Every now and then, I’d say a few times a year, I throw caution to the wind and blind-buy an expensive bottle of spirits just because. I feel like treating myself; I want to try something special. The bottle grabbed my eye, impulse… any number of reasons may lead me to bring something special home to the basement bar. WhistlePig Straight Rye was the latest bottle I couldn’t say no to. I had no preconceived notions; I’d never heard of it.
Like any whiskey I buy, I start my experience with a straight-from-the-bottle half-shot. I drink a fair amount of rye and know what to expect. This WhistlePig threw me a little but not in a bad way. The spiciness and strong peppery notes were right there. The finish to the mouthful changed as the liquid washed down my throat. It coated the tongue and pallet longer with that rye-richness and with more complexity than other premium ryes I’ve experienced. This is a one-hundred proof, 100 % rye whiskey, so along with the complexity, came a fairly smooth fierceness of a higher-proof. She should have biten more, but she didn’t; more on this in a sec.
WhistlePig Distillery is located on an old Vermont farm, and they managed to entice Kentucky Master Distiller, Dave Pickerell to make the trip North, roll up his sleeves and create this rye. His work paid off in higher-end circles; it was awarded Wine Enthusiasts highest rating ever for a rye whiskey, coming in with 96 out of 100 points. Sounds good…but does she make a good Manhattan?
The rye is aged for ten+ years in new American oak barrels, and Distiller Pickerell said that he was looking for high notes in proof, purity and age with this one. He found it.
The nose on WhistlePig is very pleasant. The vanilla, spice, and citrus smells are there, and hold up for the duration of your drink; I only wish they came across a bit stronger. For such a complex whiskey, I’d like a bit more strength as I breathe it in. Still, I was satisfied. As long as my rye-spice is there, as it was in this one, I’m happy. The WhistlePig shone in this department, but still managed to carry in some taste surprises.
I found the sipping part, when opened up with a few pieces of cracked ice, most delightful. Rich, nutty, peppery and warming, the WhistlePig coats the mouth, but a lot softer than my high-end Templeton Rye, or even Wild Turkey’s Rye or Old Overholdt. WhistlePig seems a thinner rye – the subtlety almost too apparent. But…hold the phone! Right when you feel a taste loss, a second finish comes up (this was confirmed by guests who shared). The higher proof and pure rye taste hits you again with a flavor that takes its own sweet time exiting. For a higher-proof whiskey, the bark that can oftentimes turn this drinker off, just wasn’t there. I couldn’t find it; it was too smooth.
As swell as the WhistlePig is as a straight pour or over a few pieces of ice, the one-hundred proof and enormous shoulders of the straight rye, begged to be mixed in a cocktail. My WhistlePig Manhattan, made with 2 ounces rye, 3/4 ounce sweet vermouth, and a couple dashes orange bitters, was as perfect a Manhattan as I’ve ever tasted. Orange bitters teamed with the subtle citrus-orange note in the rye and caused me to drink the damn thing much too quickly. A single old fashioned the next evening proved WhistlePig’s worth to me as a top-notch build in a rye cocktail. I quickly corked the bottle and placed it out of site in my bar…. No need to get greedy; I want this one to last for a while.
I paid $69 for my bottle, which is a bit more than I’m used to spending on rye. Still, as I mentioned at the start, as a treat to yourself, the WhistlePig rye is worth it. A good rye is almost an essential in your home bar today. Top-shelf whiskey cocktails, as long as whiskey is the main pour, are some of the best reasons to home bartend. Premium cocktails in restaurants and bars can set you back some major cabbage. Having a few excellent bottles of whiskey at home will satisfy that premium-whiskey tooth, and can be considered an occasional affordable luxury. I say, “go for it!” WhistlePig Straight Rye would be a great addition to the top-shelf of your home bar. Just don’t let too many friends know you have it.