Orphan Barrel

Review: Orphan Barrel Forager’s Keep

Photo credit: Diageo

We’re now five years into the Orphan Barrel brand’s existence. Wow, time certainly seems to fly by. The brand’s purpose was to showcase older or “forgotten” barrels. We’ve seen lots of bourbon and even a little Canadian whisky released under the brand’s umbrella. A few releases have been great, others not so much, and most lying somewhere in-between. Since the 2014 introduction of the brand, I’ve held my breath for a single malt release, as owner Diageo’s malt distillery profile is quite bountiful.

Now I can breathe easy.

Forager’s Keep, the latest Orphan Barrel entry, is a 26-year-old single malt whisky from the Pittyvaich distillery. You might not recognize the distillery, as it’s output was sent for blending in Bell’s. The single malt bottlings that did exist were very few and far between.

Also, Pittyvaich doesn’t exist anymore. It closed down in 1993 after only 18 years in operation and was demolished in 2002. The reasoning basically came down to the distillery being “surplus to requirements,” according to the excellent Whiskypedia section at Scotchwhisky.com.

Forager’s Keep is bottled at 48% ABV and priced at $399 a bottle. Not bad considering the age and rarity of the whisky. In fact, this whisky aged longer than the distillery was in existence.

The types of barrels used here have not been disclosed. Based on the color (which looks natural to my eyes) and the taste, I’d guess this whisky is made up of mostly ex-bourbon and refill casks. Maybe, maybe a sprinkling of European oak casks.

The nose is centered around refined orchard fruit aroma upfront. Then, hints of vanilla and light spice (cinnamon and cloves) appear, as do dried herbs and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Just a touch. The whisky comes across as a medium-to-heavy bodied and somewhat viscous on the palate, with hints of butterscotch, pecan, and vanilla ice cream topped with stewed spiced apples and garnished with citrus peel. The fruit intensifies as oak spice develops mid-palate alongside a very small earthy note. Light oak spice and apple sauce on the long, warm finish.

I’d mark Forager’s Keep among my favorite of the Orphan Barrel releases. Of course, it stands out as it’s a single malt Scotch and not a bourbon, so it might be a bit unfair to compare. Either way, this is a nicely matured older whisky that showcases the fruit-centric beauty of the late Speyside distillery. This is one bottle I’ll be looking to own. 9.5/10

Orphanbarrel.com

Thanks to Diageo for the sample. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Entrapment 25-Year-Old Canadian Whisky

image005Entrapment is the latest entry in the Orphan Barrel series, as well as the first non-American whisky.  The 25-year-old whisky was distilled in 1992 in Gimli, Manitoba, where it was meant to be blended into Crown Royal Deluxe.  According to press materials, several barrels didn’t fit the blend.  The whisky continued to mature in those barrels until now.  Entrapment is distilled from a mostly corn mash bill… 97% to be exact, along with 3% malted barley.  It’s bottled at 82 proof and available for a suggested retail price of $149.99.

The Orphan Barrel series has been a bit of a mixed bag, with some excellent releases like Lost Prophet sitting alongside a couple of terrible ones. Whoop & Holler, anyone?  Where on the spectrum does Entrapment fit?  Quite up there, actually.

Though the low proof subdues the nose a bit, rich aromas of vanilla, maple syrup corn bread and light oak abound.  The palate is airy and soft, again mostly likely due to the low proof.  Notes of angel food cake, spice and vanilla mark the beginning of the flavor journey.  From there, rich notes of maple and leather develop in the mid-palate.  The journey continues, as baking spices reappear alongside dried fruits in the medium-length finish.

This is a well-aged whisky.  The development and complexity of flavors is welcome.  My only qualm with Entrapment is its low proof.  What’s delivered in the glass is fantastic, but a few more proof points (45% ABV instead of 41% ABV) may have propelled Entrapment into the stratosphere.  Only Diageo holds the answer to why Entrapment was bottled the way it is.  Regardless, my opinion of what’s currently in the glass remains steadfast.  Entrapment comes with a high recommendation, so long as potential buyers aren’t looking for a bold whisky experience.  8/10

Thanks to Diageo for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

Rhetoric 23-Year-Old Bourbon Review

One of the more interesting things happening under the Orphan Barrel umbrella is the Rhetoric line of whiskies.  The label calls it “an evolving exploration in bourbon maturation.”  Rhetoric’s first release was a 20-year-old bourbon.  That same batch was allowed to mature for another year giving us the 21-year-old bourbon.  And the same for last year’s 22-year-old release.  Now, Rhetoric’s fourth release is 23 years old.

The whiskey here was distilled between 1990 and 1993 at the Bernheim Distillery, now owned by Heaven Hill.  The mashbill is 86% corn, 8% barley, and 6% rye, so we’re definitely not looking at a spicy bourbon.  This 23-year-old edition of Rhetoric is bottled at a touch higher proof of 90.6 instead of the 90.4 proof previous editions were bottled at.  

The nose carries hints of dark caramel, black cherry, vanilla and coffee & chicory.  There’s a touch of baking spice on entry, followed by big notes of oak, dark fruits, burnt sugar, and dark chocolate.  The oak sort of tapers out.  It is much sweeter than I thought it would be.  Some wood spice, leather, and old oak begins to develop going into the finish, which is long with hints of dark chocolate-covered caramel. 

I poured a little Rhetoric 21 and 22 to compare.  First, the whiskies aren’t miles apart from each other in terms of flavor.  However, little differences do exist.  The 21-year is a little drier.  The 22-year feels thinner but has a touch more spice.  The dark caramel is more prominent on the 23-year expression, surprisingly.  The Rhetoric whiskies seem to get a little sweeter and richer with age.  They are all oak-forward, but I think the 23-year expression presents itself better than the others.  8/10 $120

Thanks to Diageo for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.