Thursday, November 28, 2013

Diageo Clarifies Orphan Barrel Project, Sort Of

This mass email arrived yesterday from a marketing agency that works for Diageo.

Before you unplug and enjoy a couple days with friends and family, we wanted to share a quick update regarding an exciting new endeavor we’re working on with DIAGEO. It’s called The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project and you may have heard whispers or read early reports about it stemming from statements made by DIAGEO CEO Ivan Menezes during their recent investors meeting. 

The team is still working on pulling together final press materials as details surrounding the project are still being finalized. However, in the meantime, we did want to share an official statement from DIAGEO – see below. 

The goal of The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project is to share old and rare whiskey from our barrel houses with discerning whiskey adorers. The first two whiskies to be released from the project will include the 20-year-old Barterhouse and the 26-year-aged Old Blowhard. Both are American Kentucky Bourbons, hand bottled in Tullahoma Tennessee and are expected to begin appearing on select shelves throughout the U.S. in early 2014 under strict allocation due to limited supply. 

Additionally, DIAGEO is creating a separate new-to-world bourbon called Blade and Bow. Blade and Bow is anticipated to hit shelves in the second half of 2014 and is not a part of the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project. 

We appreciate your patience and will be in touch when additional information is available to share.

You may have read the quotes from Menezes here last Friday. Bourbonblog posted pictures and what reads suspiciously like a press release on November 3. The additional information reported here, about what reps are telling bars in Chicago, came from a very reputable source who was on the receiving end of those pitches.

Based on what we know, what's most peculiar about Orphan Barrel is how closely it resembles something Diageo predecessor United Distillers & Vintners tried 20 years ago. That time it was called the Rare American Whiskeys Collection. It was intended to be a series of one-off releases of the most outstanding, unique, and rare whiskeys in their warehouses, which they had because they had acquired so many distilleries while building their empire. They planned to release a few every year, but the plan died a swift death at Diageo's birth. The new company changed direction and within a few years, Diageo had essentially exited the American whiskey business.

The even more odd thing about both Orphan Barrel and Rare American Whiskeys is that in both cases Diageo decided to create brand names that are unrelated to the whiskeys. In that earlier case, they took names from defunct distilleries--Joseph Finch and Henry Clay--and used whiskey from other not-identified defunct distilleries. The whiskey called Joseph Finch was not made at the Joseph Finch Distillery, the whiskey called Henry Clay was not made at the Henry Clay Distillery, and the actual distilleries were not revealed. It seemed crazy then and it does this time too. This time it is what appear to be newly-created brand names with an old-timey feel.

What is Diageo thinking? You have this supposedly great and rare whiskey but you won't tell us anything about its provenance? Then you wrap it in a package that suggests a false provenance?

Why doesn't Diageo understand that most "discerning whiskey adorers" don't appreciate being zoomed? Save the malarky for Jeremiah Weed and Captain Morgan, please. If the whiskey is as great as you say it is, why not just let it speak for itself? A Diageo rep said they're not sure where it's from. It's written on the barrel head, stupid.

It seems sometimes that Diageo is incapable of doing anything (a) original, or (b) honest.


The Chowfather said...

Old Blowhard??

sku said...

One reason for keeping the source secret this way would to be able to imply it's Stitzel-Weller when it's actually Bernheim (or something else).

Matt said...

Is there any chance Diageo could have bought it off ace barrel-pickers (i.e. Willett) who aren't in the habit of revealing provenances? Or do you think it's pretty definitely whiskey Diageo already owned?

Onemorepour said...

Does hand bottled whiskey taste better?
I buy all my whiskey by hand, and I even drink it with hands, must be why it tastes so good.

Rob K said...

"Both are American Kentucky Bourbons..." I'm glad they're not French Kentucky Bourbons, or even worse Russian Kentuck Bourbons!

I think they need a better marketing agency.

Unknown said...

The problem is they are probably distillates of distilleries still in production and Diageo has no right to use the trademarked names of the distillates origin.

EllenJ said...

Personally I think fine 20+ year-old whiskey "hand bottled in Tullahoma Tennessee" would be a wonderful thing to experience. After all, none of the George Dickel whiskey (at least since Diageo has owned it) is bottled there. Did someone set up a small bottling line just for these orphan barrels?

Then again, with names like that, it almost sounds like the kind of satirical stuff Sku is (justly) famous for. Maybe someone at Diageo was just trying to see if Mr. Fisher would publish the story. A Google on those names doesn't show turn up anything except Bourbonblog and here. Neither the Diageo nor the Dickel website mention anything at about such a project.

The Rookie said...

Blade and Bow sounds lame.

Tim Davis said...

Given Diageo's whisky (no "e") experience lies so heavily with Johnny Walker and blends, which don't state a provenance, to them this is probably no big deal.

It also sounds very similar to their "Master Distillers Selection" for Scotch - where they go to each of their owned Distilleries and pull out the cream of the crop (supposedly) and sell them for ridiculous sums (I believe the cheapest of these offerings - many of which weren't exactly ancient, either) was around $500US.

If nothing else, Diageo excels at the premiumization of spirits - and in lieu of making something good, they'll repackage what they already have in storage and charge an arm & a leg for it... That's their way in Scotch, so no reason to expect it to be different for Bourbon.

EllenJ said...

Well, it looks as though a couple more blogs have picked up on this story, although they only quote the original Ivan Menezes press release. It will be interesting to see what happens. I'm not a Diageophobe, so I fail to see anything particularly despicible about the way they may be marketing this.

As for origins, consider that the Blade & Bow brand (this is the 3rd example I've seen recently of using a pair or group of weapons for the whiskey name; is this a new trend?)is likely to be 4 years old. Chuck, what do you know of a Kentucky distillery that was expanding its capacity four or so years ago and whose brand was then purchased by another company with plenty of capacity of their own? Then again, maybe I'm just being a little "off the mark"?

Anonymous said...

Hey, every one. I work at George Dickel, and yes, a small line was set up here last year just for such as this project. Barterhouse was started this past week 1-14-14, but I have no idea when it will get to store shelves.