Orphan Barrel Launches Gifted Horse, an Accidental Whiskey

Misfortune can sometimes turn into opportunity. Even better when there’s whiskey involved.

Such was the case with the seventh release from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel line: Gifted Horse American Whiskey.

This new bottle — with a suggested retail price of $50 — is reportedly the result of a mix-up. Somewhere within the vast holdings of Diageo, four-year-old Indiana corn whiskey and straight bourbon were accidently combined with 17-year-old Tennessee bourbon. (The ratio is 38.5% 17-year-old, 61.5% 4-year-old.)

12057The result was much profanity and handwringing among staff at that facility. That is, until Orphan Barrel got a phone call.

“They asked us if we would be interested,” recalled Ewan Morgan, National Director of Diageo’s Masters of Whisky, and the man behind Orphan Barrel. Morgan was on hand last night at American Whiskey in Manhattan to lead a media tasting of Gifted Horse.


“They said they knew we were looking for unusual whiskeys,” he added. “So we tasted it. And we liked it.”

This fortunate development turned what could have been a waste of a lot of whiskey into a new product launch.

It’s worth noting here that Orphan Barrel has caught flack in the past within the whiskey community. According to the brand’s website, it exists to “share barrels of rare . . . whiskey, hidden away and nearly forgotten in the back of rickhouses and distilleries.”

But some drinkers have wondered whether Orphan Barrel overstates the scarcity of its spirits, or the role of the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery in producing these whiskeys.

In that way, Gifted Horse might be a move away from past PR strategies. At no point during the launch was rarity discussed. And Stitzel-Weller was mentioned only in passing, as a place where some barrels were found or stored.

Rather, Morgan focused on sampling Gifted Horse. After leading guests in a tasting of Rhetoric 21-Year-Old, last year’s version of the annually released Orphan Barrel spirit, he took us through the new whiskey.

Ewan Morgan led guests through a tasting of Rhetoric 21-Year-Old (left) and Gifted Horse (right).

Full disclosure: I sipped a sneak peak of Gifted Horse at Diageo’s holiday party a few months back. Morgan was kind enough to allow me a taste after we chatted for some time.

So I came into last night’s tasting already knowing that Gifted Horse was smooth for being 115 proof. The alcohol can bloom upon the palate, but this is easily tamed by a few drops of water. This brings forth the taste: pear, caramel, and apple skin. The sweet notes are noticeably soft.

Drinkers of Orphan Barrel know that this diverse line of one-off whiskeys ranges from sweet and smooth to oak bomb and hot alcohol. Gifted Horse is of the former. It has a sweetness reminiscent of Lost Prophet, perhaps the most popular of the Orphan Barrel launches.

Gifted Horse also now sports the highest ABV of the brand. This could be in response to complaints that previous Orphan Barrel releases were proofed too low.

In many ways, Gifted Horse seems like a reaction whiskey. Now only if we could learn where it came from. But Morgan was mum. Apparently, the whiskey’s accidental producers did not even want its origination story getting out.

“They told us that we could not put an age statement on it, because they were embarrassed about what had happened and did not want anybody to find out,” Morgan said with a laugh. “But we told them that we wanted to tell the truth. Some good thinks happen by mistake. After all, champagne was discovered by accident.”

Gifted Horse will be available nationwide in the near future.

Gifted Horse was also served in a smooth, smoky, lightly spicy cocktail created by American Whiskey Bar Manager Joey Vargas:

The Neigh-Sayer

1 oz. The Gifted Horse
¼ oz. Angostura Bitters
½ oz. Benedictine liqueur
¾ Madeira fortified wine

Garnish with a thin apple slice and top with shaved nutmeg.

Kyle Swartz is the associate editor of Beverage Dynamics Magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here