Damn Rodney, back at it again.
You may remember my friend Rodney from my review of Cascade Moon Edition No. 1. He gifted me that bottle for Christmas and this year he surprised me again with another whiskey. This time it was in January. Our Chicago winter has been mild, and I visited him and our other friend (who shall remain nameless) at their place of work. Just three dudes talking in a parking lot, putting whiskey in each other’s trunks.
Except I messed up.
His Christmas gift wasn’t ready. I didn’t expect an exchange. I wasn’t supposed to see him until March! Still he reached into his trunk and produced a bottle of WhistlePig 12-year rye finished in a Spanish Brandy Cask. I was a little surprised that I was genuinely excited. My thoughts on whiskey as a gift are well known; usually you aren’t going to get me a bottle that gets me excited because, I would’ve just bought it myself.
This jaded whiskey reviewer was giddy, I really was. You see, this is a bottle I could never see myself buying, so to get it as a gift was amazing. That is due in part because of my curiosity about this brand. However, I’m sure he paid way more than he should have! Add to that my guilt of not having a gift, and I was flustered. I rolled up my window and sped off, not out of embarrassment but more so because I really wanted to dive into this.
1st try. I liked it. Dang it.
2nd try. Still like it. Dang it.
3rd tasting as I write this is the day that Rafael Nadal won his record breaking 21st grand slam event at the Australian Open. Spanish Brandy with Canadian Rye felt right. Why didn’t I make paella tonight? That also rhymed unintentionally. Either way, let’s move on.
I like finished whiskey. It is a point of contention with some whiskey purists. They see finishing as a way mask younger distillate and charge a higher price. I always said I don’t mind people charging more if they did more than just buy liquid and rebrand it. The whiskey purist in me misses age statements; I also miss more information about where things come from. The label on the front talks about the WhistlePig home base of Shoreham, Vermont, but the back tells you this is a product of Canada.
Of course WhistlePig, has always been transparent about the stock they purchased from Canada. Canada is a big place. Some have said it comes from Alberta, but without verification, I digress… I’ve softened on many of my whiskey purist stances as of late, finishing and distillate information being among those. At the end of the day all we want to know is if it is good, right?
Well, and the price, of course. As I drove away and got home I immediately went to search engines to gauge the price range for this bottle. After all, I had a Christmas gift of my own that I had to match. This fool spent way too much on this gift. My suspicion is that this bottle was easily north of $100 and possibly $150.
It seems that Rodney has only read one review of mine, and that one was the Cascade Hollow one. I also suspect he only clicked the link and checked the score. There are some things I discuss in that article that ring true here, particularly the worry of the whiskey being 86 proof. This is one old whiskey purist stances that I cannot shake. North of $100 for 86 proof?
So, here is my battle. I came in wanting to dislike this and say that it is overpriced. But, in a world of vanishing age statements I had to reassess the whiskey market as a whole. On the bourbon side of things Knob Creek is back with fantastic 12-year and 15-year offerings that approach higher price points. In the rye world I must commend WhistlePig for positioning themselves as a premium offering. Their name is known among the casuals; amongst connoisseurs it draws grumbles.
I like the grumbles. I like when old paradigms are shaken up without disrespecting the past. The rye world was ready for a shock when the late great Dave Pickerell began his work with WhistlePig. Credit to him. There were grumbles then, and right now WhistlePig doesn’t seem to be stopping. The world moves on with or without purists. To those folks: I challenge you to give things a go with an open mind. Most of your old brands are owned by gigantic companies anyways. The romanticism you hold so dear only keeps you from exploring new things!
For myself, the combination of bourbon in a cognac cask seems to be magical. How would a finished rye play out? Much less in a Spanish Brandy Cask? Especially from a brand known for their stocks of Canadian rye as they transition to their own distillate.
WhistlePig Bespoke Barrel Rye Aged 12 Years – Review
Color: Light amber, inviting the idea that this might be thin and light on flavor, which is quickly changed upon first sip.
On the nose: This noses like a bourbon. Sweet. Dark Cherry like a high proof bourbon a la Stagg Jr. Touches of honey and red wine. The low proof doesn’t hold this one back. There is plenty of nose in here. A hint of floral perfume, there is my rye note I’m looking for.
In the mouth: A punch of honeydew and young strawberry hit you with a quick follow of pickle and spice. A weird combo that fades but the flavor comes roaring back like Nadal in those final three sets. In the front the spice never left, but it’s reinvigorated and a trailing tale of deep dark liquid Red Hots lingers. Again, this liquor punches above it’s proof. The flavor lingers like an exquisite Malbec. Nothing acidic or over the top. The decision to bottle the rye at this proof proves that restraint pays off when you have this much flavor.
A bottling that has pluses and minuses on the label, but deserves a sip. This is a special occasion sipper that proves approachable and would be enjoyed by non-whiskey drinkers.