Diageo’s Orphan Barrel series has, to date, offered up a wide range of old-as-the-hills whiskeys that would otherwise likely have been lost to time. Those releases have included quite a few bourbons, some Tennessee whiskey, and Canadian whiskey. What they haven’t included is single malt scotch—until now, that is.
Forager’s Keep is not only the brand’s first scotch; it’s also the first Orphan Barrel release from a distillery outside North America—and I must say, these guys found a hell of a scotch to spring on the world here, from a singularly unexpected source.
This 26-year-old single malt, hefty MSRP of $399, hails from the Speyside distillery Pittyvaich, which was in operation from 1974-1993, primarily producing malt whisky for various blends. In fact, Pittyvaich only released their own single malt a few times before the distillery’s closure in 1993 (it was demolished in 2002), but if they’d known what a lovely product it would be at 26 years old, perhaps they might have remained in business longer. Regardless, this bottling has the odd distinction of having been in the barrels for longer than the distillery was even operation.
Matured in various refill barrels, it’s immediately clear to the eye that Orphan Barrel didn’t bother with any kind of caramel coloration on this release—we can only say kudos to that. It pours a very light, straw gold, belying the quarter century it spent in oak. To the American consumer, this is perhaps a shocking sight, but bringing the glass to your nose makes it clear you’re not being robbed of anything—far from it.
On the nose, this is a lovely, sweet, fruit-forward whiskey, with big notes of marshmallow fluff, apricot, peach and apple. There’s a nuttiness and viniferous/slightly citrusy quality that is common to Speyside whiskies that have spent time in sherry barrels, but that’s the odd thing about Forager’s Keep—it apparently hasn’t come in contact with any sherry at all, which is remarkable in terms of how sherry influenced it seems. Regardless, this is quite fruity and soft on the nose, with gentle ethanol character and plenty of vanilla and fruit—positively cobbler-esque.
On the palate, this is likewise quite tasty. An explosion of fruit (apples, stone fruit) and moderate-to-high sweetness mingle nicely with grassier, Speyside whisky qualities, finishing on each sip with lingering but nicely subtle kisses of brine and smoke. Impressively, the booze is incredibly well hidden for the 96 proof (48% ABV), being almost absent entirely on the palate but instead showing up in the chest—this is one of the most dangerous scotches I’ve ever tasted, in that sense. Vanilla richness complements a creamy (although not particularly full) mouthfeel, with long-lasting fruit notes and a spicy finish of ginger and nutmeg that lingers for minutes.
Suffice to say, I am plenty impressed with this Orphan Barrel release. It manages to be plenty decadent without being overly sweet or cloying, but is also extremely approachable thanks to its gentle alcohol profile. It’s enough to make me wish that Pittyvaich single malts were regularly available, as they seem to combine some of the best aspects of fruited Speyside whiskies with hints of Highland and Islay.
As always, the price tag is asking a whole lot, but if you manage to find a way to sample a dram of this one, I can’t imagine you’re going to be disappointed.
Distillery: Pittyvaich (Orphan Barrel, Diageo)
Style: Single malt scotch
ABV: 48% (96 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $399 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.