October 25, 2018
Type & Region: Rye Whiskey, Alberta, Canada / Vermont, USA
Composition: 100% unmalted rye
Aged: 10 years in virgin American white oak, finished in bourbon barrels
Price: $63 (because Costco is great), usually ~$80 MSRP (750mL)
From the back of the bottle:
“Fortune, superb taste, and hustle lead us to the discovery of an aged Rye Whiskey stock in Alberta, Canada. We rescued the stock from misuse as a blending whiskey, aged it in new American Oak with a bourbon barrel finish, then hand-bottled this rye on its own. We’re honored to present the most awarded Rye Whiskey in the world.”
WhistlePig has an interesting story. Founded in 2007, it’s a Vermont distillery that for years only sourced rye whiskey from Canada and finished aging it in Vermont (like an independent bottler). WhistlePig 10 is debatably a Canadian rye whiskey even though all the branding tries to imply that it’s American. While I don’t care that it’s American or Canadian, it’s something worth knowing as part of the story. In 2015, they started distilling and aging their own stuff (in addition to importing Canadian rye whiskey), but none of the homemade juice currently finds its way into the 10-year whiskey.
While I can’t specifically say how sourcing Canadian rye whiskey impacts the end product, I bet that the combination of Canadian-grown rye and aging in Canada weather and wood can make quite the difference. Additional finishing in used bourbon barrels also adds a unique touch. It’s especially rare that it’s made from 100% rye. Does any of this actually make a difference? Let’s find out and put it on shelf.
When I think of rye whiskey, I primarily think of pine, peppermint, and pumpernickel bread. This is not quite the case with WhistlePig 10. The first smell is full of vibrant fruits, including tangerine, grapefruit, pineapple, and papaya, a wonderful blend of bright and lively with dark and savory. A little bit of honey and vanilla butterscotch appear next, followed by pine and peppermint that I would expect from rye. For a rye whiskey, the rye-centric notes play second fiddle to the fruit, but I bet the rye lays the foundation for the fruit after 10 years in barrels. The 50% alcohol is nicely subdued, otherwise it would probably overpower the delicate fruits.
Swirling WhistlePig releases a little more alcohol and wood that were hidden previously, but remains quite mellow. Ten years in barrels really shows. Fruits, honey, and vanilla are still front and center. When the glass is empty, the fruit subsides and I smell more pine and mint from the rye, and musty wood from the aging process.
WhistlePig 10 smells great. It has a unique smell among rye whiskeys and smells more like a Scotch aged in ex-bourbon barrels than a rye whiskey aged in virgin white oak. It’s complex and interesting, it just takes a little bit of time to open-up.
The first thing that pops into my head is, “Oh wow, that’s really interesting!” Like the smell, the taste is fruit-forward with primarily orange and pineapple with just a little vanilla. It’s a tropical cocktail, but not nearly as sweet. There’s also a light singe of alcohol, a gentle wood poke, and just a sprinkle of peppermint. This has the brighter fruit sweetness instead of the darker caramel and maple syrup sweetness that I’ve found in many rye whiskeys.
Vigorous “chewing” releases the rye spice and oiliness, as well as a slightly nutty and malty mixture. The alcohol builds as I “chew” allowing the wood and slightly bitter tannins to coat my mouth and remind me that this still has 50% alcohol, not a trivial amount. Nevertheless, orange, pineapple, and banana are still front and center, reminding me that it’s had ample time to mature in virgin white oak and bourbon barrels.
Fruit lingers in the aftertaste with an oily sensation that fades into wood, peppermint, and pine. After a minute, slightly bitter lemon rind appears, mixing with the peppermint. WhistlePig 10 is a tropical delight of a rye whiskey, unlike anything else. All that can be said is that it tastes damn good.
Bluntly said, WhistlePig 10 is great, and reminds me a lot of the now discontinued Smooth Ambler 7 Year Rye. It’s one of the most delicate yet complex rye whiskeys I’ve ever had, and has many similarities to bourbon-aged Scotch. This is not your usual deep and oaky rye loaded with caramel, black pepper, and peppermint. The smells and tastes are a smorgasbord of sweet and savory fruits, and just enough honey, spice, wood, and kick to not be one-dimensional.
It gets better after every sniff and sip. I honestly wasn’t overly impressed from my first experience with this bottle, but subsequent tries revealed new nuances that now have me hooked. It’s not cheap, but you if you like rye whiskey or are trying to get into it, you owe it to yourself to try. Regardless of it’s source, it’s excellent rye whiskey.