Review: Orphan Barrel- Forged Oak
Age: 15 Years old
Mash bill: 86% Corn, 8% Malted Barley, 6% Rye
Style: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Price: $64.99 MSRP - $100-$200 Average Retail
Diageo launched the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company back in 2013 as a way of sharing "barrels of delicious and rare whiskey, hidden away and nearly forgotten in the back of rickhouses and distilleries." This was an endeavor aimed at demonstrating the progression of bourbon flavor through extended aging, by tapping into a large stock of leftover whiskey that had been aging in warehouses at the Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively, Kentucky.
Orphan Barrel has produced a number of brands, including Lost Prophet (a 22 year-old bourbon), Barterhouse (a 20 year-old bourbon), Rhetoric (a series of bourbon aged from 20-25 years), Gifted Horse (a 17 year-old American whiskey), and Forager’s Keep ( a 26 year-old scotch whiskey).
Forged Oak is the 5th release in the Orphan Barrel line. According to multiple sources, Forged Oak was produced between 1997 and 1998 at the New Bernheim Distillery, and was then aged for 15 years in the Stitzel-Weller rickhouses. The mash bill for this bourbon consists of 86% corn, 8% barley, and 6% rye. This review is of bottle #39155
According to Orphan Barrel:
Forged Oak is a statuesque whiskey with aromas of cedar, maple and vanilla bean that give way to seasoned woody notes of cocoa and young berries, ultimately leading to a long, dry finish of black pepper.
Color: orange amber.
Nose: Despite the fact that this bourbon spent 15 years in oak, there is not much oak on the nose. Instead, I found a very bright, sweet nose filled with sweet caramel, overripe banana, cedar wood, and a soft bouquet of baking spice consisting primarily of vanilla and clove.
Palate: The sweetness of the nose does not transition onto the palate. Instead, I was surprised to find a peppery spice that gave way to a dry, leathery presentation with a mild alcohol burn. I found some oak, more cedar wood, the same baking spices, and a slight smokiness that overpowered a few notes of dried red fruit that started to develop.
Finish: The finish was medium-long, and for the first time oak made a real presentation in this pour. Some alcohol burn remained and oak tannins developed, leaving a somewhat bitter mouthfeel. I also found sweet vanilla, a touch of golden honey, and orange peel, which transitioned to a smoky, peppery finish.
Overall: Forged Oak is definitely bourbon that will get your attention. From the intriguing history, to the beautifully designed label, to the surprisingly bright nose packed full of unique flavors, this bourbon does a lot to draw you in. And once this bourbon is in the glass, it provides a very unexpected profile, as it was not as oak-heavy as I anticipated. Surprisingly, cedar wood was the dominant wood note on this bourbon, which added a dry, smoky flavor to the profile and provided some additional challenge on the palate. I was also pleasantly surprised to find a nice rye kick up front, despite the lower rye content.
However, like some of my previous experiences with Orphan Barrel expressions, in the end I was underwhelmed with this bottle. Perhaps I didn’t set my expectations appropriately (admittedly, I can’t help but get excited when I see a 15 year aged-stated bourbon) but I thought this bourbon just felt thin and lacking in overall flavor. There were definitely some pleasant flavors that developed with this bourbon but I found that they really didn’t blend together that well and some of the wood notes overpowered the additional flavor I was hoping for.
There is no doubt that Orphan Barrel is producing some very interesting expressions as part of its aging “experiment” but this particular bottle did not deliver as much as expected for a 15 year-old bourbon. I plan on revisiting this bottle in the future with hopes that it opens up and delivers some additional flavor.