World Class Whiskey – From Vermont?
on 28/03/12 at 12:07 pmSpirits
Unlike vodkas made from Maple syrup or even lactose (really), WhistlePig, which is bottled on a farm in rural Shoreham, Vermont, is not just another marketing gimmick – according to many critics it is the best rye whiskey in the world.
As I reported recently with the launch of a high-end rye from boutique bourbon maker Knob Creek, super-premium rye is the hot new spirits category. America’s favorite before Prohibition, rye is again all the rage among bartenders heralding a return of classic cocktails like the Manhattan and Old Fashioned. But WhistlePig is almost too good for this, and can be appreciated on its own.
Introduced in mid-2010 and made in very limited quantity (1000 cases), the story behind WhistlePig is unique. Industry legend Dave Pickerell, the longtime Master Distiller for the renowned Maker’s Mark bourbon distillery in Kentucky, decided to devote himself to a quest for the best rye possible, the next evolution of boutique bourbons. He wandered the earth trying rye whiskies, until he found what he considered its finest expression in the form of a new Canadian version, made from nothing but rye grain (law requires the majority of starch to be rye in order to be labeled rye whiskey, just as it requires 51% corn for bourbon, but pure ryes are rare).
For various reasons, including the fact that rye grain is considerably more expensive than corn, but also because a straight rye distillation is very tough on equipment, gumming it up with sticky residue, few distillers have bothered with pure rye whiskey. But the Canadians solved the sticky problem with two solutions, using malted rye and by developing a special strain of yeast-like fungus for distillation (for much more detail on this issue, check out this article from a great site devoted entirely to Canadian whiskies).
So Pickerell teamed up with WhistlePig founder Raj Bhakja, a former contestant on The Apprentice, who purchased a two century old working farm in Shoreham and renamed it WhistlePig Farm and began growing his own rye. Bhakja purchased the incredible Canadian rye whiskey, still in bulk storage, brought it back to Vermont, hand bottled it, and it blew critics away with rave reviews. At the same time, Bhakja and Pickerell, now Master Distiller for WhistlePig, have set up their own distillery on the farm and are working towards producing their rye from start to finish going forward.
But where it is made is not nearly as important as how it tastes.