Some time ago at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Ky., a batch of beautiful 17-year-old Kentucky bourbon was accidentally mixed with barrels of much younger whiskey. This error turned out better than anyone could have expected as the older bourbon wasn’t marred, but was transformed into something surprisingly special. Realizing this unique liquid deserved a home, The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. today announced the seventh addition to its portfolio, The Gifted Horse American Whiskey.
So goes the story.
Now this isn’t the first “accidental” whiskey to come out of Kentucky, and it won’t be the last, but ultimately the truth behind how this whiskey was made doesn’t matter much. Note that it’s not a bourbon — it’s a blend of 17 year old bourbon, 4 year old bourbon, and 4 year old corn whiskey, which disqualifies it from being called a bourbon, legally speaking.
Here are the specifics:
The Gifted Horse is comprised of 38.5% 17-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, distilled at the Bernheim Distillery historically located at 17th and Breckinridge in Louisville, Ky., while operated by United Distillers. It also contains 51% four-year-old bourbon and 10.5% four-year-old corn whiskey, both produced at a high-quality distillery in Indiana. Initially, these individual whiskeys were stored at their original distilleries before being moved to Stitzel-Weller, where the mingling error occurred.
How does this Orphan turn out? Let’s look this gift horse square in the mouth and find out.
I was skeptical that this would be any good, but was really surprised right from the start. The nose is dense with both fruit and spice — baked apples mingling with cinnamon and brown sugar, plus burnt caramel. It’s engaging without coming across as either too old and hoary or as something redolent with popcorny youth.
The palate follows suit — more of a barrel char influence hits up front, followed by more of that fruit — again apples, plus some cherry notes. The brown sugar character takes on a slightly granular texture, with toffee and a bit of chocolate mint character. A slightly raisiny note emerges on the finish, which does feature some heat, though nothing unmanageable. As it settles in the glass, more wood notes tend to emerge from the whiskey over time, but its sweetness grows in kind, creating an even denser, more powerful spirit as the night wears on.
The finish finally evokes some caramel corn notes, but these are gentle and integrate well into the spirit as a whole. Old and new come together awfully well here, it turns out. Gifted horse indeed.
A- / $50 / orphanbarrel.com