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“Orphan whiskey”: Should you jump on the latest booze bandwagon?

I admit it:  I am a sucker for almost any wine labeled “Old Vine.” Grapes from old vines have to be better, don’t they? And the same goes for whiskey, no?  If it’s been in the barrel for 20 years or more, it’s got to be dynamite, for sure.

Well, the answer won’t be much of a spoiler:  No, not necessarily, and Maybe, but probably not.

Touting the age of alcoholic beverages seems to be a great marketing ploy, whether it be for not-so-hot zinfandels, or whiskey that gets its flavors and texture from aging in wood.

Recently, the international beverage giant Diageo, which has bought into several Kentucky whiskey brands and distilling operations, released Bourbon bottlings that they claim they found in “lost” barrels stored in warehouses at the old Stitzel-Weller facility in Louisville. Diageo has bottled the contents of these barrels, and released them in limited and very pricey “editions”–the Old Blowhard (26 years and 90.7 proof) is priced at $150, and the Barterhouse (20 years and 90.2 proof) sells for $75.

F&D’s Bourbon writer, Carla Carlton, was at a tasting of these two “orphans” recently.  Her review of these crafty marketing ploys can be found here.  In her review, she explains that the whiskey was not “lost” on the usual sense of the word, but was part of a distilling run that for various reasons did not get bottled on schedule, and remained stored in the barrelhouse until a new inventory rooted them out.

Taking advantage of suckers like me who drool at aged cheeses, wines and whiskey, Diageo has come up with the gimmick of calling these 20 year plus barrels “lost” or “orphaned”, designing cool bottles, and giving them heft price tags.  Carla gives her tasting notes in her  Bourbon Babe blog. Her assessment in a nutshell: “It’s a canny move by the company to create a new line of ‘rare’ whiskeys that trade on the reputation of distilling legends like Stitzel-Weller. I hope they will find some undiscovered gems, but I’m not completely sold yet.”