Set up in 2007 by entrepreneur Raj Bhakta, the WhistlePig distillery is based in one of Vermont’s oldest farms and specialises in the production of premium rye whiskey. Initially a Non-Distiller Producer (NDP), WhistlePig made a name for themselves by sourcing and bottling high quality Canadian and Indiana rye whiskey under the watchful eye of their now-deceased 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.
Released in 2014, WhistlePig’s Old World Rye was a permanent addition to their core range. Beginning as an experiment to find unique wine cask finishes that would perfectly compliment their sourced rye stocks, Master Distiller Dave Pickerell took barrels of 95% rye whiskey from MGP, aged them for a minimum of 12 years, independently finished the whiskey in a series of wine casks, and then married the finished whiskies together to create his desired flavour profile. The final blend was 63% Madeira cask finished rye, 30 French Sauternes cask finished rye, and 7% Port finished rye.
The Whisky Exchange (TWE) in London, UK, is a family business founded in 1999, and in their own words ‘has since grown to be the internet’s number-one specialist retailer of whisky and other spirits, serving thousands of satisfied customers every week’. Their website boasts over 9,500 products that are available for purchase, and includes over 3,500 different whiskies from all over the world, more than 500 rums, around 400 vodkas, more than 550 Cognacs/Armagnacs, 400 gins, 150 Tequilas and nearly 1,000 specialist liqueurs. Another point of difference is TWE’s massive collection of old, rare or discontinued bottles of whisky that it sources from collectors, estate sales, and their own collection which has amassed hundreds of bottles over the years.
Today I’m going to be taking a look at a Whisky Exchange exclusive and European-first, WhistlePig Old World Amburana Cask Rye. As the story goes this one-of-a-kind rye whiskey was both tasted and instantly snatched up as an exclusive bottling by TWE’s spirit buyer at the 2018 Whisky Show in London. It features 95% Rye/ 5% Malted Barley rye whiskey from MGP that was initially matured for 13.5 years in new 200-litre American oak barrels with a medium/long and level 3 char, before being filled into new amburana casks for a mere 10 days. For those like me who perhaps don’t know what Amburana wood is, it originally hails from South America with a reportedly unique fragrant character, and is more commonly used to age cachaça.
Name: WhistlePig Old World Cask Finish Rye – The Whisky Exchange Exlcusive Amburana Cask Finish Rye.
Age: Age stated as 12 year old (confirmed to be 13.5 years old)
Proof: 86 Proof (43% ABV)
Type: Cask-finished straight rye whiskey
Mashbill: 94% rye, 5% malted barley
Producer: WhistlePig, VT (Sourced from MGP, IN)
Nose: The nose opens with coconut sugar, fresh crushed mint (think prepping a mint julep), slight toasted oak, sweet cocktail cherries, dried red fruit, a touch of dill, and faintly bitter charred oak.
Palate: The palate is quite viscous for the proof, opening with delicious herbaceous mint before toasted coconut sugar, grassy rye, dill, a touch of dried cherries, baking spice, and toasted oak emerges. This is quickly followed by dark chocolate and barrel char as you continue to chew and the flavours fade.
Finish: The finish opens with a kick of minty rye before charred oak and baking spices emerge leaving a herbaceous aftertaste of earthy rye, dill, and barrel char with hints of toasted oak throughout.
What an interesting and delicious rye whiskey this turned out to be! Having never tried cachaça before I wasn’t sure what difference (if any) only 10 days in amburana casks would have on the final whiskey. After tasting, however, the influence is undeniable. From nose to finish it is complex with layered flavours balanced between sweet and savoury. When I tasted this the first thing that came to mind was a Bounty chocolate bar with the notes of coconut and chocolate amongst the herbaceous mint, grassy rye, dried cherry and barrel char notes. That being said, this is very much still an MGP rye and a barrel finish of just 10 days has done little to diminish what 13.5 years in the barrel had achieved. Instead this whisky has retained all the delicious flavours you’d expect from an older MGP rye with the barrel finishing having added to (but not overwhelmed) the character of the base whiskey. At the bottling proof there’s not a lot of rye spice but here it works to the advantage-meaning all the flavours gained from the short stint in the amburana cask get a chance to shine. There’s also a decent heat from the rye but no wave of fiery spice which may be down to the low proof. Instead there’s a pleasant baking-spice driven prickle but no burn.
This is a fantastic collaboration between TWE and WhistlePig that brings rye whiskey drinkers something that is truly unique and delicious. TWE are no doubt very proud to have this bottling as part of their 20th anniversary exclusive bottling and hopefully its success will lead to more interesting experimental barrel releases being released by WhistlePig. As far as the base whiskey, Dave Pickerell did a great job of picking the original barrels and sourced some excellent whiskey for WhistlePig to work with in collaborations like this.
Try or buy?
This whiskey originally entered the market at a hefty £215, a price that placed it on-par or above the price of many limited edition releases. Recently, however, the price has been lowered to a much more agreeable £175, making it pricey but competitively so, and with the rarity of these casks I can only assume the uptake has increased. In my opinion this is a great opportunity to try something unique and very old from WhistlePig but with the price being over £100 I’d highly recommend you try a dram from the Whisky Exchange’s website first.