There always seems to be a degree of speculation in the air when it comes to Diageo’s Orphan Barrel series; specifically repeated speculation that the long-running series of rare and reclaimed whiskeys is approaching its end. It certainly felt that way a few years ago when the Rhetoric series of bourbon releases finally reached 25 years old and came to a close, and Orphan Barrel releases in general began to get more sporadic. On the other hand, the series has expanded in some new directions in the last few years as well, with more forays into arenas such as Tennessee whiskey (Copper Tongue) and single grain scotch whiskey (Muckety-Muck), albeit not seeming to generate the kind of whiskey geek obsession as in the earlier days.
The latest Orphan Barrel release, though, has perhaps more sense of finality than any of the previous. The newly released Fable & Folly is like a nostalgia trip back through where the series has already been, marrying together “the remaining stocks of Barterhouse, Forged Oak and various Rhetoric releases” with the addition of “aged rye and corn whiskies” in order to “create a masterful blend that pays homage to the original releases yet possesses a distinct profile all its own.”
Or in other words, this Fable & Folly release sure feels like Diageo playing cleanup on some of the remaining stocks they had laying around, and it does make you wonder what their long-term intentions might be for the Orphan Barrel brand at this point. As ever, it’s hard to say.
As for what’s actually in this bottle, though, it sounds like quite a cuvee of disparate elements, ultimately bottled at 45% ABV (90 proof), with an MSRP of roughly $150. We can only really label it as “American whiskey,” considering that it sounds like an amalgam of bourbon, rye and corn whiskey influences, but the overall package seems designed to evoke a bourbon-esque vibe. The age statement is 14 years, but that’s pretty clearly only the age of the youngest spirit in the blend—remember, after all, that Barterhouse was 20 years old, and the Rhetoric series was 20-25 years. We have no idea, though, what proportions those older releases make up of this one.
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting as we revisit the last bits of some of Orphan Barrel’s prior hits.
On the nose, Fable & Folly is heavy on the caramel, brown sugar and glazed pecan, with suggestions of molasses cookies and sweet cherry. There’s a strong charge of oak on the nose as well, as you would no doubt expect given the age of some of the whiskeys in this blend, but it actually trails behind the sweeter elements in terms of assertiveness.
On the palate, I’m getting lots of brown sugar up front, and then a rush of spice—this is quite spicy, with copious amounts of candied ginger in particular, evoking gingerbread and deeply caramelized sugar and oak. Residual sweetness is moderate, and there are flourishes of jammy, almost syrupy red fruit, before that sweetness and rye spice transitions into drier and more tannic oak. There’s some astringency, but no fear of this reading as over-oaked, though the wood does eventually come to dominate the finish. All in all, though, Fable & Folly displays some quite pleasant caramelized sugar/fruit/spice character, before transitioning into becoming an oakier dram, with very low ethanol presence throughout.
In fact, Fable & Folly is so easy to drink that one actually may wish it was a bit more assertive at the end of the day. It feels like it’s been quite adeptly smoothed out, but perhaps taken in such a friendly or unchallenging direction that it’s left without much of an identity of its own. Now, if this was a bottom or mid-shelf value brand, you’d simply praise the suite of flavors it put together, but with a $150 MSRP and a proof of only 90, many consumers will likely be expecting a more dramatic display of individuality. Fable & Folly may not quite give that to them, but while it’s in the glass, it is indeed easy to enjoy. Whiskey geeks will likely need to decide for themselves whether that is enough to recommend it.
Distillery: Orphan Barrel (Diageo)
Style: American whiskey
ABV: 45% (90 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $150 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.