Orphan Barrel Indigo’s Hour 18-Year Bourbon Review

Drink Reviews whiskey
Orphan Barrel Indigo’s Hour 18-Year Bourbon Review

Sometimes, simply reading the history of a whiskey’s distillation and maturation can paint more of a picture than all the descriptive language in the world. So it is with the rather oddly conceived Orphan Barrel Indigo’s Hour, a new 18-year-old, luxe bourbon release that purports to capture collaborative elements of three states: Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Only, it’s perhaps not bringing those states together in the format you’d be expecting.

The somewhat open-ended marketing for Indigo’s Hour, the latest in Diageo’s long-running Orphan Barrel series, seems to have confused no small number of American whiskey geeks, many of whom seem to be under the impression that this is a blend of distillates from Indiana (MGP), Kentucky (who knows) and Tennessee (George Dickel). This is not the case–what Indigo’s Hour actually states is that it was distilled in Indiana, which means this is MGP bourbon first and foremost, from their 68% corn, 28% rye, 4% malted barley mash bill. Things then get confusing, stating that the whiskey was aged in Kentucky and bottled in Tennessee, which is to say at George Dickel.

To us, this implies a story: The spirit was presumably purchased from MGP as new make by a Kentucky distillery that planned to eventually release it in some format. These plans, I suspect, ended up going by the wayside–perhaps the pandemic played a role here. Regardless, these barrels aged for 18 years in Kentucky, which is surely longer than they were ever intended to go, before the KY distillery eventually sold them to the Cascade Hollow facility in Tennessee. There, Diageo was presumably waiting with the idea that this unusual MGP bourbon would make for an interesting stand-alone, Orphan Barrel release, and Indigo’s Hour was born. Again, this is all just conjecture, but it seems to me the most likely way that this 18-year-old bourbon ends up existing, and the small batch size presumably was a good fit for Orphan Barrel.

So what we have here is an exceptionally mature, high-rye MGP bourbon, though one that has been deeply influenced by aging in Kentucky for all those years rather than Indiana, which will surely make a big difference in how it presents. It was bottled at a very approachable 45% ABV (90 proof), and carries an unsurprisingly high MSRP of $225.

So with that said, let’s get to tasting this odd beast and see what it’s turned into after all those years.

On the nose, Indigo’s Hour has a lot of molasses richness to it, mingling with sweet caramel and dark stone fruit suggestive of plum. Vanilla is supported by some herbal tones and a little pepper, and the character of the fruit has me circling back to other comparisons–it has a slightly jammy tone that is almost a little grape-like. The molasses note is probably the signature, however, though the overall nose isn’t particularly assertive in terms of its vibrancy. It feels like the proof point might be holding back its expression here a little bit.

On the palate, this is certainly redolent in more of that molasses richness (and a little corresponding bitter caramel), but especially in old oak, which permeates this sip. This is powerfully woody, in a way both sweet and savory, but there’s also a noticeably tart dimension to the slightly funky rickhouse oak profile. Some barrel char is certainly present, along with cinnamon and cardamom spice, and more of that plummy dark fruit. The tart oak ultimately turns somewhat astringent, making me wonder if perhaps this release would have presented as sweeter if it had been bottled a few years ago.

All in all, this release strikes me as a mixed bag. The dark stone fruitiness and molasses are engaging and interesting, but this is simultaneously verging on overly oaked in some dimensions. I find myself wondering if a higher proof point might have given this a bit more heft or sweetness that might have balanced all that oak, or if it would have simply highlighted the wood even more. It’s hard to say, but I would have been curious to taste some of these barrels at cask strength.

Regardless, it makes for an interesting dram, though one that many drinkers would probably be hard pressed to justify spending $225 to acquire. Those with a particular interest in extra-aged MGP bourbon, or Orphan Barrel releases, will be those most intrigued.

Distillery: MGP of Indiana
City: Lawrenceburg, IN
Style: Straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 45% (90 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $225 MSRP

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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