For its annual, limited edition Boss Hog release, WhistlePig aims to deliver on five promises: each sought-after iteration of the Vermont rye whiskey must be single-barrel, bottled at proof, powerfully complex, stupendous and distinctly unique from anything before. To deliver something entirely new for the ninth iteration of this cult favorite release, WhistlePig’s whiskey development team turned to a decidedly ancient source of inspiration: the nine muses of Greek mythology.
Boss Hog IX: Siren’s Song is a single-barrel rye whiskey aged for 13 years in American oak casks before spending a week each in casks that previously held fig nectar and tentura—a Greek liqueur spiced with orange, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and honey. The final part of this equation sent the team deep down a rabbit hole and ultimately to the Greek city of Patras, the birthplace of tentura and the only place in the world that produces it.
“We’d been messing around with figs a little bit prior to Greece being a Boss Hog idea,” Meghan Ireland, WhistlePig’s Head Blender, tells us. “Figs always showed up on our charcuterie boards, and I thought it paired really well with the whiskey.” That led to conversations about a Greece-inspired Boss Hog release and ultimately—after many failed experiments with ouzo casks, mastic casks and even Greek red wine casks—to the notion of incorporating tentura into the maturation. A fig and tentura finish would continue an around-the-world theme established by the previous two releases in the series; Boss Hog VII: Magellan’s Atlantic began the journey with a rye whiskey finished in Spanish oak and Brazilian teakwood casks, while Boss Hog VIII: Lapu Lapu was finished in two different Filipino rum barrels.
For those releases, the WhistlePig team managed to simply obtain the finishing casks it needed to create the whiskey it envisioned. But in the case of Boss Hog IX, Ireland and her colleagues would have to create the finishing casks from scratch. A very niche product, tentura is often produced by individual families adhering to long-held family recipes, using local grape brandy or sometimes rum as a base in which to macerate the cloves, cinnamon, citrus, nutmeg and other ingredients that give tentura its distinct holiday-spice character. Low commercial production volumes simply don’t sustain a commercial market for used tentura casks, and acquiring them is difficult. “Getting the barrels in the quantity we needed was just not going to happen,” Ireland says. “And with today’s supply chain, the chances of them getting here [in time] was near zero.”
Instead, Ireland and WhistlePig Head of Whiskey Development, Liz Rhoades, set about developing their own tentura recipe, visiting Greece to source ingredients and consult with a tentura distillery outside of Patras. The “farm-scratch tentura” they then developed at WhistlePig dials back the cinnamon a bit so it doesn’t overtake the rye and includes homegrown ingredients like local Vermont honey. They also developed their own fig nectar for the first leg of the cask finish to temper the tentura’s sharper citrus notes and baking spices with some rounder sweetness.
“We’re calling this the most creative Boss Hog ever because we made up all of the finishing barrels along with the whiskey itself,” Ireland says. It’s the first Boss Hog to undergo a non-alcoholic barrel finish, and the first in which WhistlePig has developed and seasoned all of its own finishing casks in-house.
In terms of where it sits on the Boss Hog spectrum, Siren’s Song will likely draw comparisons to Boss Hog VII, wherein the Brazilian teak wood casks impart distinct cinnamon and baking spice notes to the whiskey. But where the VII is largely characterized by those notes, Boss Hog IX leans more toward the cooked orange and clove flavors from the tentura casks, balanced by round jammy fig (particularly on the finish) and notes of brown sugar and toffee pudding. Whereas many whiskies draw a lazy association with “Christmas cake,” Boss Hog IX truly lives the comparison.
Boss Hog IX’s packaging marks another first for the series, one that is bound to excite and frustrate collectors in equal measure. Each bottle comes topped with one of nine different pewter corks (crafted specially for WhistlePig by Vermont’s Danforth Pewter), each representing one of the nine Greek muses. Some are more common than others, with the muse of tragedy—Melpomene—being the rarest. At $600 per bottle at retail (and likely much more on the secondary market) collecting all nine will likely require Odyssean determination.
Images courtesy of WhistlePig