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.
This 21-year-old bourbon is the second release of Rhetoric. Part of the Orphan Barrel series, Rhetoric is an experiment in aging. The first release was a 20-year-old whiskey. The same juice continues to age. Each year, a small portion of the juice is released, letting the whiskey-loving public taste the differences between it and previous (and younger) releases.
Rhetoric is the third release in Diageo’s Orphan Barrel lineup of whiskies. The first two releases, 26 year Old Blowhard and 20 year Barterhouse, were nice whiskies albeit a bit on the expensive side. Rhetoric is also a 20 year old straight bourbon whiskey. It was most probably distilled at the new Bernheim distillery, and aged at a Stizel-Weller warehouse. It seems to be the same mashbill as Barterhouse, but aged in a different part of the warehouse. What differentiates Rhetoric from its siblings is Diageo will continue to age the bourbon, releasing it once a year until it reaches a 25 year maturation point. So, this year we have a 20 year old bourbon. Next year we’ll have a 21 year old bourbon. This continues until we get a 25 year old Rhetoric bourbon in 2019.
(Disclaimer: I received a small sample of Rhetoric from Diageo.) I find the nose on Rhetoric similar to Barterhouse. Some oak, which is expected given its age. There was also some dried fruit (think light fruit cake) and a little bit of caramel. Taste-wise, I found this a bit creamier…more viscous than Barterhouse. The oak is there, but it’s not as in your face. There’s a bit of caramel too. The finish is quick, dry, and slightly bittersweet.
Overall, this is my favorite of the three bourbons in the Orphan Barrel series. Rhetoric is 90 proof and will run you about $100. It’s $15 more expensive than Barterhouse, yet both are 20 year old bourbons. I liked Barterhouse enough to buy myself a bottle after I reviewed it. Part of me wishes I would have waited to try Rhetoric first. To me, the difference in taste is worth the extra $15… that’s considering you don’t mind paying a C-Note for a bottle of bourbon. It holds its flavors together better than Barterhouse. Also, progressively aging and releasing this bourbon makes for an interesting experiment.