Whiskey Review: Orphan Barrel Whoop & Holler 28-Year-Old

, | October 5, 2016

Orphan Barrel Whoop & Holler 28-Year-Old

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.

Whoop & Holler is the latest addition to Diageo’s Orphan Barrel line, a series of very limited, highly sought after releases showcasing old and rare stock from their various cellars.

It’s the first of the bunch made at a Tennessee distillery – George Dickel, to be precise. Produced from the standard Dickel mash bill of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley, this whiskey underwent the Lincoln County process before barreling, which sees the spirit drip slowly through a multi-foot bed of sugar maple charcoal.

At 28 years old, it’s also the oldest American whiskey I’ve ever heard of, a fact bound to generate strong feelings of all kinds from the whiskey cognoscenti. As the bourbon market has heated up, many distilleries have released super-aged versions of their core products, some of which have fallen a little flat. Too much time in oak can add an unpleasant, tannic astringency that masks that rich, corn-fed sweetness that makes bourbon so damn delicious to begin with.

I’ll be honest – 28 years seems like a long time to spend in a barrel, especially in the sweltering heat of the American South. When I first heard about that age statement, I cringed. The second-oldest Orphan Barrel whiskey, Old Blowhard, was released at 26 years old, and many found it over-oaked.

In a market where old whiskey seems to attract more attention than good whiskey, it’s easy to get cynical. Will Whoop & Holler be another bottle of expensive oak tincture, designed and marketed for eager status-conscious consumers who haven’t learned to trust their own palate over the hype machine? Let’s find out.

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Tasting Notes: Orphan Barrel Whoop & Holler 28-Year-Old

Vital Stats: 28 years old, 84 proof, mash bill 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley. Suggested retail price $175 for 750ml.

Appearance: The whiskey is remarkably light for its 28-year age statement, the color of dusky straw – it’s actually indistinguishable from the George Dickel No. 12. It leaves a thick garland of slow-moving beads along the swirl line.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the packaging. The 100ml review sample (not available at retail) is housed in a wooden box wrapped in a white hardcover to look just like a book, complete with gold embossed cranes on the cover and a title printed on the spine. An enclosed leather luggage tag, also sporting the crane motif, accompanies the sample.

Once you’ve finished the contents, it looks like it might make a great stash box for knick-knacks, cigars, or whatever else is legal in your neck of the woods.

Nose: Upon first nosing, there’s that signature Dickel note of chalky vitamins; it blows off with a little air, so persevere. Underneath it, I’m surprised by how little oak there is to be found. Notes of marzipan, beeswax, pu-erh tea, light molasses, sweet corn, and a savory, almost beefy character speak to the spirit’s corn-heavy mash bill, and while oak spice isn’t absent, it also isn’t overwhelming. Water brings out a little more sweetness – cherry, plum, and buttered johnnycake

Palate: The sweetness in the nose is notably absent in the palate. After a flash of cooked corn, pineapple rind, and fresh chili, things take a flat turn, like eating a candy still wrapped in the paper it came in. Firm astringency leaves the tongue parched. Almond and clove make an appearance in a thin, dry, rather short finish. At the end, I’m left with only mild, lingering heat rather than any other sensation. With water, the whole thing vanishes – only a lingering burn tells me I’m drinking whiskey at all.

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Based on the light color and relatively light oak character for its age, I wonder if this was aged in used casks?

Final Thoughts:

For a whiskey with a loud name, Whoop & Holler sure speaks softly. While it’s got a nice nose, things fall apart in the palate, despite the presence of a few interesting elements. Tasted next to the plain old Dickel No. 12, Whoop & Holler comes off a little ghostly – a haunting aroma, a flash of tropical flavor, and then disappears almost without a trace.

If you’re hunting for a special Dickel expression, you’d be better served by the 17-year-old that came out earlier this year.


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Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...