So it’s come to this. After an entire week of re-tasting and working our way through the entire lineup of Orphan Barrel Rhetoric bourbons, we’ve reached the end of our climb. We’ve sampled Rhetoric 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, and now, the last Rhetoric that we’ll ever see, 25. To catch up on the full series, click right here.
As we first wrote on Monday, Rhetoric 25-Year-Old represents the last entry in the Rhetoric series because the liquid has all literally been used up. Wherever Diageo really did obtain the cache of barrels that went into these limited releases (officially, they were distilled by Bernheim and found at Stitzel-Weller), they’ve now set them all free into the world, and fulfilled the objective of the Orphan Barrel project in the process. The goal was to uncover some old, forgotten gems, and a number of the Rhetoric releases did just that. In fact, Rhetoric 23 and Rhetoric 24 were both pretty delicious, as far as my own tasting was concerned.
But what of Rhetoric 25? Well, here’s the basics. Rhetoric 25, like all the other entries in this series, was distilled from a mash of 86 percent corn, 8 percent barley and just 6 percent rye. It carries the same 45.5% ABV as Rhetoric 24, and is otherwise only marginally older—not really quite a whole year. One gets the sense that Diageo may have felt a certain impetus to get this series finished, by putting out Rhetoric 25 at the end of 2018. It may be that the Orphan Barrel series in general is wrapping itself up—not much has been announced, and the website hasn’t been updated since Rhetoric 22. Nevertheless, this is the ending to an impressive effort.
On the nose, Rhetoric 25 immediately strikes me as markedly different from 24, with which I tasted it side by side. Whereas the 24 still maintained some semblance of balance, it’s more difficult to pick out aromatic notes on 25 besides the omnipresent woodiness. I get hints of gingery spice and some grassiness, but the nose is largely redolent of wet, sour oak. On the palate, things are likewise different—less darkly caramelized sugar and fruit in this final entry, and more butterscotch/honey notes in its place, in between waves of oak and nutmeg spice. This bourbon simply seems drier, and considerably more overtaken with tannic sensation on the tongue.
It is, in short, an obvious stopping point for the Rhetoric series. We knew from the beginning that you’d only be able to continue aging these bourbons for so long, and they defied many expectations by being as good as they were for so long. In fact, as I stated above, Rhetoric 23 and 24 ultimately proved to be my favorites in the series—but 25 is where the wood has finally overtaken everything else. This bottle makes for an interesting historical collectible, and might be appreciated by fans of extremely oaky bourbon, but its best days are plainly behind it. And that’s okay—if the series had stopped at 24, we probably would have been left wanting one final year. The liquid in Rhetoric 25 shows us where the obvious stopping point should be, and makes for a dignified (if not outstanding) ending.
Distillery: Bernheim/Heaven Hill (via Diageo)
City: Bardstown, KY
ABV: 45.5% (91 proof)
Availability: Limited, $140 MSRP, although likely to be higher in the wild.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.