Updated April 15, 2016
By April Manning
WhistlePig was brought into existence in 2007 when owner Raj P. Bhakta bought 500-plus acres in Shoreham, Vermont and began to strategize his plan to return rye popularity to the States. Along with Master Distiller Dave Pickerell (of Maker’s Mark renown) Bhakta has taken the idea of “Think global, act local” very seriously. They have transformed an extensive Vermont farm into a true farm-to-bottle establishment.
This means they are the first ever “single malt, one-stop rye shop,” with all associated whiskey making processes taking place right there on site. The grain is grown on the farm and they even use sustainable practices to harvest white oak trees from woodlots in their county to cooper their own barrels. Or, at least, that is how it will be for future WhistlePig releases. For the time being, the whiskey is sourced from Canada and Indiana.
Using regional, specialized wood for barrels is becoming popular among distilleries and they are dedicated to their particular methodologies. A lot of the flavor and attributes of whiskey are taken up from the barrel that it spends its time maturing in and not all wood is created equally: the climate of different regions can have different effects on the same species.
The Vermont White Oak harvested on the WhistlePig Farm experiences harsh winters during its short growing season, and this imparts a tighter grain pattern than white oak grown in warmer climates. This tight grain pattern allows the wood to slowly convey its tannins and sugars transferring a fine distinction of flavors into the whiskey as it ages.
WhistlePig 15 Year Straight Rye Whiskey is hand bottled at 92 proof on the WhistlePig Farm with their calling-card, Canadian mash bill of 100% rye. To the eye this 15 year old whiskey has the rich golden brown color of butterscotch candy. It is mellow to the nose, with an initial burnt fruity citrus wafting out followed by the distinct spiciness of rye.
One experiences a complex mingling of flavors when tasting WhistlePig 15 Year. The butterscotch appearance is reflected in the creamy sweetness that hits the front of the tongue. Then the peppery spice comes along and forcefully hits mid-palate with a pleasant heat. An oaky earthiness lingers in the long, deep finish that is not at all dry. There is nothing subtle about this whiskey as it delivers bold flavor without the burn.
If you are a rye connoisseur, this is a rye whiskey not to be missed. Be sure to get it while you can as the release size is set to be highly limited!
Addendum By Richard Thomas
WhistlePig’s 15 Year Old starts off with its standard rye appearance: solid, clear copper. Neither the extra barrel time nor the finish in fresh Vermont oak has darkened it much versus the standard, and I found that was a remarkably good indicator of what waited in the glass.
The nose offered up rye spice balanced with vanilla and cedar, so it was the first sip that gave away something interesting. Through a creamy mouthfeel, the flavor started out much as I recall the standard, slightly younger WhistlePig, only for the flavors to be gently smothered by a rising tide of prickly ginger and toasty wood. The finish came off warm and prickly.
I like this a little more than the standard WhistlePig, but only just a little. The whiskey has a sophisticated character, and the flavors should appeal more to those who like their rye spices to lean in the peppery direction.
WhistlePig 15 Year Old is slated to go for $199.