Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Rhetoric 23-year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

According to its press release, Rhetoric 23 was distilled between 1990 and 1993 at the Bernheim Distillery while it was owned by United Distillers.  This time frame reported for distillation and the lack of “old” or “new” preceding “Bernheim” leaves some questions about whether Rhetoric 23 was distilled at the old Bernheim Distillery, which historically had been home to I.W. Harper and Old Charter, before United tore it down, or the new Bernheim Distillery, now owned by Heaven Hill since 1999, but built by United as a state-of-the-art distillery to consolidate its operations.  The new Bernheim Distillery opened in 1992, so I did some digging with the brand managers, who were able to determine that Rhetoric 23 was distilled entirely at the new Bernheim distillery.
One of the casualties of the new Bernheim Distillery construction was the famed Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which closed in 1992.  Master Distiller Ed Foote and all Stitzel-Weller production were moved to the new Bernheim Distillery, but of course, the Stitzel-Weller warehouses still needed to be filled, and that need was satisfied by the new Bernheim production.  As the orphan barrel story goes, that’s where Diageo found these old barrels of whiskey.
Regardless, Rhetoric 23 is the tenth overall release in the Orphan Barrel line, and the fourth in the Rhetoric sub-line, which is steadily progressing from 20 years to the planned finale at 25 years old.  Kudos to Diageo for this creative release schedule, allowing consumers to isolate age as a single factor and compare expressions.
Rhetoric 23-year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distilled at the (old or new?) Bernheim Distillery, Louisville, Kentucky, aged at Stitzel-Weller, in Louisville, Kentucky, and bottled in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
23 years old.
Mash bill:
86% corn; 6% rye; 8% barley.
45.3% (90.6 proof)
Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me a sample
for this review, without any strings attached. 
Thank you.
Tasting Notes
Rhetoric 23 is not nearly as dark as 23 years in a barrel would impart, so I’m assuming that it underwent pretty substantial filtering, resulting in a medium-brown color with a hint of orange, and with prominent legs.
The nose was mostly subtle, but I liked its darkness—oak, old tobacco barn, dark chocolate, rich coffee, polished wood, and leather.
Despite the filtration, Rhetoric 23 is still creamy with a softness and the right amount of heat, with flavors like hazelnut, dark chocolate, vanilla, baking spices, and of course oak.  There’s no pucker though, which can come from too much oak.
The subtleness of the aromas and the softness on the palate led me to expect a warm but uneventful finish.  Instead, after an initial swell of cinnamon spice, it has a satisfying, long finish.  While controlled by oak, again it’s not over-oaked, and transitions to a smoky, dry finish.
Bottom Line
Oak is the obvious topic for discussion with 23-year old bourbon.  Of course, I came in expecting a bunch of oak, and while oak is a big feature of Rhetoric 23, it’s not “over-oaked” to my subjective palate.  Rhetoric 23 is also receiving the full gamut of reviews, from “not recommended” to “A-,” which tells me that the oak might be more of a factor than I realize, or that I’m more tolerant of oak.  Whatever it means, I thoroughly enjoyed the sample and wished that I had more than the now long-gone 100 mL.  Price-wise, I would buy it at sub-$100.
Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  3.0
The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Swill.  I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.
2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.
3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings.  Glad to own and enjoy.
4 – Excellent Bourbon.  Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws.  I’m lucky to have this.
5 – Bourbon perfection.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

One Comment on “Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Rhetoric 23-year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

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