Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse Review

Diageo Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse

Recently I got to taste the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse at the Los Angeles launch party and soon after I got to taste a sample at home which I sipped on while formulating this review. Like the whiskey itself this post is going to be a mix of several things. A quick Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse rant, a breakdown of the component value of the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse, my cynical theory on what actually happened and finally an Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse review. Let’s get started with the rant because this whiskey irks me.

 

Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse rant

Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse is a no age stated (NAS) American Whiskey that should be labeled as a 4-years-old Blend of Straight Whiskeys and carries an MSRP of $50. It’s also Diageo’s biggest jump yet to see just how far they can push the American whiskey buying public. Which, based on the number of photos on Instagram and Facebook I’ve already seen, is pretty far and doesn’t bode well for our whiskey future.

No joke, I’ve already seen posts about people buying entire shelves of this in preparation for flipping it on the secondary and posts about people feeling lucky because they picked it up for only a $10 – $20 markup… seriously people? We’re using one hand to digitally complain about prices and how awful the removal of age statements is while using the other hand to take an in-car crotch shot of our latest over priced score. I’m pissed at Diageo for their willfully misleading marketing practices around this one, but I’m disappointed in us as a whiskey drinking public for blindly gobbling it up.

 

An attempted breakdown of the component value of the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse

The label of the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse states that it’s “…roughly 39% 17-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and 61% 4-year-old Corn Whiskey and Indiana Bourbon Whiskey”. Due to a lot of inquires and online posts about this we now know the actual blend is 51% 4-year-old MGP Bourbon, 38.5% 17-year-old Heaven Hill Bourbon and 10.5% 4-year-ol MGP Corn Whiskey. Don’t ever believe them when they say they don’t know the exact breakout even on “mistakes”… they know.

To figure out a rough “real market value” of the whiskey I used the revealed breakout above to get the ratios. I then used Tin Cup American Whiskey ($30) for the MGP Bourbon price point and Mellow Corn ($13) for the corn whiskey price point since they’re close, current, market representations of those two components. Which breaks down like this:

  • 51% 4-year-old MGP Bourbon = 382.5ml @ $30 = $15.3
  • 10.5% 4 year-old- MGP Corn Whiskey = 78.75ml @ $13 = $1.36

This means the 38.5% of 17-year-old Heaven Hill Bourbon (288.75ml) is valued at $33.34. Translated into a full 750ml it would be priced at $86.60. For comparison the Orphan Barrel Forged Oak (15 yrs) was set at $65, Barterhouse (20 yrs) was $90 and Rhetoric 21 was $100. Given that it couldn’t really be set at more than about $75 based on current release prices that’s an $11.60 up-charge (though we all know they’d release at $90 and not that funky number).

$11.60 might not seem like a whole lot, but if you multiply that across the total case lot, which they refuse to release, it adds up quickly. There’s 2.31 bottles worth of the 17 year bourbon in each case (6) of Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse which is an additional $26.80 per case. Again, it doesn’t sound like that much, but if the total cases released is something like 10,000 cases that’s an extra $267,980 squeezed out of those barrels. That’s a pretty profitable “mistake”.

If we look at the value of it knocked down to the more line-appropriate $75, the value of that 288.75 ml comes out to $28.88 giving the bottle a total of $45.46. Which, as you’ll see in the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse review below, I think is about $15.46 too much. The bulk of this whiskey is 4-years-old bourbon and corn whiskey and based on how it tastes in my opinion they shouldn’t be charging more than $30 for this. Though even then…

-On a related side note, it’s VERY disingenuous for them to call this a “highly allocated” release and not give out the total cases. Claiming it’s limited and rare, but then withholding the actual case amount is a move that reeks of a manufactured, and wholly artificial, scarcity mentality.

 

My cynical theory on what actually happened with the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse

At the launch party for this 4-year-old blend of straight whiskeys the brand rep had this wonderfully colorful story involving an angry diminutive Scottish woman, an angry Scottish man, scared as hell distillery workers and a fantastic chain of events that led to three different whiskies getting blended together. It was entertaining and based on the unbalanced nature of this whiskey might actually be true… but due to everything else that’s happened with the release of this whiskey I have a hard time believing it.

My theory is that they were getting ready to bottle a 17 year “follow up” to last year’s 15 -year-old Forged Oak release and they discovered their 17 year old barrels were so over-oaked it couldn’t be bottled by itself. To try and even it out they mixed it with whatever young cheap whiskey they could easily get their hands on, which would be MGP Bourbon and Corn Whiskey. They then went into marketing mode, made up a story, dropped the damning age statement, called it American Whiskey and named it Gifted Horse to make it sound classy.

This was my theory before going to the event, but at the release one of the reps mentioned that they will often take old over oaked bourbon and mix it with younger bourbon to even it out and fix it, which is a common practice in whiskey. That same rep then clarified, very quickly, that this was not the case here. I don’t know why they brought it up, but in my mind it added a bit more creedence to may own cynical theory about the true origin of the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse.

Alright, enough ranting. It’s time to see how this Frankenstein’s Monster of a whiskey actually performs. On to the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse review!

 

Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse Review

Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse Info

Region: Kentucky & Indiana, USA

Bottler: Orphan Barrel / Diageo
Distiller: Heaven Hill & MGP
Whiskey Blend: 38.5% 17 yr Bourbon (Heaven Hill), 51% 4 yr Bourbon (MGP), 10.5% 4 yr Corn Whiskey (MGP).
Cask: New Charred Oak & Reused Cooperage.
Age: 4 years
ABV: 57.5%

Price: $50

Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse Review

EYE
Medium caramel

NOSE
Sweet grainy corn, cherry heavy dark fruit, caramel and light notes of vanilla, spice, peanuts, astringent wood and dried citrus peels. The aroma is light and youthful yet deeply woody. It’s what I imagine would result from mixing Old Crow with Old Blowhard.

PALATE
The wood comes on strong followed by some notes of corn heavy toasted grain, caramel and vanilla. Some light notes of anise, rye spice, citrus peel and ashy char that builds sip after sip. There is a strong tannic character, like over-seeped black tea, that glides along the whiskey and dries out the mouth as it heads to the finish. Water helps break it up some, but wow it’s tannic.

FINISH
Short, dry and ashy with mild notes of caramel, vanilla, wood, spice and coconut.

BALANCE, BODY & FEEL
Not well balanced, thin body and soft dry feel.

OVERALL
Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse is a 4 year old blend of straight whiskies that Diageo first tried to spiffy up via misdirection by only stating that it was 39% KSBW. After a barrage of angry posts, tweets, emails, etc. they released the actual mix which worked in their favor because until they did I was sure it was at least 51% corn whiskey. It’s actually 51% 4 yr MGP bourbon, but that original omission was not just disingenuous, but came across as tactically planned as the decision to not include the damning age statement. A first in the Orphan Barrel line.

As a whiskey Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse is mediocre and, as you’d expect, simultaneously comes across both young and old. The nose is young and grainy with some sharp woody notes; the palate is the opposite and is tannic and woody with some grainy sweet notes; while the finish is tannic, dry and ashy with some wood and sweet notes. It’s a blend that’s all over the place which lends some credence to it being a mistake – though it could just as easily be a planned blending effort gone wrong.

Regardless of if the story is true or not my advice to you is to NOT buy it. Let the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse sit like the overpriced shelf turd it is and use your wallet to tell Diageo you won’t stand for this shit. Deceptive marketing at the outset, purposely crafting the label to misdirect consumers and removing the age statement to assist in the charade. This is a whiskey that hurts all their NAS arguments and lays bare what we think is really happening behind NAS whiskey – so why would you pay them for that?

If this really was a mistake they should have been even more upfront about it from day one and priced it accordingly, which is no more than $30 in my opinion. Everything about the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse rubs me the wrong way and I won’t be buying bottle.

SCORE: 79/100

Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse Review - Score Breakdown
  • Nose - 82
  • Palate - 80
  • Finish - 77
  • Balance, Body & Feel - 77

Summary

Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse is a terrible value no matter how you slice it. You’re basically paying for a bunch of young bounden and corn whiskey mixed with some over-oaked bourbon.

Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse Label

Josh Peters
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Josh Peters

I read about, think about, write about, and drink whisk(e)y. In short, it's my passion.
Josh Peters
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25 Responses to Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse Review

  1. Thank you for doing some digging and putting out an informative review. Maybe this one ends up in favor of enthusiasts. I don’t think Diageo will fool anyone who really cares about what they drink and flippers will be stuck with crap product.

    • Thanks Matt. I sure hope so. I would love nothing more than to see flippers stuck with cases of this stuff in their house that they either have to trade or sell on the cheap or do the unthinkable and actually drink the whiskey they buy.

      Cheers!

  2. I think your flavor profile is spot on. The corn whisky really asserts itself mid palate. I did however enjoy it a little more than you. I wouldn’t however rate it above 84/85 out of 100. Good pour, but not as put together as I would like, and slightly overpriced at 55 to 65$. You are getting 35 to 45$ worth of value. Do yourself a favor and skip this one, and grab the current Elijah Craig Barrel Proof 138.8. Cheers

  3. You are right; the message spoken by the wallet is the only one they will hear. I will not be buying a bottle because I don’t like the approach to consumers, especially when being used to promote a “meh!” bottle.

  4. excited to see reviews of this out there, and might not have bought it had i read this first, but i did, and sure, i’m no expert, but owning this, barterhouse and elijah craig 18, all, in part or completely ultra aged “heaven hill” juice, i can’t help but find this review as more an attack on diageo than anything…now, is gifted horse “the holy grail”, no, but knowing the components in the bottle i had a good idea how i expected it to taste and it was pretty spot on, it’s got the oakiness of the 18 that barterhouse kind of lacks, but at the right level, now it certainly has some burn on the finish, but not anything outrageous for 115 proof…and for the price, even your breakdown puts it at the $50 mark, which for an almost barrel proof whiskey with decent average age, that IMO, tastes pretty good, it’s worth it…based on price alone, i’d pick it over the other 2 every time, and overall taste/character, 2nd behind the 18

    • The first part of the review was indeed an attack on the bullshit surrounding this whiskey release, I even called it a rant and put in bold so you’re spot on about that.

      If you do like the whiskey that’s great. That’s the most important thing in this hobby is tasting new things, finding what you like (regardless of anyone else’s opinions including my own) and then drinking it. That night we were served the Rhetoric 21 alongside this and also made cocktails with it which I honestly think was a bad decision by them. It completely disappeared in the cocktails and next the balanced and tasty R21 the GH’s flaws were on blast. To me the GH came across as simultaneously over oaked – that dry tannic nature – and young with a strong corny grain character. But that’s just my take on it. If you loved it and feel it was worth your money that’s awesome.

      For me, even if I did like it and could give it a better score I wouldn’t buy it because of all the BS surrounding it. I don’t want to support that kind of behavior with my money. If they had just been open and transparent from the get go and crafted their labels to be informative rather than misdirecting then that entire first half of this review wouldn’t exist and I would only have talked about the whiskey and while I still wouldn’t have cared for it I would be commending them for doing the right thing instead of everything else I have. They had every opportunity in the world to NOT be shady about it… and they failed.

  5. Josh,

    Thanks for the great background. Are you angry at Diageo for making a profit, which we all like to do, angry at the flippers, me too, or angry at bad whiskey, always? Purchasing any product, it is caveat emptor. I appreciate your unvarnished review, I for one will try a bottle and get back to you.

  6. Diageo are dicks, as a general rule I boycott all of their whiskey with the exception of Dickel which is a) too good to avoid and b) someone manages to seem run by a completely different company than other Diageo products (e.g. being upfront about not distilling their rye). I was so excited for I.W. Harper to come back (never had the original, but loved the story) and when I found out it was a Diageo product, I didn’t even bother. And with Blade & Bow they managed to say “How can we get 1 barrel of Stitzel-Weller juice to be in thousands of bottles of mediocre whiskey and charge an assload for it?” “Solera aging, naturally!” No other American whiskey company has as consistently and as blatantly ripped off consumers as Diageo has. Furthermore, the audacity they have to keep coming out with Orphan Barrels after that name has been thoroughly debunked is incredible- if the US government tracked your barrel of whiskey longer than they tracked Osama bin Laden, it’s clearly not an orphan.

    Because of how much I love Dickel (thanks to your glowing reviews, btw) and how much Diageo’s marketing practices irritate me, I harbor a dream of winning the lottery & buying Dickel out from the evil overlord.

  7. Love the math breakdown. Really puts today’s crap masquerading as ‘premium’ into realistic terms.

    I’ve passed a number of the Retarded Pony’s on the shelf so far. Besides the marketing flash, what it has working for it is it’s HALF the price of the cheapest OB release yet. I’m not paying $50…or $5 for it, but that fact alone will cause it to move quickly, regardless of who buys it.

    I also passed lots of Lost Prophet for $100 and now they sell for $300+. Perhaps the joke is on me.

    • No man, the joke is definitely not on you. It’s a lot harder to sell that stuff than you’d think and my honets opinion is that it’s better to spend that level of money on whiskey you actually want to drink!

  8. I read about this one a year or so ago (someone dug up the label application and artwork) and was absolutely amazed that they thought anyone would believe that backstory. I assumed that they had some 17 year old barrels, but not enough to put out a complete release…so, they were mixing it with some other stuff to “stretch” it. I never considered the fact that it was over oaked to the point of undrinkability. I stifled a laugh as my ABC clerk excitedly told me about this new “bourbon” they were getting in (I had forgotten about reading the labels that were submitted for approval) and then again when I was back in and they had it on the shelf for $50. I walked right past it and picked up a bottle of Stagg Jr, which I have never seen before, for the same price. Don’t you think that’s the one he should’ve been excitedly telling me that they just got in?

  9. So I head to the liquor store to buy “expensive whiskey” To finish off my valentine gift for my boyfriend. My beau and his army buds are always taking turns buying each other bottles of whiskey and I’ve noticed the prices, which seems expensive to me. I don’t really drink much. At the store I tell the nice man what I know about what he drinks or already has in the cabinet ( Maker’s Mark, Tin Cup and Blantons something or other, etc ) he precedes to tell me he has a rare bottle that they only relieved x amount of and heads to the back stock room. After reading the label and the story I felt like it was a crock of shit fairytale made up to fill label space, but what do I know about whiskey? So I asked what the next best thing was that he didn’t have. He shows me a bottle of Eagle Rare that he says is also limited and aged 10 years ( ten years to me sounds like a long time to let whiskey sit so I go for it) I figure surely between the both I’ll earn some major girlfriend points. I was actually kind of excited that I managed to score such “rare and limited bottles” but now reading this review I’m thinking the Gift Horse was in the back room not for it’s rarity but waiting for a sucker like me to come along for them to pass it off. Your review has inspired me to educate myself more on this whole whiskey business so I know what I’m looking for next time.

    • Hey Melissa,

      First off, I need a GF as thoughtful as you! You went through some great lengths for your guy, that’s awesome. Second, it sounds like that liquor store owner was indeed trying to take advantage of you so bone up on your bourbon! This stuff is far from rare, and neither is the Eagle Rare. However that Eagle Rare is really good stuff. I love it, so at least take solace in that you snagged one great bottle. If you ever have any questions feel free to email me (email in contact). I’m always open to answering questions.

      Cheers!

  10. I’ve bought each of the previous orphans, some hits, and some that have migrated to the back of the shelf. Sounds like I’ll skip this one, maybe Sarah McLaughlin can find someone to adopt it instead.

  11. Nicely done. I liked it a bit more than you did but when you factor in the Diageo p.r. crapola it makes this one not worth the $$$ or effort. Happy to have tried it and now I’m done with it.

  12. I have been reading your reviews for a while now, although this will be my first comment. And I have to say I don’t necessarily disagree with what you said about Diageo, but I still plan on trying this whiskey. Because I have had good, and bad experiences based on my own personal viewpoint, which sounds similar to yours. I always think companies should be 100% transparent,and honest. And I prefer it also when the distilleries see the product through the whole process from beginning to end. But using that logic I have had great bottles with a little b.s. story surrounding them, and then bought bottles based on transparency, and although I appreciated the company’s honesty the spirit was crap. So in ways I prefer (too a degree) knowing less about the company, and just have idea about the product, so it doesn’t skew my viewpoint. Or better yet I tend to enjoy blind tastings, or like what happened to me recently, buying a bottle of OGD 114 thinking it’d be a nice cheap bottle to celebrate with when I got my car fixed recently. Only to then find out for my personal tastes I like it more than a lot of $50+ dollar bottles that I have tried, to the point where I want to buy a couple bottles of it to save. Well those are my thoughts on the subject, and once again thanks for the review. I always appreciate an outside perspective. I’ll write a follow up to this once I have tried it. Keep up the good work, and Cheers!

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