon with a 20-year age statement. It was bottled at the Dickel plant in Tullahoma, TN and was aged at Stitzel-Weller. Orphan Barrel Whiskey infers this was distilled at Stitzel-Weller, but Barterhouse was actually distilled at the current Bernheim plant.
20 Year age statement. Bottled at 45.1%. 86% Corn, 6% rye and 8% barley. Bottle # 3173. Paid $75 (state minimum)
Sweet. Caramel. Dark fruits. Oak. Cinnamon. Trace of musty
Sweet and oak. Medium to high astringency. Fruity, citrus. Some hot cinnamon spice builds in the finish. Astringency drys out the finish. Easy drinking, tasty.
Shenanigans aside, Barterhouse is a nice bottle. The oak is pretty forward on this, but not overpowering. I find this pretty sweet, but that oaky astringency balances things out. Tastes like old whiskey and goes down pretty smooth.
This Orphan Barrel series of releases probably aren’t for me. My mentality is if I can’t buy it again, I might as well not buy it at all. I figure I’m just torturing myself because if I like it, then I’ll either make myself bunker a bunch of bottles or nurse my one bottle forever wishing I had bought a case. Ignorance is bliss.
With that said, I see Barterhouse as an opportunity for some well aged bourbon at a reasonable price. If you’re usually buying the typical 8-12 year good stuff, this is a chance to try a bottle of something really aged without hurting your budget too much. Thankfully Barterhouse isn’t really my thing. Too much wood and I think I prefer by Bourbons a little more lively, but it is nice pour and the price seems good. I’m glad I got a bottle for the experience, but one is enough.
Buy a Bottle - 3.5/5.0 Rating
(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)