By S.D. Peters
WhistlePig’s Old World Series Ryes, a line of limited releases, is Master Distiller Dave Pickerell’s experimental finishing of Straight Rye Whiskey in French Sauternes, Madeira, and Port casks. In my mind, such finishes are a marvelous and Old World complement to uisge beatha’s New World Cousin.
The first release in WhistlePig’s series, a French Sauternes finish, which boasts a smooth edge, is a good introduction to the series. The Port finish, in casks used to age the style of fortified red wine that originated in 17th Century Portugal, will be the final release in the Series. Like French Sauternes, sweetness is in Port’s nature. How will it pair with Rye’s sweetly spiced signature?
The Old World Series Ryes are sourced from a 12-year aged whiskey, with a mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley distilled at the MGP Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. The whiskey is then finished in casks at WhistlePig Farm, and hand-bottled at 90 Proof in bottles of the same stately design used for other WhistlePig expressions. Whiskey sourcing may be a divisive practice to some, but it’s to WhistlePig’s credit that they start with an excellent source for a product that ultimately relies on the craft of Pickerell’s hand to make it unique.
The Port Finish shows a light copper in the glass, and is more outspoken than the Sauternes Finish. Dried mangoes flecked with crumpled maple sugar, with a side of fresh wild berries, provide an expressive sweetness that is complimented with the scent of an after-dinner clove cigarette. Smooth and mapley at first, the sweetness is absorbed in a slice of Jewish Rye (bread, not whiskey), before it transforms into roasted cashews sprinkled with ginger shavings. It begins to glide out slow and spicy, and ends with a fondue of dark, 90% cocoa chocolate and warm, B-grade maple syrup.
Where the Sauternes Finish boasted an edge, the Port finish relaxes in the confidence of its smoothness and complex transmogrification from sweet to spicy to sweet. WhistlePig believes that “Rye holds the greatest potential of all distilling grains.” The evidence in this finish is reason enough to agree.
Like the French Sauternes Finish, the Port Finish will be distributed as a very limited release. It will be available only in New York, Illinois, and California when released. Expect to pay about $120 for a bottle if you find it.