The Gifted Horse - Orphan Barrel Release (Diageo)
Unspecified Various Distilleries
Taste Score: 81
Category: Canadian Whisky, Rye, Blend
Whisky Cabinet Score: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ (Unless you love a mess)
The Gifted Horse is the latest release under Diageo's Orphan Barrel umbrella. Each previous release was based on old stock of barrels that Diageo procured and bottled. In this case, though, Diageo was offered an accidental mix of barrels.
I haven't had all of the Orphan Barrel releases, but of the ones I've had, they offer an interesting peek into old whiskies at extreme flavours. Each one is big and bold, and has a flavour profile you're not likely to taste elsewhere.
In the case of The Gifted Horse, this is the hot mess of a family of whiskies that's already extreme. While it's my least favourite Orphan Barrel, it's perhaps the most memorable. There are three reasons this whisky is a mess:
1. The Story is a Mess
The Gifted Horse came out with a story of a screw-up. We've seen this before, such as with Wild Turkey Forgiven, where the bottling facility mixes up vats of whisky and blends two or more unlikely whiskies together by accident. In the case of Wild Turkey Forgiven, the person that messed up nearly got fired, but eventually they bottled the disaster (I disliked that whisky).
While we've seen accidents like this before, they rarely ever show us a decent whisky, and these whiskies are often released under special branding in hopes of recouping some costs. In this case, a Diageo representative told me a third-party distillery offered to sell the mess to Diageo. They tasted it, and they liked it.
2. The Blend of Whisky is a Mess
In this case, the bottling facility mixed 17 year old bourbon (38.5%) with 4 year old MGP bourbon (51%) and MPG corn whisky (10.5%). Shout-out to The Whiskey Jug and others for getting that information.
It's possible to have whisky that has spent too much time in the barrel (over-oaked). No matter what you believe, I can tell you that the 17 year old bourbon that went into this is just that—aged too long. When a bourbon flavor shifts from buttery, oily, and cherry notes into syrupy sweet, degrading vegetation, and unpleasantly oily you know it's spent too much time maturing.
This is over-oaked bourbon made palatable with youthful whisky to break down the sweet and oily notes.
3. The Resulting Flavor is a Mess
There's nothing specifically wrong with combining old and new whisky. It's often done to ease out old whiskies, and many brands have successfully produced excellent results with that combination. However, whatever that 17 year-old bourbon was, I can assure you it was a mess of oak flavor. Josh from The Whiskey Jug originally speculated on this possibility.
One of the pleasures of writing about whisky professionally is tasting mistakes. Tasting mistakes shows you what can go wrong with a whisky. Gifted Horse has all the makings of a mistake I've tasted from other distilleries, where there was an attempt to make it better. The flavors are a mess.
Sometimes a Mess Can Be Fun to Drink
Despite all this, just like a bad reality TV (of which I have some guilty pleasures), sometimes a mess can be appreciated. This whisky didn't score well with me, but it's the funnest whisky I've had under 90 points. The Gifted Horse deserves the ridicule it's received from whisky reviewers, but it's also got a weird funky edge that I'll enjoy occasionally.
Nose: Cherry syrup sweetness, maraschino cherries left around too long on a warm afternoon, wet degrading oak, barnyard hey, and hard handy.
Palate: The strange hit of cherry syrup sweetness and a dry spicy mess has a charm to it. You won't know this is bottled at 57.5%. There's an intense tongue-numbing tingling sensation from the tannins that comes off odd, like spoiled wine. Oak spice comes through nicely, with intense citrus notes. The long finish eventually turns unpleasantly oily and sweet, much like the start.
Conclusion: This is a hot mess in every sense of the word. At every whisky category, it fails, and I wish I had a 'but' to that statement. The saving grace here is the high proof and unique flavor profile. I'm going to enjoy this bottle of whisky, but not because it's perfect whisky, but because of the many dramatic imperfections. While the taste score is poor, at least it's not boring.
Disclosure: This bottle was provided by Diageo. This had no influence on my review.
*Whisky Cabinet Rating Explained:
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Not recommended
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ Good whisky, but not a ‘must-have’
★ ★ ☆ ☆ Your great regular rotation whisky that'll come and go
★ ★ ★ ☆ Excellent, a near must-have
★ ★ ★ ★ Extraordinary, memorable, and original