An experiment in maturation, Rhetoric is re-released annually to explore the flavor characteristics imparted by each additional year the bourbon spends in wood, allowing for side-by-side comparisons. Aged in charred American oak barrels for one year longer than last year’s 20-Year-Old release, this rich, complex bourbon represents an exciting evolution in the progressively aged Rhetoric series. Throughout the process, the base Rhetoric liquid remains unchanged, with progressive aging expected to continue through the release of Rhetoric 25-Year-Old in 2019.
The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company was created in 2014 to find and share forgotten barrels of whiskey with discerning adult fans, who are encouraged to sip responsibly. Rhetoric 21-Year-Old follows five previous Orphan Barrel bourbons: Barterhouse (20-Year-Old), Old Blowhard (26-Year-Old), Rhetoric (20-Year-Old), Lost Prophet (22-Year-Old) and Forged Oak (15-Year-Old).
Rhetoric stocks were found at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Ky. The bourbon was distilled in 1993 at the Bernheim Distillery historically located at 17th and Breckenridge in Louisville, Ky., while owned and operated by United Distillers. Rhetoric 21-Year-Old is hand bottled in Tullahoma, Tenn.
“The progressive aging experiment we’re employing with the Rhetoric series is incredibly unique,” said Ewan Morgan, Master of Whiskey for DIAGEO. “We’re going to be able to compare a line of bourbons side-by-side to see how aspects of the liquid – color, aroma, flavors and mouthfeel – are impacted by extra time spent in the barrel. Like many others, I’m looking forward to tasting what one extra year in the barrel does to these bourbons over the coming years.”
Compared to last year’s release, Rhetoric 21-Year-Old is richer and more complex, with a fuller mouthfeel and slightly higher proof of 90.2 (45.1% ABV). Aromas of cherry, sweet tobacco, honey and leather build upon the oak, fruit, vanilla and caramel of Rhetoric 20-Year-Old. New tasting notes of sweet tobacco, dark chocolate, baking spices and honey complement the charred wood, caramel, vanilla and black pepper spice of Rhetoric 20-Year-Old.
What Gary Says:
Nose: Big oak; the charred bottom of freshly baked spice cookies.
Palate: Less wood than the nose telegraphed, rich sweetness; burnt caramel, ginger snaps, molasses.
Finish: Long, but fairly dry.
Comments: After trying a few times, I did a comparison with the previous year’s release of Rhetoric 20 yr, and found them quite similar. This has a nice, rich mouthfeel at the front of the palate, and then dries out through the finish. 21 yrs is a long time in a barrel, and while there is heavy oak influence, it isn’t what I would call over-oaked. The Rhetoric 20yr was the first Orphan Barrel release I purchased, as I was intrigued by the opportunity to sample whiskey that was distilled at or about the same time over a series of releases. I wouldn’t say there was zero difference between the 20 and 21 yr, but it is very subtle – which isn’t a big surprise (many believe most of the wood influence takes place early on).
Rating: Stands Out
What Richard Says:
Nose: Rich, deep tones of caramel, cinnamon, cherry, and polished leather.
Palate: The palate comes on more slow and muted than the nose. Cherry candies, vanilla extract,
Finish: Medium length going from a chewy sweetness into deep, slightly spicy oak.
Comments: Old and woody with more on the nose than the palate delivers. You’ve probably heard this story before about 20 plus year bourbons and it’s kind of the same here. This should’ve gone to bottle a few years earlier. It’s kind of scary to think they are continuing to age it for later releases.