...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, July 17, 2015

WTF Is This? Forged Oak 15 year old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

A Diageo bourbon?  How could I resist?  When I saw that SmokyPeat (who is more optimistic than I about...well...everything) totally panned Forged Oak and concluded "This stuff is the worst," I was intrigued.  Then he offered me a sample.  I took it.

I'll start with the positives.  A lot of effort and skill was utilized for the bottle label design.  And the result is nice, detailed, textured, and metallic.  Though while the muscular 7000-point deer is a striking visual, big bucks are really more in Scotch's domain.  (Puns!)  SmokyPeat's bottle was number 44877.  Woo, limited.  Wait, this was the positive section.

Since there is no Forged Oak Distillery now, nor fifteen years ago, who made the bourbon in the bottle?  Despite Diageo's marketing department's enthusiastic usage of the words "Stitzel" and "Weller" for every Orphan Barrel press release, neither this bourbon nor any of the other Orphan Barrel whiskies were distilled at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery.  Some of the barrels may have been "found" (read: aged) at the Stitzel-Weller warehouses, but those warehouses are far from defunct and Diageo has been regularly using them since at least 1992.  Instead the spirit was distilled at the New Bernheim Distillery just before Diageo sold the distillery to Heaven Hill in 1999.

Thus the distillery is in regular use, as are the warehouses, and with 50000+ bottles (250+ "orphan" barrels!) the bourbon itself is not in terribly limited supply.  Luckily this was the lowest priced of the Orphan Barrel bourbons to date, originally priced near $70 (though it's now selling for $100+ in California).  So what it is is a 15 year old low-rye bourbon.  The end.

Owner: Diageo
Brand: Orphan Barrel
Orphan: Forged Oak
Distillery: New Bernheim
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye (yep, more barley than rye)
Age: minimum 15 years
Bottle #: 44877
Alcohol by Volume: 45.25%
(Mid bottle sample from SmokyPeat. Thanks!!!)

The color is a reddish brownish gold, pretty normal for a bourbon of its age.  It has one of the nuttiest (as in actual nuts, not craziness) bourbon noses I've experienced.  There are hazelnuts, sesame seeds, peanuts, and a can of roasted mixed nuts.  Alongside the nuts are notes of rock candy and caramel.  Hints of floral vanilla bean and baby urine.  It gets woodier with time; like green woody stems.  Considering its age and abv, a surprising amount of ethyl burn remains.  The palate?  Woof.  Really oaky; pulp, char, bark, roots.  Tannic, astringent, and bitter right out of the gate.  Gradually it picks up some sugar, vanilla milk, and pepper.  Salty and a little malty.  Still tannic and very drying in the unpleasant finish.  Lotta heat, pepper, sugar, and Purple.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets a little musty.  Lots of sawdust.  Burnt pasta on the stove.  Anise and fennel.  The palate is very woody and aggressively saccharine.  Slightly eggy.  Nope, I'm done.  Maybe some vanilla and confectioner's sugar in the finish, but it's really bitter.

Part of me, deep down, wanted to write a rave review about this whiskey, as a punkish tweaking of expectations.  For what it's worth, Whisky Advocate and The Whiskey Jug loved this stuff.  Then I tasted the bourbon and I did not love it.  My opinion lies somewhere between that of SmokyPeat's and Sku's.

No one else lists the nut notes that I found, but then again everyone seems to have his own unique notes for the nose.  And I like the nose the best, though "like" may be too strong a word.  The palate is mostly oak juice with a little bit of sweetness and salt, and of zero interest to me.  Adding water turns the palate into an awful slurry, so I really don't recommend going that direction.

Forged Oak?  More like Forced Oak!  (A forced joke.)  It seems to me that Diageo had a bunch of old over-oaked bourbon of which they needed to rid themselves.  The whole "oops, look what we found" story sort of makes sense here because I can't see anyone purposely letting their stock get out of whack like this.  But this whiskey may appeal to those who like lots of oak effects as the spirit soaked these barrels clean through.  It is absolutely not for me, so I can't compliment it on its low-for-15-year-old-bourbon original MSRP.  I wouldn't pay $20 for it.

Availability - Many US specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - from $70 to $120
Rating - 71 (neat only, adding water lowers it into the 50s)


  1. The Whiskey Jug seems to like just about everything, which makes it a less-than-helpful resource.

    1. Seems like a nice guy, though.

    2. Yeah, Josh P. is a really nice guy. We have different palates though, especially when it comes to bourbon. Curiously, we have similar palates when we're at the same event.

  2. Oh good. I was getting worried that you would love this stuff. Sweet vindication!

    Humm nuts, I will have to go back and look for some of those. Baby urine. Oh yes Michael, keep going. Purple. Love that reference, must be that fake fruitiness that I found in the palate. I do not find a lot of alcohol burn with this, I find it flaccid and un-bourbon-like in that regard. Further painful research for me to test your theory.

    I hate to say it, but the longer I have this bottle open the better it gets. But that still only improves it a little. I have never had a bottle that needed so much time. I think when I wrote my review it had been open for a little over a month. Normally that is long enough for it to open up. The bottle seemed to get more caramel and vanilla and other pleasant bourbony notes that rounded out the profile to a slightly more pleasing whole. I drink it now as something to have when I don't want to think. Its not a drain pour. Glad I only payed retail for my extremely limited bottle.

    1. Some older super oaky whiskies need a lot of air. I've heard that some folks will even leave a bottle open over night to see if it'll soften up.

      The nose isn't bad, though everyone seems to sniff something different in it. Have you tried it on the rocks? If so, did you have a better experience than I did when I added water? Thanks again for sample!

  3. Even though this was produced at New Bernheim, I would not try to compare Forged Oak to any of Heaven Hill's products. When they purchased New Bernheim from Diageo, Heaven Hill did extensive modifications to the distillery to better match their old distillery profile.

    1. Yeah, this ain't Heaven Hill stuff. Then again, the original spirit is buried in an oak coffin.

    2. I actually had a bottle of Barterhouse (the last bottle of Orphan Barrel I'll buy). For a 20 year old, I was extremely glad it wasn't too oaky. But it was also the smoothest and most boring bourbon I've ever had.

    3. I'd love to send you a sample but I ended up using up the bottle on mixed drinks. It's not what I would normally do to 20 year old bourbon but I really wanted to get rid of the bottle.

    4. Thanks! No worries. Mixed drinks are a good fate for uninspiring whiskey no matter the age.