Whistlepig's Master Distiller, Dave Pickerell, comes to the project after 14 years of working at Maker's Mark, and together with entrepreneur Raj Bahkta, aims to create a self-sustainable organic whiskey distillery in rural Vermont. But instead of waiting to get their farm, distillery, and aging warehouse up and running, or bottling and selling unaged white whiskey, as is common practice for many whiskey micro-distilleries who can't wait several years for a revenue stream to appear, they've launched their brand with a fully matured rye whiskey.
How does a distillery in its infancy produce a 10 year-old spirit? Simple: they buy the finest barrels of oak-aged Canadian rye they can get their hands on, and bottle it with their label. Now, Vermont is not the first state that one would associate with whiskey, so my curiosity was already piqued, but as this is Canadian rye, simply bottled in Vermont, my craft distillery compass was spinning. But enough backstory—what's really important is what's in the bottle. And what's in the bottle is really impressive.
Whistlepig Straight Rye is an 100% unmalted rye whiskey—a very rare mashbill indeed. In order to qualify as straight rye, 51% of the mashbill must be rye, but very rarely do ryes achieve a much higher percentage than that. Add the fact that it's unmalted and you have a truly unique whiskey. (In case you're wondering, the enzymes necessary for fermentation are added to the mash rather than the more typical method of malting the rye.)
Bottled at 100 proof, this deep amber spirit smells as spicy as you would expect, but not just the normal one-note grassy bite from a typical rye—there are also spices: spearmint, clove, pepper, ginger, vanilla. Sipping reveals a HOT chili pepper bite, slightly covering oak and a caramel sweetness. It's light bodied and dry, but finishes warm with a drip of honey and a continuing glow of heat. It's wonderful stuff.
If you're a fan of rye, or curious to what exactly rye contributes to bourbon, this is a must-try dram. You could have it on the rocks with a dash of bitters, but I wouldn't recommend it—this is a neat sipping whiskey through and through. (We've also had it in an incredible wine-and-maple-syrup sweetened whiskey sour.) Substantial food might cover the subtleties here, but it would be interesting to try Whistlepig with your favorite dark chocolate.