Set up in 2007 by entrepreneur Raj Bhakta, the WhisltePig distillery is based in one of Vermont’s oldest farms and specialises in the production of premium rye whiskey. Initially a NDP, WhistlePig made a name for themselves by sourcing and bottling high quality Canadian rye whiskey under the watchful eye of ex-Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Dave Pickerell. With a vision to create the world’s best rye whiskey, Bhakta and Pickerell sought to produce a farm-to-bottle craft rye whiskey made using rye grain grown on their farm, water from their wells, and oak barrels crafted from the oak trees growing on the farm: a unique process in whiskey production termed ‘Triple-Terroir’. WhistlePig have also earned a proud reputation for their limited-edition barrel-finished rye whiskies that have been finished in barrels such as ex-bourbon, ex-wine, ex-Armagnac, and Vermont Oak from their own farm.
Since 2013 WhistlePig have released their annual Boss Hog bottling to eager rye whiskey fans. Marketed as their finest expression of rye whiskey, these releases have all featured a 12+ year old offering that WhistlePig have promised to be powerfully complex and distinctly unique from anything they have ever done, and stupendous. Previous releases have featured rye whiskies from different sources, with different mashbills, unique finishes, and a hand-made Danforth Pewter stopper to top it all off (pun intended). Last month WhistlePig announced the newest addition to their Boss Hog line, Boss Hog V – The Spirit of Mauve. This single barrel of 13 year old MGP rye whiskey was finished in casks that had been used to age apple Calvados (a brandy made in the Normandy region of France). WhistlePig’s press release described this as follows:
This Vth Edition, The Spirit Of Mauve, is a celebration of Mauve, one of our founding celebrity pigs. Mauve’s lover, Mortimer, was tragically killed defending her honor in 2014, and was memorialized in The Boss Hog, IInd Edition, The Spirit Of Mortimer. Mauve heroically persevered for the sake of their son, Mortimer Jr, but sadly joined Mortimer in heaven this Valentines Day. The pain of a broken heart can prove too much for even the strongest of pigs. The Spirit Of Mauve is a 13 Year Straight Rye Whiskey finished in Calvados Casks in honor of Mauve’s undying love of apples. The result is extraordinary. A fine balance between American power and French sophistication. There’s nothing else like it.
This release was bottled at 116.8 proof (barrel proof with a RRP of $499.99)
Name: The Boss Hog V: The Spirit of Mauve
Age: 13 years old
Proof: 116.8 (58.4% abv)
Type: Straight rye whiskey finished in Calvados barrels
Mashbill: Undisclosed but being MGP rye we can assume it was 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Producer: WhistlePig Farm, VT
Nose: The nose opens crisp with notes of sweet red apples, deep toffee, earthy rye, cinnamon and peppery oak.
Palate: The palate features a thick mouthfeel and opens with a rush of sweetness carrying the musky taste of apples. As this fades it is replaced by a wave of earthy rye spice that leaves tart cranberries, red apples stewed in brown sugar, and dry peppery oak in its wake.
Finish: The finish again opens with a taste of apple brandy followed swiftly by a wave of peppery rye spice, fresh red fruit, and cinnamon leading to an aftertaste that’s somewhere between floral, earthy rye, tart apples, and minty oak.
When WhistlePig said there would be apples they were not kidding. The influence of the finishing in apple brandy casks is undeniable. Ultimately, instead of tasting a rye whiskey with a touch of apples you get the opposite, sweet red apples, spicy earthy rye, and then an apple-forward blend of the two. Only after the initial wave of apple flavours fades does a delicate balance between the sweet almost-musky apple notes and the earthy baking spice and white pepper rye notes emerge in a balance of sweet, earthy, and spicy. With a few drops of water you get even less rye spice and more musky apple sweetness combined with brown sugar and cinnamon. In fact throughout drinking and reviewing I noticed that the apples are a constant hum in the background, even as the rye tries to express itself instead of the converse. Due to this I can see this being a controversial rye whiskey for purists who would prefer the rye to have the dominant influence.
From what I’ve read the previous release brought together two flavour profiles that had great harmony when added together. This release, however, leans towards the apple calvados flavour profile and so makes this taste less like a finished rye whiskey and more like a 60/40 compromise between calvados and rye whiskey where calvados gets preferential exposure. This will no doubt rub rye purists up the wrong way and to be honest it did leave me disappointed that I wasn’t getting as much rye as I was expecting.
Try or Buy? It’s hard to review this whiskey and not mention the price. The prices for WhistlePig’s whiskeys have always been on the premium side and last year they broke their own record with their Boss Hog IV being released with an RRP of $499. Citing various reasons such as the costs involved in sourcing the Armagnac casks and wanting to cut out the secondary market flippers, the result remained the same – many fans, myself included, never got to try it because we were priced out completely. Unfortunately, this release is set to follow the same trend. With an RRP of $499.99 this is again going to be one you’ll either try at a tasting or massively overpay to own a bottle. With the prices of limited releases constantly on the rise this expression seems like another casualty. Despite being a fan of WhistlePig’s whiskies, for $500 I’d either expect 5 bottles of this or a solid gold stopper. However, if you have the spare cash and you’re curious as to how a rye whiskey aged in Calvados barrels would taste then go ahead. For UK fans the price of this release is set to mirror last year’s Boss Hog 4, which today costs £563.75 on Master of Malt, the price of exactly 2,255 Cadbury’s Freddo bars – think hard about which one you want more.