In a very short time, WhistlePig has established itself as one of the finest and most innovative non-distiller producers of rye whiskey. Indeed, WhistlePig is now a well-recognized and respected name in the whiskey community and it is not uncommon to see their products lining the top shelves at your local package store.
The company began in 2007 by sourcing a large stock of Canadian rye whiskey and, with the help Master Distiller Dave Pickerell (fresh from his departure from Maker’s Mark), produced its first batch of 10-year rye whiskey shortly thereafter. The company quickly experienced tremendous success and has starting producing its own distillate at their base of operations, a beautiful 500 acre farm in Shoreham, Vermont. Following the success of their initial release, the company subsequently released a 12-year cask-finished rye, a 13-year barrel strength rye (Boss Hog), a 15-year rye finished in Vermont Oak, a blended release including their own 3-year distillate (Farm Stock), and a 6-year, 100% rye whiskey (Piggy Back). Earlier this year, WhistlePig announced that it would be releasing its oldest product to date, a 18-year double malt rye whiskey.
First and foremost, I need to talk about this beautiful presentation. For this special release, WhistlePig utilized a shorter decanter reminiscent of their usual oblong bottle and adorned it with gold lettering and a gold plate identifying the mash bill and alcohol content. Each bottle is packaged in a navy blue box and includes a glass stopper custom made for WhistlePig by AO Glass in Burlington, Vermont. Each glass stopper is unique and completely hand made using one of the last remaining 19th century glass pressing machines. For obvious reasons, it is easy to fall in love with this bottle before you even smell or taste the whiskey!
The mash bill for this whiskey consists of 79% rye, 15% malted rye, and 6% malted barley. Malted rye is not something I have encountered before but according to the distillery this practice used to be commonplace because it allowed access to the grain’s starch content, which in turn sets off the fermentation process. Industrial whiskey-making practices (including fermentation catalysts) have essentially eliminated this practice but WhistlePig decided to source this type of distillate as part of this grain experiment. According to the distiller, this process imparts “floral, earthy flavors…to the bold, peppery spice character of classic rye whiskey.”
The whiskey itself was distilled at the Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, was aged for 18 years, and bottled onsite at the WhistlePig Farm in Vermont. 10,000 bottles of this whiskey were produced and a limited allocation is intended to be released each year. This whiskey comes in at 92 proof (46% abv) and the MSRP is $399.99.
Appearance – Light copper with medium legs in the glass.
Nose – The nose is warm, sweet, and inviting. There is the slightest hint of ethanol once this whiskey is in the glass, but this passes quickly and ushers in plenty of sweet caramel notes, some red fruit, baking spice (mainly cinnamon and nutmeg), toasted oak, and a very subtle rye spice. This is not a sharp rye spice or the kind that tends to remind me of pickling brine; this is a very soft, sweet grain aroma that can likely be attributed to the rye malting process.
Palate – This whiskey presents with a warm, velvety mouthfeel. There really isn’t much burn despite the higher proof and the rye spice develops quickly mid-tongue. The rye spice is pronounced but it is balanced by sweet, earthy notes, reminiscent of a sweet rye bread. Oak and vanilla are also present, along with some very pleasant floral notes that become more pronounced with each sip.
Finish -The finish is long, warm, and spicy. The alcohol provides just the right amount of burn that is complimented by the soft rye spice that really lingers for some time. Vanilla and oak continue to be present, along with some baking spice, a hint of lemon zest, and sweet fruit and floral notes. The overall profile reminded me of an autumnal potpourri.
Overall – I hate to admit it, but I have been fooled by fancy packaging and a high age-statement in the past. However, for this rye whiskey I am pleased to report that that the time in the barrel paid off and the packaging is fitting for the quality of the juice in the bottle.
This rye is wonderful. The nose is pleasantly sweet and layered with plenty of great flavors that transition nicely to the palate, where the malted rye and spice really take over. I also really enjoyed the spicy fruit and floral notes that created the potpourri-like profile that lingered for a very long time. The flavors here are subtle and nuanced and everything just blends together well.
My only quarrel with this new expression from WhistlePig is the price tag. I understand that 18 years is a long time to wait and there is a relatively limited supply of this juice, but I really have trouble justifying a retail price in excess of $200. This really impacted my overall rating of this pour. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to have this bottle in my collection, and I will certainly revisit it on special occasions, but I’m not sure I would make this purchase, or a purchase of any future release, at the current price point.