Rhetoric 20 Year Bourbon – Review #44

Rhetoric 20 Background

Rhetoric 20 BottleDiageo’s Orphan Barrel is back with its third bottling in a 20-year-old Bourbon called Rhetoric. I previously looked at Barterhouse, which was also a 20 year old Bourbon, and the third was Old Blowhard.

Rhetoric 20 is a straight Kentucky Bourbon pulled from the famous Stizel-Weller warehouses. It was distilled at both the old and new Bernheim distilleries between 1990 and 1993. Barterhouse was distilled at the new Bernheim and also aged at Stizel-Weller. Rhetoric 20 apparently has some older barrels distilled at the old Bernheim, which might be why it’s $10 more than Barterhouse. Also Rhetoric 20 has a real cork while Barterhouse had synthetic, so I guess there’s also that.

Rhetoric will be released in progressive ages. So this year we have a 20-year-old bottle and next year will be a 21-year release. The plan is to have six releases, so that will be interesting to see a 25-year bottle of this in 2019. It’s probably safe to assume that each release will be more expense than the last.

The bottle matches the previous Orphan Barrel designs and here we have a pretty nice looking label. With each future release, the bottle will retain the same design, but the background will get darker in reference to the older age.


20 Years old. Bottled at 45%. Mash bill of 86% corn, 6% rye, and 8% barley. Bottle # 346. Paid $85.


Rich toasted oak and sawdust. Deep caramel and rich vanilla. Fruity, sticky sweet smelling with cherries. Spearmint.


Maple, smokey. Sweetness. Caramel and vanilla. Rich. Nice woody oak. Cinnamon. Fruity apples and cherries. Coffee. Soft finish that’s mildly minty and that fades into firm drying astringency.


Rhetoric 20 is a nice little treat. With anything 20 years old, it’s not going to be for everyone, but there’s nice complexity here with sweet caramel and nice a nice smokey maple. That’s followed up by fruity cinnamon, and then some rye presence and finally the oak fills in the gaps. Yeah, it lacks life of a Bourbon half its age, but it’s nice to mix thing up once in a while and this is a pretty nice option.

I poured a second glass of Barterhouse for comparison and I like Rhetoric 20 better. Barterhouse has a little more heat, I think, which gives it some character, but Rhetoric 20 seems a little better put together. I had no real complaints with Barterhouse and gave it a buy a bottle rating. I think Barterhouse was worth picking up just for the experience, at least at list price, and Rhetoric 20 is something I might be more interested in keeping around.

It will be interesting to see how this Rhetoric 20 progresses year to year. I’d be a little concerned at adding a lot more oak to it, but today for $85, this is a nice pour. It certainly goes down easy. If I find another bottle near this price, I’ll probably pick up a spare.


Buy Again – 4.0/5.0 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.)

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