The latest release in Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Project — the 13th in the lineup — is perhaps its most unusual to date: It’s a single malt Scotch.
Diageo owns a town of Scotch brands, so while it’s sort of logical to drop one of these into the Orphan Barrel brand, it’s also a little confusing. Why? Because Diageo already releases 10 to 12 ultra-rare Scotch whiskies every year as part of its long-running Special Releases program. But hey, whether they decide to put this release into the Special Releases system or the Orphan Barrel Project is really a marketing decision. The bottom line, either way, is that Forager’s Keep is a one-off release of old whisky that won’t see the light of day again. So never mind the labeling, let’s really dig into what’s inside.
This is 26 year old single malt from Pittyvaich (a Speyside distillery that has shown up in the Special Releases twice in recent years), a distillery which shut down in 1993 and was demolished in 2002. This whisky was matured in a mix of refill hogsheads and refill barrels (largely from other Scotch distilleries) — though no sherry casks are included in that.
On the nose, it’s exuberant and quite lovely, with notes of gentle oak, spiced apples, a mild citrus character, and a hint of burnt matches. A slight saline aroma and some pine needle notes are also evident. The palate is really quite beautiful, with a significant citrus note up front (it’s surprising there’s no sherry barrel involved here), working its way toward a rather exotic, spicier note, with essences of fresh basil, cedar, dark chocolate, and plenty of red pepper. The finish is warming — if not outright hot — with a significant orange peel character and notes of mulled wine spices.
There’s a lot going on here, but I mean that in the best possible way. Forager’s Keep (which means… what, exactly?) isn’t all that cheap, but considering the age and rarity of the stock inside, it actually isn’t the worst value in Scotch I’ve encountered in recent years. Definitely worth sampling.