...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)