Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 Review

Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 Review

Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 is a great example of what can happen between a sneak peek and the official release. A few months ago I got to try the work-in-progress version of the Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 at a release party / tasting for Lost Prophet and Forged Oak and it stole the show. Side-by-side it demolished them and was so rich, woody, sweet and rustic I was chomping at the bit to pick it up because it was even better than the Rhetoric 20.

Now trying the two (20 & 21) side-by-side I have a hard time picking out one as being better than another. They’re both fantastic, I’m enjoying them equally, and I’m definitely still of the mind that the Rhetoric releases are the best in the Orphan Barrel series, but I can’t help feel a little let down; this isn’t the barn burner I remember from that night. Still, it’s a good whiskey and has successfully kept the Rhetoric line at the top of the Orphan Barrel pile for me so at least on that front it’s a smashing success.

Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 Info

Region: Kentucky, USA

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Bottler: Orphan Barrel
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye & 12% Barley
Cask: New charred oak
Age: 21 years
ABV: 45.1%

Price: $100

Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 Review

Varnished oak

Thick notes of oak, caramel, vanilla, spice and oily nuts flow from the glencairn escorted by notes of cocoa, graham, toasted grains and dark sweets. Lovely nose.

Not as rich as the aroma, but it delivers none-the-less. Wood, baking spices (cinnamon, clove, anise, etc.), vanilla, citrus peel and a watery bit of caramel work well together with a light note of toasted nuts as the icing on top.

Long, woody and layered with notes of dark sweets and toasted corn.

If it were any woodier it would be unbalanced, but it manages to walk that line. A rich full body and a polished feel gives it a kind of grace; I’m enjoying it immensely.

I really wanted to love the Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 more than the 20, but as it turns out they’re equally as good. The Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 is a bit woodier where as the 20 is a bit sweeter, but both have a nice rich character to them that moves through the senses with ease. From start to finish it’s an enjoyable whiskey, but it needs a bit more sweetness to fully balance it out, which is why I ended up mixing the 20 and 21 together 50/50 after doing the side-by-side.

If you’re reading this and you happen to have a bottle of the Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 and 20 try it out yourself. Mix equal parts of each together in a glass and let it sit for about 15 minutes to marry and then sense what happens. In my experience it merged the best qualities of each; birthing a harmonious concoction that was equally woody and sweet. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the 22 next year.

SCORE: 91/100

Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 Review - Score Breakdown
  • Nose - 92
  • Palate - 90
  • Finish - 92
  • Balance, Body & Feel - 90


Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 is a rich, flavorful and aromatic 21 year old bourbon that comes in at a similar price to Limited Editions that have 1/3 the age and less than 1/2 the maturity found here. As LEs go these days it’s not a terrible deal.

Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 Label

Josh Peters

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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