Is it Whistle Pig, Whistlepig or even WhistlePig come to think of it? Not exactly how you’d anticipate starting a whiskey – we’re in North America folks – review in any shape or form. However, you need to set the right foundations along with the question do pigs whistle? Except the truth isn’t half as exciting sadly. The founder and owner of WhistlePig, Raj Bhakta, stumbled across a hiker in Colorado once asking if – whatever it was – could be a WhistlePig? We’ll be forever in turmoil as to what he was meaning, or that his remark adorns a range of whiskies.
I’ve read a fair amount of marketing waffle, proclamations or what we call in Scotland bullshit. Whisky or whiskey take your pick as there’s no geographical segregation on this topic, loves to wallow in the stuff. I’m not even talking ankle or knee deep. It loves to get in there head first and literally bathe in the muck and camouflage the truth in elaborate or meaningless terms and statements. In recent years we’ve moved on from the text and visual mediums, bringing a full frontal live showbiz dynamic with the social media presence of brand ambassadors. Yes, they’ve always been in existence back to the days of the whisky barons, or even prior to when owners would pack a suitcase and try to reach new markets. However, they’re now on tour, championing the brand and the message.
Electronic wanted you to get the message and so do the brands. A slick presentation, a finely tuned beard, a shiny suit and a sexy bit of tweed, or the female equivalent. Staunch foot soldiers of the message they stomp around the globe repeating the message until it sinks in. I’ve met many brand ambassadors. Some I actually get on with remarkably well with especially when we step away from the message and their livelihood. Others I’d rather chuck off the Forth Rail Bridge or keeping this American; Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a tough gig and I’m sure many onlookers feel a certain sympathy or unease when an ambassador is unable to answer a question. My advice is sometimes it’s better just to be honest or promise to make enquiries. Rather than try to make up an escape route or essentially manufacture a truth. It is a question of which brand, as several seem to let their ambassadors be themselves, others rule with an almost Stalin-esque dominance. Ultimately we’re here for the whisky and not a presentation so let the liquid do the talking, please.
It’d be far easier if that was the case. Imagine being able to try before you buy and tasting blind. The sales charts would look entirely different if the actual liquid was the barometer – would you walk out with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Select Cask Rye Finish? Nae danger pal.
All of this brings us to WhistlePig. A brand we haven’t covered on MALT until now. Apologies for this oversight as by all accounts it’s a happening thing Stateside and dudes that’s what we believe as they’re telling us this. In reality, we purchase our own stuff here on the whole and I’m laughing/crying when I see teenage whiskies – or for WhistlePig it’s rye whiskies – with an asking price in the hundreds if not several hundreds of pounds. All that cash for what are essentially teen spirits with a fancy cork and a cask finish. More bullshit?
Let us step out of the mud bath, cleanse ourselves and scour the landscape for facts.
What you think is WhistlePig isn’t in reality just ready yet. The enterprise and I am refraining from saying distillery until later as you’ll see why, was established in 2007 with the purchase of a farm, which will play a role. Instead, it was the sourcing of 10 year old Canadian whiskey residing north of the border destined for blending stock that prompted the whiskey journey. Since then WhistlePig has sourced its stock from elsewhere as its distillery wasn’t online until 2015. What we’re essentially drinking and experiencing here today is the product of another distillery from another county or even country. I have issues with this situation as I did with the recent Teeling Revival Volume III.
Namely, you’re paying a premium price for a product that is portrayed as part of the brand that is a farm endeavour with only the best ryes. What might come off the shiny stills and matures in Vermont oak in the local environment could taste totally different – good or bad – but it will be different to what we’re having today. Yes, the problem isn’t specific to WhistlePig or even America with Ireland doing its own cowboy thing. Even Japan can ship in whisky from Scotland and then bottle it under a Japanese guise. It is all a little distasteful and abhorrent in my Scottish view and that’s my view.
For this wee vertical, I purchased a trio of samples costing just over £30. Kicking off proceedings is the staple WhistlePig 10 year old rye, bottled at 50% strength, which is available for around £75 from the Whisky Exchange or from Amazon. It is made up of 100% rye, which should promise some flavor, so lets get this party lit!
WhistlePig 10 year old rye whiskey – review
Colour: stewed tea
On the nose: punchy with cinder toffee, cinnamon bark and candied orange. Bloody vanilla. Black liquorice, cracked pepper, sweet peanuts, almonds, a fresh grating of nutmeg and marzipan. Let’s add some water. Figs now but it tends to kill the overall aroma package.
In the mouth: quite a limited profile. A reasonable texture at least but it is a vanilla themed Terminator that keeps on delivering vanilla, more vanilla and more relentless vanilla in slow motion blurred pain. Caramel, burnt brown toast and cracked black pepper. With the addition of water, more singed notes and less vanilla but it is still the dominant characteristic.
We’ll move up to the 12 year old now, which is bottled at 43% strength or 86 proof mam. This Old World is apparently inspired by Scotland so it should offer more than vanilla. Hey, who you calling old youngster! I’ll take you over my knee and give you a good… We have rye matured in bourbon casks for an unspecified period that is then finished in a trio of casks (63% Madeira casks, 30% Sauternes and 7% Port) for an unknown time frame. This will set you back an eye-watering £165 from The Whisky Exchange or £155 from Amazon.
WhistlePig 12 year old – Old World whiskey – review
On the nose: more delicate and lighter than the 10 year old. Rubbed brass and cherries mingle with orange peel and cinnamon once again. Hazelnuts and a rum fudge slant with the throat punch of vanilla toffee, more vanilla, a gentle waft of perfume and strawberry jam.
In the mouth: a more syrup-like texture and ups the sweetness. It’s a budget white label cough syrup mixture. I don’t like this. There’s a rusty quality, a herbal edge I’m struggling to define – dried basil? Cousin vanilla is back, faint raspberries – probably inferior non-Scottish ones – more of the nutmeg and cinnamon but withered by the casks. It just feels off and lacking, a poorly conceived finish.
For the grand finale, we’re with the FarmStock Crop first release. Now, this does feature some of the spirit distilled at WhistlePig, but we don’t know the quantity. Given when they started production it’d be as rough as a badger’s ass to a mere Scotsman anyway. Hence the lack of an age statement. It also features Canadian as well as Indiana whiskey, so it is basically a North American rustic shack love-in. In reality the message says, it’s our best 5-6 year old ryes, jerked off with some 12 year old rye. Bottled at 43% or that 86 thing, it’ll set you back a more palatable £91 on the Whisky Exchange with Amazon letting us down this time.
WhistlePig FarmStock Crop No.001 rye whiskey – review
Colour: golden syrup
On the nose: on arrival I find this to be the more inviting and intruiging of the whiskies in this piece. Mellow, subtle, less forceful and uncouth. Yeah vanilla, but more of an orange cream vanilla. Come on give me something. Caramel, wood sap, peaches, a touch of varnish and cinnamon. There’s just no development.
In the mouth: sadly muddled again. Very woody and with an unpleasant finish. I’ll give you honey, vanilla toffee and then I’m left scratching my beard for more flavour. Adding water has a disappointing result and feels as if you’ve dragged your tongue along a plank of wood.
I was expecting more from the 10 year old in reality. The nose is decent but the palate is fairly limited for a decade old whiskey. Price wise it is difficult to recommend. Moving on the 12 year old is more engineered and well, frankly dull as dishwater as the saying goes. The fact it is such a price is hilarious – do they think they’re Macallan? Very disappointing and not an experience that would prompt me to purchase another. The crop whiskey was far too wood dominated for my liking. Just not suited to my palate and although I admit defeat with this trio of whiskies, we’ll no doubt be back to try again soon enough.
And finally, to answer the remaining burning question; can pigs whistle? Don’t be so stupid. However, there is an old Scots saying, which means to go to the pig and whistle is to fall into ruin. Can I have my £30 back, please?
Photographs from the Whisky Exchange and this piece also features commission links if you feel the need for vanilla.