Few words get whiskey lovers more excited than “limited release.” They’re almost always a hit with collectors, and more often than not they’re well worth seeking out for the avid taster. Two examples that spring quickly to mind are the Parker’s Heritage Reserve annual releases—including the most recent one, Promise of Hope—and the Old Forrester Birthday bourbons.
Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits, is well aware of this, and this year will be bringing two such products to the United States: Barterhouse, a 20-year-old bourbon, and Old Blowhard, a 26-year-old bourbon, part of its Orphan Barrel project.
As part of the launch, Diageo brought together three heavy hitters as part of last week’s Universal Whisky Experience at Encore: Dr. Nick Morgan, head of Diageo’s Whiskey Outreach; Ewan Morgan, national director of Diageo’s Master of Whiskey program; and Dr. Tom Turner, master of whiskey for Diageo in Las Vegas. In addition to pours of Barterhouse and Old Blowhard, all guests also received a pour of an “undermatured” and “overmatured” bourbon for comparison. (The less said about both of those, the better.)
Orphan barrels, according to Morgan, are not “lost” barrels, a misnomer he says is impossible in the modern age (where distilleries know where every barrel is, the type of wood, etc.). They are, instead, barrels that no one knows what to do with. In this case, both bourbons are from Diageo’s Bernheim distilleries—they owned the older one into the late-‘80s, and they sold the newer one to Heaven Hill in 1999. (To be clear, Diageo does not currently own an operating bourbon distillery.)
The orphan barrel has amazing precedent, Morgan added, alluding to Port Ellen single malt, thought at the time “to not be a very good whiskey” and launched 13 years ago for 37 pounds. These days, bottles of Port Ellen sell into the thousands of dollars. “There’s something to be learned by that,” Morgan said.
Whether Barterhouse or Old Blowhard will achieve that sort of status remains to be seen, but the group assembled for last week’s tasting seemed to be generally pleased with both products.
Barterhouse, clocking in at 90.2 proof, is a tribute to the days when you could barter whiskey for goods and services. Old Blowhard, which comes in at 90.7 proof, is meant for “serious conversation while you drink it,” said Turner. Both whiskies are 86 percent corn, 8 percent barley and 6 percent rye.
All three men assured me that both products will be available in Nevada, so assuming I can get my hands on a bottle of either of these when they hit the shelves, I’ll be doing reviews later on. My initial reaction before even drinking either product was surprise at the relatively low ABV, especially considering the age. At $75 for Barterhouse and $150 for Old Blowhard, I expected both to be a bit more ... beastly. Still, if you've got the cash to spare, you should seriously think about picking either of these up. Who knows? We could be looking at the next Port Ellen.