Orphan Barrel Old Blowhard Bourbon Whiskey 26 yrs Blue Label

ORPHAN BARREL OLD BLOWHARD BOURBON WHISKEY 26 YRS BLUE LABEL

SPIRIT: Bourbon

VOLUME: 750 ml

ABV/PROOF: 45/90

AGE:  26 years

Diageo introduced the Orphan Barrel series with great fanfare in 2014. Composed of choice stocks previously held by its predecessor, United Distillers, these “orphaned” barrels were batched and bottled under a range of newly minted labels, of which the majority were one-offs. While the series was criticized early on for its marketing, which insinuated the whiskey held Stitzel-Weller provenance, Diageo was quick to acknowledge that most of the initial Orphan Barrel releases were, in fact, distilled at the Bernheim Distillery, in Louisville.

Diageo kicked off the line with Old Blowhard, a 26-year-old bourbon distilled at Bernheim prior to its reconstruction in 1999 (affectionately known as “Old Benheim” by enthusiasts and industry insiders). Though not as well-received by critics as Diageo likely expected, $150 was a respectable price for a 26-year Old Bernheim distilled bourbon – especially in 2014. Old Blowhard sold out quickly, but failed to receive the attention associated with subsequent Orphan Barrel releases like Lost Prophet and Rhetoric, which were distilled at New Bernheim and George T. Stagg, respectively.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of Old Blowhard and the Orphan Barrel series is its origin. For years, whiskey aficionados speculated Diageo was merely aiming to charge a marketing-driven premium on forgotten barrels aged beyond their prime. Whether or not one appreciates the lore or flavor profile of a decades-old bourbon is subjective, but the circumstances surrounding the inception of the Orphan Barrel series remain strictly factual.

According to author Chuck Cowdery, Diageo’s warehouses in Shiveley, a suburb of Louisville, were plagued with Baudoinia compniacensis, or “whiskey fungus.” The unsightly, yet relatively harmless, black fungus thrives in ethanol-rich environments, particularly whiskey-aging warehouses, staining neighboring buildings and structures. The problem was serious enough that in 2012, the Louisville Air Pollution Control District threatened to penalize Diageo $10,000 each day the nuisance continued. Rather than wrangle the expense of battling fungus or fines, the company decided to move 185,000 barrels from Shively, to Tullahoma, Tennessee, home of Cascade Hollow Distillery.

As for Old Blowhard, its collectibility has increased significantly as the Orphan Barrel series has evolved. The 26-year-old bourbon that once sold for a tough $150 in 2014 now warrants over five times that figure on popular whiskey auction sites. It appears the marketing smokescreen that once frustrated whiskey enthusiasts has cleared with Old Blowhard’s true provenance firmly established. And therein lies a lesson: Marketing may play a critical role in the success of a whiskey brand, but sometimes all that’s required – particularly with considerably aged bourbons of rare origin – are the facts.

Producer: Diageo

Misc.: At 26 years, Old Blowhard is among the oldest age-stated bourbons ever released.

Collector’s tips: Each bottle of Old Blowhard bears a unique bottle number on the side label. The release count remains undisclosed but exceeds 18,000, provided the numbers stated on each label are accurate. The side label reads:

Aptly named for its full and robust character, Old Blowhard Bourbon Whiskey is aged for 26 years in charred American white oak barrels. An exuberant, rich flavor with undertones of smoke and honey is followed by a gentle finish – dry and spicy with a hint of orange peel.

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