Color: dark reddish-amber
Nose: toasted almond, caramel corn, baking spices
Taste: kettle corn, cloves, biscuit, caramel
Since my first review of Diageo’s Orphan Barrel offerings, I’ve been a fan. You’re no stranger to that. They find old barrels of Bourbon, dilute ’em down to sippable strength, sell the result until it’s gone. You’re no stranger to that. Well, The Gifted Horse is strange.
Released March/April 2016, The Gifted Horse veers wildly off of the path cleared by its predecessors… all of whom I am an avid/rabid fan. So what makes The Gifted Horse different?
WELL. Instead of just getting the long-lost barrel to palatable proof, the folks in Tullahoma, TN decided to mix their barrel of 17-year old Kentucky Bourbon with corn whiskey and Indiana whiskey. The result has me perplexed and left with the following “Let’s Not Mince Words” quote:
Orphan Barrel’s The Gifted Horse is a mixed bag of corn sweetness, caramel, baking spices, almonds, and tar.
The folks at Orphan Barrel took a gamble here, mixing what was probably a superior 17-year old Bourbon and mixing it down with lightly-aged corn whiskey and what’s likely a temperate MGP whiskey. The surest sign that Orphan Barrel was hedging a bet is the fact that they let this whiskey sit up at 115 proof. That’s hot. But surprisingly, it doesn’t come off that way.
The Gifted Horse is actually pretty damn smooth. I (rather stupidly) haven’t reviewed High West’s American Prairie yet, but in my fevered little brain, I’m drawing parallels between it and The Gifted Horse… and The Gifted Horse isn’t making out so well in that race.
This is a whiskey, not a bourbon. And a blended one, at that. Now, I’m no stranger to blends. (American Prairie is a blend of two Bourbons and an MGP whiskey.) Blends mean complexity, smoothness, and spice. And while The Gifted Horse does tick those boxes, it really boils down to one thing:
The Gifted Horse is the whiskey equivalent of almond toffee.
It’s a tad hot, thanks to its high proof, but the flavors all coalesce into what’s easily defined as almond toffee. Corn sweetness, caramel, toasted almond… yeah. And yes, it tastes GOOD; even with that tar note I mentioned. (Ever been near a freshly paved road or newly shingled roof? That throat-coating experience… yeah.) At 115 proof, you’ll be sipping it lightly, and you’ll enjoy yourself if you are real whiskey fan.
So, I was initially perplexed. WHY mix an aged Bourbon with weaker whiskeys? Why dial back its beautiful barrel notes? I attempted to find out the why by reading through their press release and bottle notes on Gifted Horse. But that just makes it seem like Orphan Barrel is trying to spin this as some happy accident. And, for the first time since I’ve been sampling their offerings, I call bullshit. There was nothing accidental about this concoction. This was a calculated risk. Why did they mix it with lesser whiskeys? To stretch an aged Bourbon into as many bottles as possible so that they could stay on top of the Bourbon-Craze Wave. And while I can’t say that Orphan Barrel has knocked this one out of the park, they’ve certainly cranked out a solid product.
It seems pretty clear to me that Orphan Barrel figured that they could do what High West does and make a blend. The difference is: High West has been doing this for years, and they are damn good at it. AND… with American Prairie Reserve (a blend of two Bourbons) coming in $20 a bottle cheaper… well, you can see where I’m headed here.
So, I’ll put that axe down for a moment and get to the thick of things.
I’ve already gone over the flavors (almond toffee), and the nose mostly matches. The baking spices are a touch more pronounced on the nose. Not just cloves, but some cinnamon and even ginger… but that’s likely the high-proof burning me.
The finish is about medium length, and warm. Nowhere near as hot as I’d expect from this high of a proof. (I was equally as surprised by Buffalo Trace’s White Dog.) And the flavors linger… it’s a nice touch, but is it enough?
Now, I still have a bottle of Forged Oak lying around… the last great offering by Orphan Barrel. And does The Gifted Horse stand up to that? In a word: No. I’ll elaborate: hell no.
The Gifted Horse is good, and I’ll be happily sipping away at it ’til it’s gone. But will I weep like I did when I ran out of Lost Prophet? Again, no. And you can bet your ass I’ll be cremated with a shot of Forged Oak in my pocket. But The Gifted Horse? Well…
Final Rating: 89 out of 100