Whisky Advocate Exclusive: Orphan Barrel's First-Ever Rye
May 1, 2023 –––––– Julia Higgins
When Diageo created Orphan Barrel in 2014, its mission was to highlight barrels that had been left by the wayside in warehouses, or discovered in distilleries that had long since been shuttered. To that end, three of Orphan Barrel’s past releases have come from Scottish ghost distillery Port Dundas, which closed its doors in 2010. Ultra-aged bourbon lovers have also flocked to Orphan Barrel for its ultra-aged Kentucky bourbons, which have ranged anywhere from 15 to 26 years old. They’ve been distilled or aged at some reliable names, too—Bernheim, George T. Stagg (now Buffalo Trace), and Stitzel-Weller, to name a few. But now the brand is switching it up, and doing so in more ways than one by introducing both a rye and a new master blender, Samantha Johnson.
Orphan Barrel Scarlet Shade is a 14 year old rye that was distilled in Indiana, aged in Kentucky, and bottled in Tennessee. The end blend, consisting of a 95% rye mashbill, was put together by Johnson, who isn’t new to Diageo, or to blending—she’s been the master blender of Bulleit rye since 2020, and has also blended I.W. Harper 15 year old, but this marks her Orphan Barrel debut. When introducing a first-ever rye to the Orphan Barrel lineup, Johnson wanted to highlight a few specific flavors. “It’s a rye, so of course I wanted spice as a foundation,” she says. “There’s this acetone note, and it comes only with age—you’re not going to see it in younger rye. Hints of berry and orchard fruit are nice complementary flavors too.”
Scarlet Shade was aged in a six-story Stitzel-Weller warehouse. The structure’s elevated concrete foundation and wooden walls are wrapped in metal, creating ideal conditions for the 14 years of maturation, where hot and humid Kentucky summers give way to the far cooler fall and winter seasons. When it was ready for bottling, the whiskey was brought to Tennessee, where all Orphan Barrel releases are bottled.
Like its predecessors, Orphan Barrel Scarlet Shade is extremely limited. “I have a love for rye, and there’s a rarity of rye at this age,” says Johnson. “Older bourbons are around, but how often do you see a rye with this much maturation? And, of course, we’re highlighting that this is the first straight rye from Orphan Barrel.” While it’s on allocation, you can find it in 25 states across the country; it's going for $199 a bottle.