“A truth that’s told with bad intents beats all the lies you can invent” – William Blake
Stylized as The Béhôlden, WhistlePig’s latest limited edition expression is a 21 year-old North American Single Malt Whiskey. If you’ve got your eye on the ball you might note that while American Single Malt is a category on the cusp of gaining legal recognition, North American Single Malt is a seldom used alternative that is deployed here for good reason: it comes from Canada.
I have nothing against our friends up north (I quite liked Jon Snow’s heroic defense of the Wall!) but, in telling the truth in this way, one might wonder if WhistlePig’s truest intent isn’t to obfuscate. I’ve previously noted that some of their marketing material can lead to intense eye-rolling and Malt’s own Taylor has also taken them to task in the past, though this appears to be their most direct attempt at misdirection.
Let’s take a step back and allow me to say outright I’ve never been smitten by WhistlePig’s products. Despite being pleasantly surprised by their most recent iteration in the Boss Hog lineup, more often than not I find WhistlePig’s offerings to be uninspiring. Yes, they experiment, and I love that for them! Offering something unique in the current state of whiskey is par for the course, but they’ve actually innovated from time to time and – despite not moving the needle for me personally – it’s easy to see why their 10 year old flagship offering is congenially received. I do believe they produce good whiskey; however it’s not typically a fit for my palate.
I offer the transparency above because though I do my best not to sling mud, my issue with this ‘Pig lies with, well… not lies per se… but their roundabout relationship with the truth and unnecessarily fluff-filled marketing material. To that point I present the following, a small snippet from The Béhôlden’s press release:
“…the new world’s first super-aged Single Malt. WhistlePig 21 Single Malt Whiskey: The Béhôlden is here to outdare tradition, change course on the chieftain o’ the puddin-race, and liberate American palates from the haggis quo.”
Does the liquid in the glass suffer from the words written about it by the brand? No, of course not, but considered on the whole I would certainly give pause any time a brand attempts to use sleight-of-hand to present something as something it is not. For one, Glen Breton which is ostensibly produced by the same distillery responsible for The Béhôlden’s base whiskey has already released a 21 year old North American Single Malt, along with three others that carry an even higher age statement.
Furthermore, WhistlePig never comes right out and says this is a Canadian whiskey in the press release, instead offering what I assume are meant to be clever turns of phrase like “born…at the first Single Malt distillery in North America” and “redeemed in the new world” while tossing in references to “the land of opportunity” before indicating this whiskey is, “available at the finest establishments across America.”
Ultimately what matters are two things, the first being: is the whiskey any good? Secondly: is the whiskey worth the price of admission, a whopping $800? Given the latter, one might venture to answer in the affirmative concerning the former but there’s only one way to know for sure, so I will be trying The Béhôlden today and offering my opinion on both matters to you, dear reader. Let’s do our best to look past the fanciful language and dubious claims, and proceed to the specifics of this release.
To restate what I hope I made clear at the outset, we are today considering a 21 year-old North American Single Malt Whiskey. It carries that designation because it was produced at a single distillery (undisclosed, though we can infer it to be Glenora in Nova Scotia) from a single malted grain (100% malted barley) in North America (Canada). The Béhôlden was aged in American oak ex-bourbon barrels before being finished in Shoreham, Vermont for four weeks in used rye barrels that previously held WhistlePig’s 10-year whiskey. It does indeed carry an impressive age statement, one that is nearly double most others in the category, before being bottled at a demure 92 proof (46% ABV) and sold at an MSRP of $799.
The last bit I’d like to add is that this bottle was provided to me at no cost by the brand. I hope all of the above serves as an indication, but it’s worth specifying that while I paid $0 for this “whiskey so rare and so fanciful it makes unicorns seem quaint by comparison” that will not affect my score and I will be judging it as though I paid the suggested retail price.
WhistlePig Single Malt Whiskey The Béhôlden Aged 21 Years – Review
Color: Pale straw
On the nose: A tad bit smoky, though not in a peat-driven way, with additional notes of spruce, Werther’s butterscotch candy, and maple malt balls. There is a rewarding richness to the nose that prominently showcases each aroma and, though it’s not a particularly complex, it is rather enjoyable. There is also some tart cherry piquancy that punches through along with a fair bit of rising rye spice the longer this sits in the glass, which fleshes out the initially overtly sweet scents.
In the mouth: This whiskey begins notably lean at the tip of the tongue, though it plumps up at midpalate. Initially greeting the lips with plenty of maple candy along with a good deal of black pepper and nutmeg, it then transitions to a fair bit of toasted malt that hangs around through the lengthy finish, picking up cocoa powder, processed honey, and the faint indication of an apple pie’s liquid along the way. Upon chewing it’s noticeably slick and coats the palate in impressive fashion. With respect to the substantial texture and lingering finish, I’d say this is well proofed as the oak is featured but never detracts from the balance of flavors or the overall sipping experience.
The Béhôlden is rife with flavors you expect but also adds a bit of intrigue thanks to its impressive buttery texture and proof-defyingly lengthy finish. That said, the Malt scale is perhaps brutally unfit for the experience that WhistlePig is cultivating with such a high-priced, super-aged, and ostentatiously packaged product.
Is this a relatively unique and marginally exceptional experience? To be certain it is; I quite liked this whiskey. Is it also a whiskey I’m anxious to procure at the personal cost of $800? To be certain it is not, and therein lies the draw and also the drawback of WhistlePig’s high end expressions. This bottle will appeal to those who are seeking exactly what it is offering: relatively exclusive, well-produced whiskey, with the presentation to match.
All things considered, WhistlePig’s over-the-top asking price and dubious framing of this whiskey left a bad taste in my mouth, despite the protestations of my taste buds. When balancing the quality versus cost of The Béhôlden, it is difficult – if not impossible – to swallow. Based on flavor alone, I’d be comfortable scoring this higher, but after a three-point deduction due to the cost and misleading marketing (my highest ever such deduction) I’d encourage you to hold on to your wallet.
A local cigar lounge (Executive Cigar Lounge) has this bottle. I saw the bottle sitting on the shelf, and figured I would wait until Frank has something to say about it. Great review!
Thank you for that kind comment! While this is good whiskey, expectations should be kept in check. It’s not worth the asking price but it may indeed be worth a try depending on the cost at Executive Cigar Lounge. I hope I helped!
I wonder if Frank felt compelled to review(not favorably clearly, but at all) this whiskey having received a bottle au gratuitement. Given the current price locally, I could purchase roughly 14 bottles of Knob Creek SiB Rye (heretofore awarded 7 of 10… points? on this astute webzine) for the MSRP of this whiskey. The review was nicely formulated but a succinct “hard pass” would have sufficed.
Thanks for the comment Stretch! I felt compelled to write about this because in my opinion the story is much deeper than “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” and for anyone inclined to learn more about this expensive bottle I wanted to provide additional context. I hope you enjoyed it.
I definitely enjoyed the review. Whistle Pig is pretty divisive and their marketing style is well-known and, IMO, suspect. Yet they’ve managed to put out decent whiskey, albeit at premium prices. While I’m sure this whiskey is good I don’t think it would crack a list of top 100 (maybe 300) whiskeys at that price point. The question is, how does this review contribute to the (admittedly murky) feeling that whiskey producers are preying on our desire for novelty anf FOMO?