A buddy of mine had been after me for a while to let him try the bottle of E.H. Taylor Cured Oak I was lucky enough to get, so when our schedules finally aligned and we decided to make a tasting event of the whole thing (because why drink one bourbon when you can drink five). One of the bottles he brought was Forged Oak. Initially I was very skeptical of the whole Orphan Barrel thing, but I tried some Rhetoric a few weeks back and was actually really impressed by it so I went into the Forged Oak with an open mind free of anti-Diageo emotions.
Before pouring my glass I started writing down notes for this review and I realized something: Forged Oak is strikingly similar to the last bourbon I reviewed, I.W. Harper 15 year. Both bourbons are Diageo releases, both are 15 years old, both were distilled at the New Bernheim distillery, both were aged at Stitzel-Weller, both are pretty much the same price, and both have identical mash bills. Holy crap, are these two releases the exact same product just marketed differently? We already had the I.W. Harper in the line-up for the tasting so the answer to that question was quickly answered. The answer: Nope, not even a little bit.
Compare what’s below to my review of I.W. Harper 15 and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Distillery: New Bernheim Distillery (Heaven Hill)
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Mashbill: 86% corn/6% rye/8% barley
Age: 15 years
ABV: 45.25% (90.5 proof)
Color: Deep amber
Nose: My initial impression of the nose on this was a positive one. There is some fruity funk from the age along with some nice corn sweetness and lots of oak to balance it out. As I let it open up a bit, however, the fruit and sweetness faded and that oak took over a more and kind of screwed up the balance. Still not a bad aroma, nice and classic will all the things you would expect.
Taste: Have you ever licked the inside of a bourbon barrel? I haven’t (…yet, I totally would if given the opportunity) but I feel like this is what it would be like, and not in a good way. I felt the same way when I tried Elijah Craig 23, but it was awesome. This wasn’t awesome. I had to look very hard to identify any elements to this profile other than dry, harsh oak. I was able to come up with a little bit of vanilla and cinnamon, but it was a reach for sure.
Finish: Much like the palate, oak rules supreme here but with the added bonus of some off-putting ethanol because thats what this bourbon really needed, some shitty ethanol notes.
Overall: Man, this stuff just wasn’t very good. There is no complexity, no balance, and no character to this bourbon. Now, if there was a competition to see who could make a bourbon that tasted the most like oak, but with no other flavors AT ALL, there would be a picture of this in an email from Caskers with gold medals hanging all over it.
It’s crazy how different this was from the I.W. Harper 15. Not that I loved the Harper either, obviously, but it really is astonishing how different the two releases can be while having so much in common. Maybe when Diageo “lost” these barrels they were actually trapped in some alternate dimension that sucks all the good flavor out of things.