By Richard Thomas
WhistlePig’s Boss Hog has become another of annual limited edition series, and representing as it does aged cask strength rye whiskey, it should be a new fixture on any bottle hunter’s list of things to think about acquiring. This is especially so because compared to say, Thomas H. Handy Rye, it’s not as famous and should be easier to get.
The 2016 Boss Hog has a particularly interesting twist on it because it starts with a 100% rye whiskey, which was then finished in a Scotch whisky hogshead. The typical hogshead is basically a rebuilt and enlarged ex-bourbon barrel holding 225 liters/59.4 gallons, only slightly larger than a normal wine barrel. The hogshead used by WhistlePig was 250 liters, done with new white oak barrel heads, so it was not one of these.
The whiskey was then, in Boss Hog style, bottled at cask strength of 120.6 proof (60.3% ABV). After the finishing period, the whiskey is a 14 year old.
In the glass, Boss Hog Independent has a clear, solidly amber coloring with copper highlights. The nose is very sweetly seasoned, mixing Christmas cake spices with apple mint and caramel, but looming just behind this bundle of bakery notes is the presence of musty wood. I found it a bit hot poured straight from the bottle, but after several minutes of air it mellows nicely.
The flavor is where this rye takes a hard, sharp turn. It’s big, bold and spicy, exactly what you would expect from a 100% rye at cask strength. It’s peppery and gingered, with a dollop of vanilla, but also quite smoky. That Scotch hogshead was quite clearly holding peated Scotch, and pretty well peated at that. WhistlePig describes this as a faint hint of peat, but on my palate it came across as a solid, noticeable current of smoke.
The finish has a bit of heat in it, but not as much as one might expect at 120 proof, leaving a brief, ashy aftertaste and a long, lingering warmth.
As this whiskey was just a hair above 120 proof, I decided to add some water to see how it fared, even though I think it is perfectly drinkable as is. A capful of water drains away all traces of heat, but without disturbing the fundamentals. So, I recommend a little water, but only just a little.
What really gives this rye its extra oomph is the smoky current from the peated finish. Ergo, if you are one of those people who doesn’t especially care for peat smoke, this Boss Hog is going to turn you off for sure. However, this is first and foremost a ballsy rye whiskey, and only in the peppery aspect is it otherwise Scotch-like, and pepper is a note you will find in ryes too. So, if you don’t mistake this for a hybrid. It’s a rye with a Scotchy aspect.
The recommended price is $299.99 for a 750 ml bottle.