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 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
Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse Review
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.
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.
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.
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. Everything about the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse rubs me the wrong way and I won’t be buying bottle.
Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse Review - Score Breakdown
- Nose - 82
- Palate - 80
- Finish - 77
- Balance, Body & Feel - 77
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.