REVIEW: WhistlePig Old World Rye

Old World Rye (12 year)
WhistlePig Distillery – 86 Proof

OW12.jpg
Aslan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the Wright Brothers all look on in envy at B&B’s sample of Old World 12, 43% ABV

If you’ve followed Bowtied & Bourboned for long, it’s no secret that we’re fans of WhistlePig. NDP controversies duly noted (I still don’t care, in case you’re wondering), the WP10 scored a stellar 9.1 and the Boss Hog (2014) scored a very respectable 8.8. This offering, dubbed Old World, is a 12 year rye that more than holds up against its two highly-rated siblings. But unlike WP10 and Boss Hog, which came in at 100 and 120 proof, respectively, OW12 is bottled at a tamer 86 proof—but bear in mind that proofs can be deceiving.

The nose is an inviting carousel of rye spice, dry fruit (raisins and apricots), rich cherry, and buttery caramel—undoubtedly the result of OW12’s unique cask finishing process, which equals out to 30% French Sauternes, 63% Madeira, and 7% Port. I mentioned that proofs can be deceiving. Well, so can scent profiles! I can almost guarantee that your first sip of OW12 won’t be what you expect. Be ready for a significant but pleasant burst of spice and a lingering heat on the tip of the tongue. This fleeting shot of rye will give way to traces of slightly mellower caramel and dry chocolate. Despite the obvious fruit notes emanating from the wine finish, almost none of those smells will translate into the first taste. If you’re disappointed, fear not, their absence doesn’t last long. OW12 hits the back of your tongue with a flicker of black pepper and then that whole range of light, floral wine flavors opens up with background hints of caramel, wood, and dark cherry cough drops.

The finish on OW12 is relatively short, which surprised me given the initial wallop of hot spice, but by the time its hitting the back of your throat, all of the dry fruit flavors and that hidden woodiness have had a chance to commingle and mellow things out. And what the finish lacks in duration is more than made up for by a very nice, floral aftertaste and a lip-smacking, syrupy sensation left over from OW12’s thick, velvety texture. To make a long story short, if you’re a rye fan, you really, really want this stuff; if you’re a fan of dry, aromatic bourbons and ryes (think Michter’s US*1 or 1792 Port Finish), you still really want this stuff; and, if you’re just a fan of unique flavor profiles in general, you should still probably want this stuff—or at least a taste of it.

Value: Med—Retailing at $120 to $130 (that is, when you can actually find it in stores), this is definitely priced to be a top-shelf whiskey. In my estimation, it drinks like a top-shelf offering, with a flavor profile you just aren’t going to get anywhere else—but it’s just inevitable that anything in the $100+ range is going to restrict access.

Drinkability: Very High—Incredibly soft texture and a very rewarding second half; maybe the biggest change in flavor from front to back I’ve ever tasted. This is going to be great for anyone willing to take the first 1-2 seconds of heat—but in my house, it’s only coming out for championship games, holidays, and special guests!

Overall Rating: 8.9—The only thing holding this back 2-3 tenths of a point is the price. If you can swing the cost, this is a fantastic addition to your bar.

**Thanks to the folks at WhistlePig for graciously providing a review sample**

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REVIEW: WhistlePig Boss Hog Rye (2014)

Boss Hog Rye 2014 – “The Spirit of Mortimer”
Approx. 120 Proof – WhistlePig

The 1300 fertile acres of WhistlePig Farm could, in the spring, stand in for the rolling hills and pastures of Hazzard County, but the similarities probably stop with the landscape. You’re unlikely to see the General Lee kicking gravel this far North, just a few miles from Lake Champlain, and if the Duke boys tried to unload a trunk of clear corn liquor at this stop they’d be laughed back to Uncle Jesse’s farm. You won’t find any mason jars here: the liquor at WhistlePig is Straight Rye every time, aged to a beautiful copper for no less than ten years. At nearly fourteen years, their oldest iteration was barreled when Flash was a pup, and shares the name of the Duke’s love-to-hate-him rival, County Commissioner Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg.

J. D. was a moonshiner before he took up—as they say in Hazzard—politickin’, but it would be as disingenuous as the white-suited man himself to suggest that Boss Hog Rye Whiskey was named after him. Its subtitle, “Spirit of Mortimer,” is a more honest moniker. While WhistlePig Farm does grow acres of hardy rye for their own use, they do not grow rye exclusively, and the farm is home to honey bees, maple trees, goats, occasional ducks and, until recently, a proud Kune Pig named Mortimer, to whom the 2014 Boss Hog is dedicated. (Future barrels of their product will come from their own home-grown grain, but their distillery, though built in a refurbished 19th century barn, is brand new; thus, what you see on shelves presently was sourced. This has been a controversy for some, though, as mentioned in a previous post, not for the bowtie-clad proprietors at B&B. If you have any questions about the grain to glass process at WP, I recommend heading to their website, where even a cursory perusal reveals that they take quality at all stages very, very seriously.)

WP takes pride in how unique their whiskey is, and each bottle of Boss Hog is the product of a single barrel out of only 50 barrels released. Considering the age and single barrel bottling, even this limited batch leaves room for extreme individual expression, an independence that Vermonters have historically approved of.

bosshog1.jpgI could tell the “Spirit of Mortimer” I was fortunate enough to try was a rye from across the room. There is no waft of corn in the nose, none of the mixed bouquet you get in a bourbon. I got a hint of peppermint, but also felt it was equally notable for what it lacked: no eye watering, high octane diesel fumes. If it announces rye immediately, it whispers 120 proof in hushed tones, if it reveals it at all. The palate is equally impressive in this regard. It’s surprisingly mellow, easy and spicy at the same time. I don’t get a baking spice like cinnamon, but warm pepper and butter with fall flavors like cloves and a pinch of orange peel.

The rye spice continues through the finish, lingering like a mild hot sauce after you swallow, with the after taste of a good cigar.

My glass was empty before I even considered adding ice or water.

Value: Medium—Though representative of the craftsmanship and limited quantity, the suggested retail of $189/bottle is staggering and severely limits the audience. This is a wedding night whiskey, not a Wednesday night whiskey.

Drinkability: High—I’d even invent a new category—“Surprisingly High”—for the Boss Hog. You won’t believe the mash or the proof when you sip this, though you’ll believe every bit of the age. A rye you can drink neat is a rye to be savored.

Overall Rating: 8.8

*Special thanks to Lana Gersten and the folks at WhistlePig for kindly providing a review sample.

Christmas Spirits: The 2015 Bowtied & Bourboned Holiday Shopping Guide

Christmas Spirits:
The 2015 Bowtied & Bourboned Holiday Shopping Guide

5d31dc860ea7fd604a4e279e14f65cc4.jpgHave someone on your Christmas list that you know would love some whiskey, but not sure what to buy? You aren’t alone. Not everyone can win—or afford to win—local raffles for Pappy 15, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, or a Four Roses Limited Edition. Or maybe you’d like a bottle for yourself, but need to give St. Nick some options? It’s easy to get overwhelmed: new labels seem to appear on liquor store shelves daily; bottle art gets fancier and fancier (while providing less and less information about age and distillation); and prices seem to be rising steadily. So let Bowtied & Bourboned help make sure you get the most bang for your buck! Below are our recommendations for thoughtful holiday shopping on a range of budgets. We guarantee these spirits will keep everyone jolly enough to ward off a visit from the Krampus!

MCH – Picks

Henry McKenna Single Barrel ($25-30) – Henry McKenna isn’t as sought after as its cousins, the older and rarer incarnations of Elijah Craig, but that’s not necessarily to say it shouldn’t be. It’s aged 10 years and smooth enough to constitute a perfectly respectable offering for both friends and family. (Or to keep for yourself!) Moreover, McKenna has the added cache of being a single barrel selection, which is admittedly rare in this price range. At the end of the day, it’s a great workhorse bourbon. Drink it neat, on the rocks, or, at around  $28 in most markets, mix it without an ounce of guilt. This is a widely available label and a very thoughtful choice for smaller budgets.

Basil Hayden’s ($40) – Though priced in the mid-range, this small batch bourbon punches above its weight class. Don’t let 80 proof fool you, this is a smooth sipper but its rye content gives it a spicy, peppery flavor and makes it anything but bland. This one is on similar footing with the E. H. Taylor Small Batch (see RCP’s comments below) and it also happens to be one of the more attractively packaged bourbons in this price range.

WhistlePig Straight Rye ($75) – If you’re looking for whiskey in the upper echelon but can’t track down something from the Antique Collection or a Special Edition, this is your ticket. (And it might be a better choice than some of the aforementioned even if you can get your hands on them.) An incredibly smooth blend of caramel, vanilla, and rye spice, this is a can’t miss gift—and as WhistlePig isn’t as well-known as its counterparts in Kentucky, you might get the added bonus of introducing the label to its lucky recipient.

RCP – Picks

Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon Frontier Whiskey ($20-$30) – Bulleit checks several boxes on the list of “gift bourbon” criteria. Aside from being an easy but respectable pour, it has that unique ubiquitous-from-the-fringe reputation that will engender an “Oh I’ve heard of this but haven’t tried it yet” upon opening. At $25, you won’t swear at the host who spills a dram of your hospitality into their eggnog. Finally, since ‘tis the season for honesty, the bottle actually is cool, and it matches the moniker “Frontier Whiskey” so well that you can be sure they’ll proudly display it and hope guests ask about the time they arm wrestled John Wayne—and won.

history-print-ads-from-wild-turkey-bourbon.w654.jpgRussell’s Reserve 10 Year Small Batch ($30-$40) – Wild Turkey is a household name in the bourbon industry, and this small batch stands on the shoulders of giants and takes a big leap. Russell’s Reserve isn’t like some of the “craft” offerings from other big family name distilleries that taste like leftover well-pours. It’s original and delicious at a responsible value, the kind of bourbon you give your boss or father in law to prove you don’t have to concede quality to stay on a budget.

Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr – If you’re keeping up with MCH’s serialized biography, “Becoming the Colonel,” you have all the reason you need to be enthusiastic about this nattily attired offering from Buffalo Trace Distillery. A unique bottle and container make the introductory Small Batch ($40) a great gift, but I wouldn’t put it in the stocking of a bourbon novice: It’s chewy and spicy, with more nutmeg than cinnamon, but its complexity and 100 proof bottling can be challenging. If you don’t have someone to wrap this for, hope a bottle finds its way under your tree. If your name’s squarely on the “Nice” list, you might just earn the Single Barrel ($70) or Rye ($70), with Happy New Year included.

 

REVIEW: WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye

WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye
100 Proof – WhistlePig Farm

In “American Pie,” the now immortal folk dirge from one-hit-wonder Don McLean, we find our depressed troubadour driving his Chevy to the levy where “them good old boys” were drinking whiskey and rye—and singing “this’ll be the day that I die, this’ll be the day that I die.” If they’d had a couple bottles of WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye, to quote the slightly-less-immortal but still iconic Uncle Rico, “everything woulda’ been different.” If my pop culture mashup of a song that defined a generation and a man who lived in his van offends you to the extent that you refuse to read further, at least walk away with this wisdom: this stuff is better than good. It’s great.

Lately, there’s been a bit of controversy concerning the real source of WhistlePig: the United States or Canada. At present, it looks like a mix of both. WhistlePig Farm in Vermont is growing hundreds of acres of rye to use for production and whiskey is currently being aged in barrels constructed from Vermont wood. That said, what’s available of the 10 year in stores right now was distilled in Canada before being selected for bottling in Vermont. This has some reviewers crying foul over what is essentially a well-executed PR campaign. Frankly, while I’m an advocate for age transparency, I don’t care much about the controversy here. The age of WP10SR isn’t in question and they’re far from being the only operation that bottles whiskey produced somewhere else. (Furthermore, from the Buffalo Trace Antiques to Maker’s Mark to Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Program, which successful distilling and/or bottling operation hasn’t put a PR twist on its products? Like it or not, whiskey is a business.) My main concern is how the whiskey tastes.

NEWS UPDATE: As of October 2015, a functional distilling facility has been installed on the WhistlePig Farm in Shoreham, Vermont. Current supplies of WP10SR have Canadian origins, but that will be changing in the future, making WhistlePig one of the rare “grain to glass” operations on the market. Click here to read the distillery’s press release in full.

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WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye, 100 Proof

The nose on WP10SR is a bouquet of oak, citrus, sweet vanilla, and caramel. (Note 1: the first time I sat down to taste, the caramel outmuscled the vanilla on the nose quite a bit.) The overall scent profile is sweet, but not “thin”—that is, the 100 proof spirit’s alcohol content doesn’t overwhelm its true flavor with a false sweetness. The first sip was all vanilla on the tongue, which surprised me; this was almost perfectly inverted from the smell test. (Note 2: the second time I sat down to taste, I got much more vanilla on the nose, and a more balanced flavor on the tongue.) Vanilla slowly gives way to a pairing of mellow warmth (lingering vanilla and caramel) and a healthy dose of rye spice in your mouth—the prelude to a long, balanced finish that leaves a pleasant trail of warm vanilla with a final small kick of rye deep down.

I’m typically a proponent of the idea that you paid for the whiskey, so you’ve earned the right to drink it however you’d like. I.e., if you want to mix $60 bourbon with ginger ale, do it, it’s yours and you should enjoy it. That said, this is sipping whiskey at its finest. It’s not cheap in the $75-$85 range, but given WP10SR’s depth of flavor and accessibility for drinkers of all experience levels, this is still a solid value purchase. -MCH

Value: Med-High
Drinkability: High
Overall Rating: 9.1

*Special thanks to Lana Gersten and the folks at WhistlePig for kindly providing a review sample.