“Paid the cost to be the boss.” – James Brown
Usually, I save discussion of a bottle’s price for closer to the end of the preamble. After all, it’s typically the least interesting thing about a brand or expression. The reason you’re here reading a review on Malt is presumably that you enjoy and value our long form exploration of distillery histories, whiskey culture, and other substantive elements that inform and enhance our appreciation of the liquid in the bottle.
What if, on the other hand, price is the whole point of a whiskey’s existence? That seems, at least to me, to be the case with respect to the whiskey I’ll be evaluating today. It’s certainly not alone in its “Veblen good” status in the world of whiskey; Scotch and (increasingly) American distilleries have been giving us ultra-premium-luxury-whatever bottles for years.
I assume that most of these are bought with the intention of bribing local officials in resource-rich emerging market countries. The few bottles not destined for this use are likely acquired by the nouveau riche du jour, pardon my French. In the past four decades, we might have guessed stockbrokers, tech millionaires (later billionaires), property developers, investment bankers, and (until recently) cryptocurrency enthusiasts as likely customers.
Speaking of the crypto bust: I was recently in Miami, and while there I made a point of wandering into the liquor stores near my South Beach hotel. Of course, I hoped to spy something good at a reasonable cost, though Florida’s reputation for poor selection and extortionate prices precluded me from getting my hopes up too high. While I didn’t find anything to tickle my fancy, I did notice something else noteworthy: a Pig infestation.
I’m referring here to WhistlePig, and one expression particularly that seemed to be the top of the top shelf items at most of the stores I visited, namely The Boss Hog. Currently in is ninth iteration, The Boss Hog represents the high end of WhistlePig’s range of rye whiskeys. These typically carry age statements in the teens, are bottled at barrel proof, and contain rye finished in exotic casks. Umeshu, new Spanish staves, rum, Greek fig nectar, and Tentura (yeah, me neither) have all made appearances in recent years.
The bottles come packaged in imposing boxes and topped with sculpted stoppers relating to the theme of the whiskey. As mentioned initially, though, it’s the price that really sets these apart. SRP appears to be $500, though these are not infrequently marked up by 20% or more. After all, what’s a c-note between friends, particularly when the point of the purchase is to demonstrate that “money ain’t a thang?”
I recently remarked on Twitter that there were certain whiskeys about which I was insatiably curious, all the more so for the fact that I’d never purchase a bottle. Why? I have a hard time believing that there are many whiskeys out there worth even $100, much less five times that amount, or more. Stylish in inverse proportion to their substance, these are the type of expressions designed to get money out of the hands of people who have way too much of it (not a predicament in which I currently find myself). The Boss Hog is precisely one of these whiskeys. Still, one can’t help but wonder what type of whiskey this lavish outlay gets a fella…
Fortunately for me, a kind supporter noticed my tweet and decided to indulge my inquisitive instincts by sharing a sample from this range with me (cheers, Jay!). I therefore found myself in possession of a few ounces of the fifth entrant in this drift of porcine pours. Called “The Spirit of Mauve,” its conceit is explained on WhistlePig’s official site thus:
“The Spirit of Mauve is a 13 Year Straight Rye Whiskey finished in Calvados Casks in honor of our celebrity pet pig, Mauve’s undying love of apples.”
I’d love to tell you that this is the most ridiculous inspiration for a piece of whiskey branding, but realistically it probably doesn’t crack the top ten. Setting that aside: this is bottled at a barrel strength of 118.4 proof (59.2% ABV). As noted above, this was a generous sample, but I’ll be scoring it on our price-sensitive scoring bandsas though I dropped half a G for a bottle.
WhistlePig The Boss Hog V: The Spirit of Mauve – Review
Color: Medium-dark orange-brown.
On the nose: Faint hints of aloe vera point to this being a rye whiskey, but it’s not a terribly expressive one on the nose. Some lime peel is married to a vaguely savory note, though the lines between these flavors are blurry. I detect some mild fruit influence from the Calvados cask finish, but surprisingly this smells more like pears than apples to me. I keep sniffing at this with the hope of teasing out more aromatic notes, but the whiskey refuses to yield. Hopes are not high going into the tasting portion of my evaluation.
In the mouth: Mute to start, this only begins to register as it approaches the middle of the palate. There, that aloe vera note from the nose expresses itself in more assured form, married to the herbaceous flavor of mentholated cough drops. That menthol note blooms as this moves toward the middle of the palate, where the Calvados cask is once again nodded at in the form of some orchard fruit flavors. The texture at the top of the mouth is tingly in a way suggesting effervescence. This note carries on into the finish, where it is accented by a subtle chalky minerality. After the last swallow, the heat on this slightly numbs the tongue and the roof of the mouth; there’s also a hint of ginger as a final goodbye.
If someone served this to me as just a cask-finished rye, without all the expectations generated by the outlandish packaging and enormous price tag, I’d be basically nonplussed. It’s OK, not offensive at any point, but also far from great. The cask finish works fine, but I’m not getting the sense that the underlying rye was anything particularly spectacular to start out with. I’ve had better rye whiskey at half the age, with and without any fancy finishes. Left to guess at the price of this, I’d probably guess somewhere in the $60 to $90 range; there’s nothing about it that suggests it’s worth even $100, much less multiples thereof. So, it’s maybe a 5 (appropriately), with two points deducted for the absolutely bonkers cost.
You might think that a negative evaluation of this whiskey was foreordained, and I’d argue (not very forcefully) against that assertion, but I see your point. Again, though, this is not whiskey designed for me, until I win the Mega Millions (and lose half my wits). However, it’s not terrible whiskey, just overpriced. If you are a rich imbecile who would like to procure the most ostentatious bottle of rye on the market, look no further than this big piggy.
Image courtesy of WhistlePig.
Whiskies like this are not made to be drunk. They’re made to be collected and displayed, like the Ferrari in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’.
Ken, as a Chicagoan, I am highly appreciative of this comment. In that spirit, hope a trio of young (but legal drinking age) mischief-makers finds their way into a bottle of it! Cheers.
The previous owner of Whistlepig (Raj Bhakta I think) seemed like more of a marketer than a distiller. No where in his resume did he ever have any distilling or whiskey business experience, but instead was on Trump’s gameshow ( I forget what that was called). I think his new endeavors are just as questionable…he’s taking 100 year old armagnac and finishing it in Islay casks. Why would anyone add a finishing to any 100 year old spirit is beyond me…
PB, you’re more closely acquainted with his story and several business ventures that I am, but suffice it to say I’ve never really been bowled over by a WhistlePig whiskey, especially for the price. As for why anyone would finish any spirit at all: we’re left to conclude that the source material needed improvement. As always, cheers and GO BLUE!
What I don’t get is the use of a “pet pig” or any pig for that matter in the marketing of the WhistlePig expressions. The farm is named after a Whistle Pig, which is actually a Groundhog and no relation to the porcine providers of delicious ham, bacon, and pork chops.
Excessive marketing immediately raises a red flag. I find that there’s an inverse relationship, the more over the top the marketing, the less appealing the whisk(e)y. Maybe Mauve would have liked this, although I’m told that pigs are intelligent creatures, so probably not.
Jon, a hearty LOL from me with respect to your closing comment. Cheers! TC