WhistlePig: Pure Rye Whiskey
Last Thursday night, I had the pleasure of tasting one of the most exciting (new-release) whiskeys that I’ve had in the past several years. And, I have the great fortune of tasting a lot of whiskey above and beyond the pre-Prohibition treasures. Founded earlier this year, WhistlePig Whiskey is the brainchild of Master Distiller Dave Pickerell—a fourteen-year Maker’s Mark veteran, whom I hadn’t seen in many years—and proprietor, Raj Peter Bhakta.
Located on a former dairy farm in Shoreham, Vermont, WhistlePig Farm Distillery’s first release is a Straight Rye Whiskey—a 100 proof, 100 percent rye—which is aged for no less than ten years. Pickerell, of course, has additional plans; but we won’t be hearing about them for a while. What they are talking about is their mission to produce organic rye on the WhistlePig Farm, in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, and distill their whiskey onsite.
Pickerell, who knows a thing or two about whiskey, worked incessantly to achieve the perfect balance between proof, percent, and age. Frankly, that balance is like nothing I’ve seen in such a young whiskey. Being a lover of proof—Stagg is about perfect for breakfast, in my world—I would like to see what happens when he bumps it up a few notches, in order to release some additional innate congeners. But if there is a man who can find the sweet-spot to express proof, percent and age—along with my additional observation of terroir, it would be Pickerell.
The first tranche of 1,000 cases will have a very limited release in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles—which brings us to an interesting side-story. Mr. Pickerell, who had arrived hours before, confessed that he was practically dragged to LA, kicking and screaming, by Alex Stuempfig of Domaine Select. After visiting the market for nearly fifteen years with Maker’s, he thought that he’d seen all that he needed to. [This, coupled with the fact that the New York-based booze media goes so far out of its way to not mention LA (see post-Tales coverage, in which they mention cities like Pittsburg and Austin while, with conspicuous flagrancy, fail to mention LA or its players. Forget about guys like Eric Alperin, Lucas Paya and Julian Cox—who’s never lost a competition, having bested everyone in his path from every city in the US (including New York and San Francisco), or bars like La Descarga (which sells more premium rum than anyone in the US) and Las Perlas (the first Mezcal bar in the US)].
‘But Stuempfig was relentless like some kind of rabid animal’ explained Pickerell in a gentile drawl that thinly veils an underlying danger. And, it’s a good thing he was—Dave was completely floored by what he had seen in a handful of hours, in which he visited the Varnish, Seven Grand, the Edison, Rivera and alike. I had the pleasure of tasting it first at Rivera with Julian and his crew. Then, we went on to Seven Grand, which boasts three-hundred whiskies—the largest collection west of the Mississippi—and the biggest rye selection in the United States, where Alex had summoned an impressive selection of LA’s finest barmen. It was there where I tasted what I had been dreaming about since tasting the raw distillate—an Old Fashioned—and it was worth the wait. Glorious. Simply, the perfect cocktail.
This rye whiskey offers perfect continuity, from nose to palate and start to finish. It is uncomplicated while perplexingly complex, with anise, clove, balanced caramel and elegant barrel nuances. After spending about fifteen minutes enraptured in the raw spirit, Dave had us put in a few drops of water at which point the distillate immediately exploded with rye, honey, flowers, nuttiness, faint brine and subtle Sherry character. I cannot wait to get my first bottle; Forrest, you’d better put some aside for me. There’s only one problem that I can see: the first batch is a mere 1,000 cases. This is going to go fast; get it while you can.