On February 17, Chicago was the lucky home of the very first national launch of Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company who says it’s finding long forgotten barrels of rare and delicious whiskey and sharing them. The concept is to release very rare barrels which have enjoyed a serendipitous relationship with both their environment and the wood they’ve been saved in, and could therefore be left to age much longer than typical.
The current products being launched are bourbons from America, but we can expect to see whiskies which meet these special criteria from around the globe “discovered” and released in the coming years. The term orphan barrel comes from the idea that these barrels were forgotten and now they’re being shared only with those who can appreciate them. You’ll remember that day our city saw quite a bit of snow, so this launch out in Cicero at the Wirtz Beverage Illinois headquarters ended up much more intimate than was originally intended. This whole concept is something new, and we were kept outside of the presentation room until the very last minute.
When the doors were thrown open, the first thing we saw in front of us was one of the products they were launching, and with a name like “Old Blowhard” the afternoon promised to be quite interesting! The stage was made of actual barrels and featured the brand new logos. At each place were 4 glasses poured for tasting. Besides the two new products, we had comparison glasses of both under-aged bourbon (only in wood for mere months) and over-aged bourbon. In the end, the latter was especially useful, because while younger than the two launching products, it illustrated the effect of too much wood on a bourbon. It made it even more apparent to those of us tasting how special the two Orphan Barrel products were, and we were told that there is no way to know in advance that these particular barrels which were used would end up thriving and continuing to improve for so many years past what is usual. Due to the temperature fluctuations in that part of America, whiskey tends to reach an ideal age at around 8 years.
The Barterhouse (20 years aged) and Old Blowhard (26 years aged ), were both “discovered” in the Louisville, KY rickhouses of Stitzel-Weller and bottled in Tullhoma, TN. Both are extremely old for bourbons, and both will be under strict allocation due to the limited supply. As a matter of fact, the liquid for Old Blowhard comes from a distillery which does not even exist anymore, so when that is gone it will be forever.
Despite their heavy aging, both spirits were balanced and offered their wood notes in a way we do not usually see in bourbon. Barterhouse seems much more mellow than its 45% abv might indicate, and evolves from roasted grains and charred oak to spice and brown sugar. Old Blowhard, also at over 45% abv, offers first a more saturated version of what we typically get from older bourbons, but then finishes with rich spiciness and even some orange peel. Both are unlike usual bourbons and worth a look should you be fortunate enough to have the opportunity. Those in the room seemed to strongly prefer either one or the other, although the room appeared to be pretty evenly divided.
Orphan Barrel is owned by Diageo, who also owns Johnnie Walker Scotch, Crown Royal Canadian, Bulleit bourbon, George Dickel Tennessee whiskey, Bushmills Irish, and more. With so much of the world under their umbrella, just imagine the possibilities for the next unique spirit in the Orphan Barrel line!