By S.D. Peters
WhistlePig’s Old World Series Rye, a limited release, is Master Distiller Dave Pickerell’s experimental finishing of Straight Rye Whiskey in French Sauternes, Madeira, and Port casks. Such finishes, which have long been in use to enliven some Old World fire water, are the perfect complement to uisge beatha’s New World Cousin.
The first release in Whistle Pig’s series was the French Sauternes finish, which boasts a smooth edge, is a good introduction to the series. The Port finish, which is the last release in the experimental series, has a more relaxed, refined confidence. The Maderia finish, released between those two, proves a perfect balance of their best qualities.
The Old World Series Ryes are sourced from a 12 year old whiskey from the 95% rye and 5% malted barley stock distilled at the MGP Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. That 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 start with an excellent source for a product that, in the end, relies on the craft of Dave Pickerell to make it special.
The Maderia Finish doesn’t boast, nor does it shy away from distinguishing itself from its brothers in the experimental series. First, this whiskey is deeper in color than the others in the series, a luxuriant amber. Ripe spring peaches, fresh mint leaves, and traditional caramel pair nicely in the nose.
The flavor stands strongly in the rye camp, much more than the Sauternes and Port finishes from the series, with a base of peppercorn and anise, dark chocolate shavings and sweet black cherries. The finish brings a pleasant recast of the flavor: a strong hint of cloves keeps things spicy, red grapefruit cuts a balance between sour and sweet, and winds down and goes out with a more oak-tinged rendering of the caramel nose.
The edge of the Sauternes Finish boasted an edge and the relaxed spicy sweetness of the Port finish come together in the Madeira finish: a bold rye with a sweet temper. WhistlePig believes that “RYE holds the greatest potential of all distilling grains.” All three of its experimental Old World Series finishes speaks to that belief, but the Madeira finish is the most convincing evidence that it’s true.
Like the French Sauternes and Port Finishes, the Madeira Finish was distributed as a very limited release, available only in New York, Illinois, and California. Expect to pay about $120 for a bottle if you find it.