Only a handful of new whiskey expressions each year warrant consideration for a full-time position in a brand portfolio—and on the bar shelves of consumers. WhistlePig, a Vermont-based whiskey company, has achieved this feat with their latest offering, the 12 Year Old World Rye, which hit shelves in select markets this June. This Old World is more than a rye; its liquid, in individual parts, has been graced with three distinct finishes—all from classic European wines—and then married. And while the rye’s spiciness shines through, the impact of the Sauternes, Madeira, and Port wine barrel finishing is undeniable. WhistlePig previously released three limited edition Old World Series ryes—each finished in one of the three aforementioned barrels. This Old World, limited only in quantity but not in production as it is entering the permanent portfolio, is an exacting combination of the previous three—and the first of its kind.
To understand the new product, it’s best to step back at take a look at the brand itself. In 2007, Raj Peter Bhakta of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, purchased a 500-acre farm in Shoreham, Vermont (which has expanded now to 1,300 acres). Bhakta enlisted Master Distiller Dave Pickerell (formerly of Maker’s Mark), a figure of great importance in the whiskey world for bringing Maker’s from a veritable craft house to power house status in his 14 years there. This time, rye was their mission. To begin, the duo sourced aged rye from Canada. The reason this is not a point of contention is that Pickerell sourced the absolute best available—and it was meant to tide the brand over while they developed a five-year plan to begin producing and aging their own in Vermont. And the fact of the matter was, it was a very good product—especially in the hands of a master and a visionary. All WhistlePig expressions have collected numerous awards. 2013 saw WhistlePig’s first ever rye crop harvest and their own distillation begins this summer. The quality is there now, meticulously overseen by Pickerell, but it may only improve.
Pickerell spent years researching flavors that would amplify a rye whiskey—drawing information and inspiration from the world of scotch. WhistlePig began with their single-finish releases and, through experimentation, ascertained that a marriage of all three (if kept at 63% Madeira, 30% Sauternes and 7% port) would deliver the desired result. Individual finishing of the 12-year-old rye is kept under two months, but that’s more than ample time for the impact to be felt. The balance of sweet and spicy, and of levity and a long-lingering, reveals something unlike other ryes. This isn’t the first ultra-premium rye, but for a company that started bottling rye when demand for the spirit was in a slump, it’s another telling move from two individuals with vision.
WhistlePig’s 12-Year-Old World Rye, which clocks in at 86 proof is hitting shelves this June in NYC, and nationwide later in June and July, for $118.
Images courtesy of WhistlePig