Rhetoric 20 YO Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 45 %

Rhetoric 20 YO Kentucky Straight Bourbon WhiskeyIn November 2013 Diageo announced that they had started The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company. They call this an endeavor to rescue long forgotten barrels of rare and delicious whiskey and share them with others.  The company is headquartered in Tullahoma, Tennessee. So far they have released three unusually old bourbons; Barterhouse, Old Blowhard and Rhetoric. All three Orphan Barrel bourbons have identical mashbills: 86% corn, 6% rye, and 8% barley

While researching this this article I got great help from Joshua Gershon Feldman. He pointed me to two articles by John Hansell (WhiskyAdvocate), and Chuck Chowdry. It appears the story is that Diageo sold off the Old Charter brand name when they formed, but they didn’t sell off all the aging stocks in their Stitzel-Weller warehouses. The barrels are therefore termed “orphaned”, as the brand name is no longer owned by the company (Diageo) holding the stocks.

According to the press release for Rhetoric 20 YO, the whisky was distilled in both the New and Old Bernheim distilleries in Louisville.

Interestingly, Orphan Barrel have plans to release Rhetoric once a year for several years to come. This will be the same stock but one year older for each release, so in 2015 we will get Rhetoric 21 YO etc.

The suggested retail price for Rhetoric 20 YO is USD 75, and it seems to be readily available, at least in California where I found it at two liquor stores in one day. The packaging does say this is a rare release, but my bottle also specifies that it is bottle number 91162. In other words, you should have a fair chance of getting your hands on a bottle if you really want it.

So, let’s see if it is any good, shall we?

Nose (23/25): Ooh, that is a pleasant nose. You can tell right away that this is old, and refined. Delicately balanced aromas of soft leather, furniture polish, vanilla cream, cinnamon, and sweet oak. There are hints of tobacco and hard fruit candies as well. As I come back to the glass after about an hour I detect a hint of smoke or slightly burnt brown sugar. Lovely!

Taste (22/25): Soft and honey-like mouth feel. Oaky caramel forms the solid base here, with candied apples, cinnamon, white pepper, sparkling ginger and leather adding exciting waves on top of this.

Finish (22/25): Warm, long and sticky. Caramel flavored honey, with a nice, subdued spiciness.

Balance (22/25): One of the best bourbons I have ever had. I was expecting the oak to be more prominent here, but it is a well-balanced product, that is really enjoyable. It will be interesting to follow the Rhetoric releases over the coming years.

Score (89/100)

– Thomas


  1. I’m glad to see a positive review. I’m a fan of the Orphan Barrels (I like Barterhouse the best). They’ve clearly gotten a bad rap because of the PR stunt of a) trying to use the Stitzel-Weller brand, and b) claiming to be a “limited release”, of which (a) is complete fiction, and (b) is a stretch. At the same time it’s a solid product. There is really no comparable bottle at this age on the market at this price point and I think as a special occasion purchase, most people will be very happy with it. Not sure about “the best bourbon ever”, but it was a nice surprise for me. cheers/senorbeast

    • Hi! Thanks for the comment. I guess we all have to try to dig through some of the market speak on these releases. But the ultimate test is in the actual product, and this was a sold product for me. I am not sure this is one of the best bourbons ever, but it is one of the very best I have had. I have only tried about 50+ bourbons so far, so I am a bit of a beginner there. I have tried a lot more single malts 🙂



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