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Orphan Barrel: Rhetoric 23-Year-Old Bourbon

Posted on by Eric Burke

I state in my Statement of Ethics that if I accept a review sample, I will disclose it at the beginning of the article. Please consider it disclosed. I’d like to thank Taylor Strategy for providing this sample to me with no strings attached. 

On Tuesday we talked about what the Orphan Barrel series was, why I hadn't reviewed any of it yet and what I thought of the 22-year old version of Rhetoric. Tonight we are looking at the 23-year old version that is either out now or will be soon depending on where you live. 

Do you know why I generally prefer my bourbon in the six to twelve-year-old range? There is a reason for it, well two actually. These days, the biggest one is the price. But even back when you could find an Elijah Craig 18 year for less than fifty bucks, I still typically left that for my wife to drink. She has always liked older bourbons more than I do. So not including the price the reason I don't care for older bourbons is that they tend to feel over oaked to me. In many of them, you taste oak and not much else. I like the interplay of the flavors that the barrel has contributed and those that the grains and yeast added. 

Of course, I don't want to make generalizations. There are plenty of gently aged bourbons out there that reach the upper teens without tasting like you are sucking on a bitter old stick. But when the price has risen as much as it has, making it almost impossible to take the plunge to try them without spending the kind of money that would make my frugal old Grandmother blush, it is hard to justify. Until such a time as my wife becomes independently wealthy, I'll probably just try these as samples and save my money for safer bets.

Orphan Barrel: Rhetoric 23-Year-Old Bourbon

Purchase Info: This 100mL sample was generously proved by Taylor Strategy. I've seen it for sale online between $129 and $180.

Details: 23 years old. 45.3% ABV

Nose: Vanilla and caramel, leather, oak and a generic nuttiness (remember I'm allergic, so I don't nut too much).

Mouth: Vanilla, baking spices, mint, anise and oh so much oak.

Finish: Hot, but the heat fades rather quickly to be replaced by oak. The oak pretty much overpowers anything else and lasts for a nice long time. After that fades, a general sweetness replaces it.

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Thoughts: I'm going to come right out and say it. I think this one is over oaked. If you are a fan of such things, grab it. However, I'm going to pass.

Comparison Thoughts: It's really amazing what an extra year will do when a whiskey gets this old. I liked the 22-year-old quite a bit, but the 23-year-old gets a pretty hard pass from me. The oak ramped up quite a bit providing a lot more pronounced bitterness to the finish. In the 22-year-old, the notes were melded together into a well-balanced whole. The extra year's worth of oak extraction allowed the oak to take over and not to the whiskey's benefit. Don't get me wrong, both of these have pronounced oak notes, but one is part of a nice melding while the other trends toward one-note.


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