Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21-Year Bourbon


Time to review the oldest bourbon in my collection: the Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21-Year Bourbon.

Diageo launched its Orphan Barrel series back in 2015 with the intent of sharing “barrels of delicious and rare whiskey, hidden away and nearly forgotten in the back of rickhouses and distilleries.” Apparently, the intent of this project is to demonstrate the progression of bourbon flavor through an extended aging period. This is the second year of the 5-year release, which will culminate in a 25-year bourbon to be released sometime in 2019.

I’ve seen differing opinions regarding the origin of this bourbon, with some claiming it came from Heaven Hill and others pointing to the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville.

The mash bill for Rhetoric is 75% corn, 13% barley and 12% rye. This bourbon comes it at 90.2 proof (45.1% abv).


Appearance – dark amber.

Nose – the nose on this bourbon is delightful! It strong, with typical notes of vanilla and brown sugar, with loads of banana. I immediately thought of banana pudding! Over time, the vanilla becomes more powerful and there are notes of caramel apple.

Palate – this is a dry bourbon that presents with a very mild spiciness, hints of dark cherry, vanilla, oak and very mild citrus, reminiscent of burnt orange peel.

Finish – the spice dissipates quickly and the finish is fairly long with notes of butterscotch, vanilla and oak. There is some bitterness that lingers but the finish on this bourbon is generally smooth.

Overall – This was another bottle that I dedicated a significant amount of time to find and once again I am very pleased. This bourbon drinks very easy and offers a unique flavor profile. The price is a little high (ranging from $120-$180) but this is the product of a very long and interesting experimentation process and I think this is a bourbon that has a lot to offer. I am definitely looking forward to trying the 22-25 year renditions of this bourbon.

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