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 run of rare and recovered whiskeys is coming to an end. This was certainly the case a few years ago when the Rhetoric streak of bourbon releases finally hit 25 years and ended, and Orphan Barrel releases in general started to become more sporadic. On the other hand, the series has also developed in new directions in recent years, with more forays into areas such as Tennessee Whiskey (Copper Tongue) and Single Grain Scotch Whiskey (Muckety- Muck), although not seeming to generate the kind of geeky whiskey obsession as it once did.
The latest version of Orphan Barrel, however, has perhaps more sense of finality than any of the previous ones. The new Fable & Folly is like a nostalgic trip to where the series has been before, marrying “leftover stocks from Barterhouse, Forged Oak and various versions of Rhetoric” with the addition of “aged rye and corn whiskeys” in order to “to create a masterful mix that pays homage to the original releases while possessing a distinct profile of its own.”
Or put another way, this version of Fable & Folly makes it look like Diageo is playing cleanup of some of the remaining inventory they had, and it makes you wonder what their long-term intentions for the Orphan brand might be. Barrel at this point. As always, it’s hard to say.
As for what’s actually in that bottle, though, it looks like a cuvée of disparate elements, ultimately bottled at 45% ABV (90 proof), with an MSRP of around $150. We can only really label it as “American whiskey”, given that it looks like an amalgamation of bourbon, rye and corn whiskey influences, but the whole thing seems designed to evoke a bourbon-esque vibe. . The age statement is 14, but that’s clearly only the age of the youngest spirit in the mix – remember, after all, Barterhouse was 20 and the Rhetoric series was 20-25. We have no idea, however, what proportions these older versions make up of this one.
So, with all that said, let’s get down to the tasting by revisiting the final bits of some of Orphan Barrel’s previous hits.
On the nose, Fable & Folly is heavy on caramel, brown sugar and glazed pecan, with hints of molasses cookies and sweet cherry. There is also a heavy oak load on the nose, as you would no doubt expect given the age of some of the whiskeys in this blend, but it actually lags behind the softer elements in terms of assertion. self.
On the palate, I have lots of brown sugar on the attack, then a burst of spice – it’s quite spicy, with copious amounts of candied ginger in particular, reminiscent of gingerbread and deeply caramelized sugar and Oak. Residual sweetness is subdued, and there are flourishes of jammy, almost syrupy red fruit before the rye sweetness and spice transitions into drier, more tannic oak. There is some astringency, but no fear that this reading will be overly oaky, although the wood eventually dominates the finish. Overall, however, Fable & Folly exhibits a fairly pleasant caramelized sugar/fruit/spice character, before becoming a more oaky dram, with very little ethanol presence throughout.
In fact, Fable & Folly is so easy to drink, you could wish it was a bit more assertive at the end of the day. It feels like it’s been pretty deftly 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 it was a lower or mid-value brand, you’d just be praising the suite of flavors it put together, but with an MSRP of $150 and only 90 proof, of many consumers will likely expect a more dramatic display of individuality. Fable & Folly may not give them quite that, but as long as it’s in the glass, it is indeed easy to enjoy. Whiskey geeks will probably have to decide for themselves if that’s enough to recommend it.
Distillery: Orphan Barrel (Diageo)
Style: american whiskey
ABV: 45% (90 proof)
Availablity: Limited, 750ml bottles, $150 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a staff writer at Paste and a resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.