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Friday, February 17, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Barterhouse 20 year old

I return now to the Orphan Barrel series. And it won't be the last time, sorry.

Barterhouse 20yo was one of the first of Diageo's oops-look-what-we-found-in-our-warehouses series. Despite the name, each Orphan Barrel release wasn't made from one lonely barrel, but instead these whiskies each had "limited" bottle counts in the tens of thousands.

To be honest, I really like the label design and bottle shape of this entire series. On the other hand, don't really like the whiskey inside the nice bottles. Because these bourbons spent more than two decades in oak, they tend to smell and taste like wood. Makes sense, right?

Barterhouse was distilled at the old Bernheim distillery, then bottled at George Dickel distillery, then spent some portion of their maturation at a Stitzel-Weller warehouse. Diageo mentions that final aspect in all of their marketing. I can't imagine why. *Insert emoticon here*

One more note: Barterhouse's label does not list the word "straight" anywhere amongst its many other words.

Owner: Diageo
Brand: Orphan Barrel
Orphan: Barterhouse
Distillery: Old Bernheim
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye
Age: minimum 20 years
Alcohol by Volume: 45.1%
(Thanks to WhiskyWithRyan for the sample!)

I tried Barterhouse twice, once in public and once at home. Because I did not reference the first tasting's notes during the second go-around, the results are slightly different. I've listed both sets below.

Public sampling:
Flowers and split lumber. Paint fumes and hazelnuts. Plenty of vanilla and a tropical fruit note in the back.

Private sampling: Tree bark and peanut brittle. Lots of caramel. Wood pulp and pine needles. Cherry popsicles with hints of perfume and hazelnuts.

Public sampling: It's all oak. Vanilla, caramel, paper and sawdust. Paint. Creamy and acidic.

Private sampling: There's cherry candy, but it's moderately sweet. Dove hand soap. Lavender soap. Bitter woodiness. Some tart out-of-season berries. The soap notes fade with time, leaving behind paint and wood spice. It's like chewing a wooden fence. Planky.

Public sampling:
Paper, oak, caramel, acidic tart blackberries.

Private sampling: Soap and cherry candy. The cheap Red 40 version of maraschino cherries. Tart and slightly spicy. Quickly falls flat.

I am clearly not the intended demographic for this bourbon. Perhaps this gentleman would experience a deeper Barterhouse appreciation:
Like Forged Oak, Barterhouse's strongest asset is its nose. Yet, even its sniffer doesn't display the balance or depth of a modern 6-12 year old Heaven Hill bourbon. The best thing I can say about the palate is that its woody bitterness isn't as violent as Forged Oak's. And it is somewhat drinkable once the soap notes vanish. My notes on the finish should speak for themselves.

I'd take Barterhouse over Forged Oak, but not by much. I still like Lost Prophet 22yo better. Sku had some nice things to say about Barterhouse, though my take is closer to Andy's. The Whiskey Jug liked the bourbon. So did John Hansell, but his notes match no one else's. Meanwhile, Drink Spirits and Drinkhacker are less enthused. Before you go out and pay a bunch for Barterhouse on the secondary market, please take a look at some of these reviews to see what you'd be getting yourself into.

Availability - can still be found at some US retailers, more than three years after its "limited" release; also quite available on the secondary market
Pricing - $80-$300
Rating - 73


  1. Barterhouse wasn't one of the first Orphan Barrels but in fact the first Orphan Barrel release.

    1. I thought so, though when going back to read some of the marketing material, I kept finding Barterhouse and Old Blowhard listed together. So, to be safe I played a logic game. If I said it was the first and it wasn't then I'd be wrong, but if I said it was one of the first, I'd be right whether or not it was the first.

    2. I completely forgot about Old Blowhard. Barterhouse and Old Blowhard did come out at nearly the same time but since Barterhouse was a lot easier to find on store shelves I considered it the first Orphan Barrel.