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Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet 22 Year Old Bourbon Review

Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet 22 Year Old Bourbon Review
When I was new to exploring bourbon, I had initially sworn off the Orphan Barrel line of bottles.  It felt like all Diageo was trying to do with these releases was create collectible bottles for the Pokémon trading card-generation.  Sure, these bottles all had impressive age statements, but the low proof and so-so reviews made me think that I wasn’t missing out on much.
I’ve had the chance to sample the likes of Barterhouse, Rhetoric 22 and The Gifted Horse over the past few years.  I wasn’t exactly blown away by any of them, but I was happy I could at least try them for myself to determine that.  Out of all of the releases, Lost Prophet had the most intriguing backstory if only because it was distilled at one of the most desirable distilleries in Kentucky.

What sets Lost Prophet apart from the rest?

The backstory involves Diageo “finding” these barrels in the warehouses of the former Stitzel Weller Distillery.  That part is a myth as the barrels were never lost, just setting in a warehouse because nobody knew what to do with them.  But the barrels used for Lost Prophet were not distilled at Stitzel Weller.  Instead, they were distilled at the George T. Stagg Distillery which is now known as Buffalo Trace.  The history is complicated as to why this happened, but it revolves around the strange time period of the 1970-80s where bourbon production was crashing and distilleries were merging to cut costs.  At the time these barrels were made, George T. Stagg Distillery and the New Bernheim Distillery were used interchangeably and on an “as needed” basis.  Gary Gayheart, the master distiller who distilled these barrels, distilled them sometime between 1990 and 1992 (most publications say 1991).  The crazy order of events likely went like this:
1987: Schenley sells the George T. Stagg Distillery and the Old Bernheim Distillery (which Gary Gayheart was distilling at both) to United Distillers.  UD owns many other distilleries at the time including Stitzel Weller.
1991: Gary Gayheart distilled these barrels using either “Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 or #2.” (the Buffalo Trace moniker was not used until 1999 though)
1992: United Distillers begins selling off distilleries and brands to stay afloat.  The barrels that Lost Prophet is comprised of were still property of UD, but they had no use because Sazerac and Age International had already snatched up the barrels and the distillery they wanted.  
1994: Stitzel Weller is permanently closed as a distillery but still has many warehouses containing bourbon and whiskey from that timeframe.  These include barrels distilled at New and Old Bernheim, George T. Stagg Distillery, Glenmore (now Green River Distillery in Owensboro, KY) and of course, Stitzel Weller.
1997: United Distillers, which was owned by Guinness, merges with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo. 
2013: Diageo launches the first Orphan Barrel release (Old Blowhard) using stocks that came from the warehouses at Stitzel Weller Distillery
2015: Lost Prophet is released.
Enthusiasts of Buffalo Trace and Age International products were intrigued the most about the Lost Prophet release, but many balked at the price it was offered at.  In 2015, the $120 MSRP was a price that was considered a lot of money.  It didn’t take long for them to sell out though.  The main debate around this release seems to center around “which mash bill was used?”  I’ve read the opinions from several reviewers but was interested to find out for myself.  So without further ado, let’s get down to tasting.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A very decedent and rich oaky nose.  This smells every bit of its age statement in oak alone.  Immediately, I can draw the connection to Buffalo Trace products with the fruit scents that come at me.  Layers of dark fruit travel into my nose revealing dates, raisins, simmering blackberry compote and fig jam.  This smells like a mixture of vatted Eagle Rare 17yr and Blanton’s from the early 90s.  There’s also an almost “smokey” element to the vanilla custard too.  Additional scents of honeycakes and toffee tempt me even more.  What a spectacular nose. 
Palate: A fountain of liquid oak… some of it is bitter, but there is enough sweet oak to stop it from wreaking havoc.  Count me as impressed with how they got it to be as balanced as it is.  There are additional notes of blackberry jam, orange marmalade, black cherry cobbler and toasted brown sugar.  All flavors are delicious but would be next level if the proof was a bit higher.  But one aspect that makes me think the proof is just right is the level of heat on my tongue.  While not being unbearable, I’m quite surprised to find decent amounts of peppery spice, red pepper flakes and a touch of cinnamon.  This comes and goes as the sip goes on, but I’m wondering how much hotter this would taste if it was bottled at, let’s say, 110 proof.  Regardless, honey notes add a touch of sweetness.  Out of everything that I dig about the taste on this dram right now, it’s the slightly thin mouthfeel that drops its rating for me.  If it was thicker, though, this could have achieved elite ratings from me.
Finish:  If the palate came off as not particularly thick, then the finish lacks it even more.  For all of the flavors that I was enjoying so much on the palate, they all seem to vanish after the sip is complete. All that is left behind is some bitter oak with not much sweetness to keep it in check.  This makes the thin fruit notes, like orange zest and blackberry, do all of the heavy lifting. 

Score: 7.8/10

At the start of the dram, I was psyched to taste what I did.  It felt like this bourbon was really going places.  But the finish was so underwhelming that it made the experience of each sip less and less impressive.  After all, what’s the point of drinking whiskey if you cannot savor the flavors until the next sip?  For maximum enjoyment with this bottle, you’d have to be constantly drinking it.  Not only is that not feasible for most bourbon drinker’s sobriety, it’s also not feasible for the pocketbook.  I’ve seen these go for around $600 on the secondary market!  

Final Thoughts

For a bottle that couldn’t quite reach the level of excellence that I was hoping for, Lost Prophet is still a very memorable to me.  I can’t get over all of those rich oaky notes and the amount of times I found “blackberry” throughout.  That scent is really special and is found only among my highest rated whiskies.  For some reason, it has such a dark, foreboding effect to the whiskey when I taste or smell it.  Equal parts sweet, tannic and fruity, it kind of crosses into every desirable profile category.  This honestly comes close to tasting like one of those legendary barrels of Blanton’s from 1991.  And for what it’s worth, I think that this is the superior aged bourbon compared to something like those 24 year old pre-fire Heaven Hill bourbons that seem to come out from a place in Scotland every year.  Seeing as how there are only 2 years and a few proof points that separate them, I would pick Lost Prophet every time.  I just wish it had more proof.  If you ever get a chance to taste this bottle, do not hesitate.  You’ll be tasting something from a period of time that will probably never be able to be replicated.


To finish a thought that I had in the first part of this review, I want to expand upon the big debate concerning if Lost Prophet was distilled using Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 or #2.  For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, BT Mash Bill #1 (Eagle Rare, Stagg, EH Taylor) is considered to have a lower rye content than #2 (Blanton’s, Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms).  Although official ratios have never been released by Sazerac (owners of the BT brand) on any of their mash bills, it is assumed that BT MB 1 has 8-10% rye content whereas BT MB #2 has 12-15% rye content.  Orphan Barrel does list a mash bill for Lost Prophet and says that it contains “75-78% corn, 15% rye and 7-10% malted barley.”  This is enough to convince me that what we’re tasting here is BT MB #2.  It also tastes like a very old, early 1990’s Blanton’s I mentioned above.  One of the main traits I remember vividly was this blackberry jam flavors that still haunts my dreams.  I found that in droves here (as well as a decent amount of spice) and it makes me believe that this has to be BT MB #2.  The unfortunate part is that Diageo is going to keep the secret of this mash bill to the grave.

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D Demsko

Friday 13th of January 2023

My late brother was in Georgia in 2015 and called me asking if I wanted a bourbon he found called Lost Prophet. At $145 a bottle it was the most I had ever spent on a bottle. He returned from Georgia with two bottles. We opened his and tasted it. Was pretty darn good. A few years later he gave me the open bottle. I never opened mine. I have a few other Orphan Barrel bourbons but this is my prized possession. ?