Taste Test: Orphan Barrel’s Latest Bourbon Is Downright Forgettable

Whiskey fans have a lot of thoughts about Diageo’s Orphan Barrel brand, a series of whiskey releases that supposedly come from forgotten casks discovered slumbering in the darkened corners of warehouses. That unlikely narrative has kind of taken a backseat to the stories behind the individual whiskeys in the series, some of which are very good—if often overpriced. The new Indigo’s Hour, however, is an 18-year-old bourbon that doesn’t live up to its backstory, and it’s arguably not worth its hefty price tag.

Anything is possible, I suppose, but it’s extremely unlikely that any distillery or whiskey brand would actually misplace a barrel of whiskey. Casks are barcoded and inventory is carefully monitored as it ages because, after all, it’s all about the bottom line and each barrel contains money in liquid form. Sure, it’s conceivable that a few barrels could slip through the cracks over the years, but not enough to literally create a brand identity. Regardless, as mentioned before there have been some excellent Orphan Barrel releases over the years—Muckety-Muck was a tasty 24-year-old single grain scotch whisky from the esteemed Port Dundas ghost distillery, and Copper Tongue was a bourbon exemplar aged for 16 years at the home of George Dickel, Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. The latter whiskey is a good example of overpricing, especially considering you can find whiskey bottled under the Dickel name nearly that old for less than $100 per bottle.

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The new Orphan Barrel is called Indigo’s Hour, and it’s an 18-year-old bourbon distilled at MGP in Indiana from a high-rye mashbill (68 percent corn, 28 percent rye, and 4 percent malted barley), aged in Kentucky (maybe in warehouses owned by Diageo, but probably not), and bottled at Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. in Tullahoma, TN. So basically you have an older MGP whiskey that was aged in Kentucky—sounds pretty good, right? Unfortunately, that’s just not the case here. Eighteen years old is really pushing the upper limits of bourbon, giving the whiskey a solid chance of becoming an oaky, tannic bomb. Thankfully that not the case here, but instead it veers towards the opposite end–the whiskey’s mouthfeel is very thin, and instead of oak you get notes of faint vanilla, crisp pear, honey, coffee bean, and a bit of spice from all of that rye. The proof is just a hair under 90 degrees, which could be part of the problem. You could easily believe this bourbon is less than 10 years old, which is a totally respectable (and maybe preferable) age. But given the price ($225, and likely much more on the secondary market) and age of this whiskey, I was expecting something much more complex.

The bottom line is that this whiskey is inoffensive but unremarkable, kind of the Coldplay or Ben Affleck of bourbons. That’s all well and good for a $40 bottle, but not for an ultra-premium brand like this. If you really want to drink some 18-year-old bourbon, there are better options out there like Knob Creek 18, Elijah Craig 18, or Dickel 18 (yes, it’s a Tennessee whiskey, but it also meets all the qualifications of bourbon). Sure, these are all expensive whiskeys, but maybe good enough to justify their price with rich, full, assertive flavors that deliver exactly what you’re looking for. Indigo’s Hour is not that, so unless you’re an Orphan Barrel completist (you know who you are), move along.

Score: 81

  • 100 Worth trading your first born for

  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet

  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram

  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market

  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable

  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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