By Richard Thomas
Diageo’s Orphan Barrel line, which in practice is built around sourcing middle and ultra-aged whiskeys drawn from their worldwide portfolio specifically for the American market, has released its first-ever rye whiskey. Because Orphan Barrel has been around for a decade, its an interesting choice to do so now.
The whiskey is sourced through an unnamed Indiana distillery, and MGP is a safe bet. Diageo has long sourced the stock for both George Dickel and Bulleit rye whiskeys from MGP. Most likely they bought a large consignment for one or the other brand, laid it up in their warehouses at the famous Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Shively, Kentucky, and kept it there with an eye on releasing it as an extra-aged version of something or other. Now here it is as a middle aged rye for an Orphan Barrel. The blending behind Scarlet Shade is the handiwork of newcomer Master Blender, Samantha Johnson. It’s bottled at 90 proof.
Taking in the scent, I found Scarlet Shade led with something akin to a heavily seasoned, whiskey-soaked baked apple and pear dessert. The pie spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger were all there, along with the apple and pear, brown sugar, and really the only discordant (and especially rye-oriented) note was the hint of dill. The nose came across as much sweeter and fruitier than I usually expect from merely mature examples of MGP’s ubiquitous 95% rye whiskeys.
The palate follows in much the same vein, and is richer than one might expect for a 90 proof whiskey. The sweet, fruity aspect has morphed from apples and pears over to berries and orange zest. It’s just as spicy as on the nose, in its moderate and balanced way, but instead of the hint of dill we have a hint of musty oak. The finish rolls off with the full personality of the whiskey, with the fruity aspect fading first, leaving the spicy side to linger on.
This one has a recommended price of $200. If that seems a little steep for a fourteen year old, remember age statements for ryes are often lower (not parallel) compared to bourbons. So, think about what some of the older WhistlePig Boss Hog expressions or Sazerac 18 Year Old command before casting judgement. Moreover, being an Orphan Barrel, it probably has a production run in the low five digits, so you’ll probably be able to actually pay that recommended price, and not a steep mark-up.