Whistlepig

Review: Whistlepig 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
50%
Aging
10 Yrs; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky is somewhat notorious for trying to disguise both the source of its origin (Canada), and the fact that they don’t actually distill any of their product (yet). If you go hunting on the label, on the back, in the corner, is a small little statement “imported from Canada”. I should note, however, that not all of Whistlepig is sourced from Alberta - some of their recent rye bottlings are sourced elsewhere in the States.

Dave Pickerell, the former master distiller at Maker’s Mark, a well known whisky consultant who has a love for rye, is at the helm of the Whistlepig operation – and this product has been a huge success. The hope of the Whistlepig farm (in Vermont) is to do a complete seed to glass process, growing their own rye, distilling it, and aging it.

This whisky is sourced from Alberta Distillers, like some other successful and excellent whiskies such as Masterson’s Rye. It is made from 100% rye, unmalted – and, as Alberta does – this likely went in the barrel just short of 80% ABV, and came out likely above 80% before dilution. This shows the quality of the stuff that goes into the blends in Canada – typically a process with a “base” whisky which provides the bulk of the body and profile, and then this is “flavoured” with a stronger, perhaps spicier, whisky such as this one. I wish, among many others, that these flavouring ryes would be released because of their incredible quality…but sadly most of them are not - though we are starting to see more of them these days.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: Oak, and rye – simple, and beautiful – strong off the nose, with some wonderful earthiness too. Caramel, orange, a bit of arugula…a very similar style to masterson’s. Lots going on – vanilla starts to emerge, with some canola oil, tabacco, caramel, mint chocolate, star anise, a touch of smoke, and butterscotch – quite a wonderful and wide array of buttery and caramel notes. A bit of fruit, but it’s not overly fruity – cherry notes are present. A few odd notes start to come out with time, which I don’t like much – reminding me of ketchup chips (quite unlike anything else I’ve nosed). But, overall, quite good.

Taste: Fairly sweet, with a sharp arugula-laced rye body (the arugula is interesting – I find it strongly here, in Masterson’s, and in the Collingwood 21 Year old – all 100% ryes). There is a nice oaky underlying spice explosion (white pepper and cinnamon)- this is very, very enjoyable, and oak takes over towards the end. There is vanilla, too, wonderfully balanced in the palate. And, with all that, there are some nice, bright, floral notes hinting of lilac.

Finish: Marmelade, caramel, black currant jam, cinnamon, and a bit of dry oak….and our arugula. It grows as you drink more, with more spice (cayenne pepper, clove) and more fruit (I find green apple comes out)…and then woody notes like cedar start to appear. Very good body, spiciness, and sweetness.

To be honest, it’s surprising to me how much it reminded me of Masterson’s – they are both independently bottled from the same recipe and age of the same distillery. Whistlepig, though, is less intense – a bit woodier, and, perhaps darker – but less spicy, sharp, and refined with a bit less complexity and development.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $70 CAD.


Review (2022)

  • Batch: A/354

  • Bottling Code: 20220317

  • Bottling Date: 2022

A few things have changed since the last time we checked this one in – while it used to be 100% unmalted barley from Alberta, it is now a blend of straight rye whiskeys. The nose is fruity, rich, and broad – capturing both the spicy, herbal, and rich rye to the big fruity characteristics that you can find in rye.  It isn’t as intense as it used to be and is a bit diluted compared to the previous version – however, it is still very nice and well-balanced. The spice/medicinal/herbal components are not as intense and I find it slightly less appealing as you don’t have the same intensity of rye at the forefront – it is somewhat diluted by corn. A nice, interesting whisky – but I like the younger, 100% rye piggyback over this version – that is an intense and fascinating whisky.

However, this might be more up the American rye-drinker style which still has corn as a significant player compared to the Canadian flavouring ryes which hold all the intensity of rye – which, if you’ve read a handful of my notes – is right in line with my favourite category of Canadian whisky.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Lower at $100.


Review: Whistlepig Piggyback 100% Rye Aged 6 Years by Jason Hambrey

ABV
48.28%
Aging
6 Yrs; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This is a whistlepig that didn’t really even touch Vermont where the farm is! It’s made in Alberta, imported, and bottled in New York. But, no matter - that is disclosed and Whistlepig knows how to select good rye. This rye is pot-distilled and is 6 years old.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

What an amazing rich, spicy nose! I love it. Citrusy, spicy – but very earthy and herbal. Lots of charred oak, too. It really is a core expression of what Alberta pot still rye tastes like – so deep and complex and herbal. It’s unlike some of the other Alberta distillates – like the Canadian club 100% rye or the cask strength version which are dominated by this bright, candied fruit character. This is all the base notes, and I love it. It’s similar in profile to the other whistlepigs from Alberta or Masterson’s. What incredible spiciness!

Onto some quick  tasting notes – the nose has orange peel, oak, vanilla, caramel, baking spices, arugula, and light smoke. The palate is rich, with a huge backbone of oak, arugula, baking spice, watercress, orange peel, and pepper. The finish is sharp, with intense pepper fading to watercress, baking spice, and sweet oak.

This is some good pot still rye… obviously, I like this – it’s my favourite style of Canadian whisky – but how does it compare to some others like Masterson’s? It’s sharper and spicier – not as complex, subtle, or refined – but it packs a bit more punch in terms of sharpness. More caramel too – but you need a bit more of that with all the spice.

Terrific for the price – the list of whiskies like this under $50 in Ontario are quite slim. I love to sip as is, but this would do a nice trick in cocktails too.

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high at $45.


Review: Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Aged Bourbon (Sauternes Finished) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46.3%
Aging
~6 yrs; Charred virgin oak, refill oak, and sauternes casks
Recipe
Bourbon (37% Rye)
Producer Hillrock Estates (Ancram, New York)

Hillrock Estates is in the Hudson Valley in New York State, and certainly "craft” – they grow their own grain, do their own floor maltings, and are doing some creative things – they are using a solera system (the only bourbon I know of to do this) which is a process coming from sherry production where barrels are never fully drained – only part of the barrel is drained and new spirit is added to mature. Thus, a solera spirit has a variety of ages in it – all the way to a minute percentage of the original batches. Glenfiddich 15 Year Old does this with Scotch, and has achieved quite a wonderful product in doing so. This whisky is also sauternes finished – at the least, all of this leads me to be very intrigued! Dave Pickerell, notable distiller of Makers Mark and establisher of Whistlepig, is now at the helm here, too. Hillrock started out with sourced bourbon, and I am not sure if this is produced or sourced – likely sourced, for now, as it smells quite mature.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

The nose has sweet notes of corn, rye, dried apricot, marshy earth, white grape, pear, and lots of spice. A rich, complex, buttery sweetness comes out too – likely from the sauternes – and it does a wonderful trick. The spices almost seem to be in the category of tequila – very interesting. I find bourbon to be a bit of a limited category because of the regulations, and consequently I find it often cannot rival the complexity of Scotch of Canadian – but whiskies like this tend to expand that category. A remarkable nose. The palate is complex, combining earthy corn, spicy rye, oak, and loads of spices - roasted jalapeno, clove, sharp cinnamon – along with milk chocolate, caramel, and a bit more pear. The finish is buttery, yet full of spices and grain notes and light woody incense. Wonderful stuff – this is a micro-distillery product that competes with some of the best of the big guys!

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, at $137.


Review: Whistlepig The Boss Hog Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Whistlepig The Boss Hog.jpg
ABV
60.3%
Aging
14 Years; Virgin Charred Oak & Refill Scotch Casks
Recipe
100% Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

Whistlpig has released three "Boss Hogs" - a collection of their best rye whiskies, released at cask strength. The first edition was released in 2013, a 12 year old, with a 13 year old to follow in 2014. This, now, is the third edition, a 14 year old which was finished in a 250 litre ex-scotch hogshead (holding Sherry before the Scotch). 30 barrels have been released, all at the barrel strength. If you want to discover the bracing power of 100% rye at cask strength, this is one of the only places you can find it (the only, in fact, to my knowledge not produced by a micro-distiller).


Review (2016)

  • Batch: "The Independent", Barrel 10

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

The nose is rich and dark at first, with lovely caramel, rich oak, and some brilliant oiliness. Sturdy oak here, too…lovely spices – dill, licorice root, clove, cinnamon, watercress, pepper, fenugreek seed – and our typical arugula. The palate is measured, full of rye, with oak in the background. Very vegetal – we have our arugula and fenugreek again, but with oaky vanilla transporting all of the flavors into a dry and spice-laden finish which even has a bit of jalapeno. Brilliant complexity!

Absolutely terrific at cask strength. Lots of cinnamon on the nose, our caramel continues, rich grain, dry caramel, grassy spiciness…the palate is full of rye, toasted spices, and loaded with arugula and watercress. A very peppery finish. At first I thought this was over-oaked with some of the bitterness, but actually it is just about right with the tannins providing brilliant structure for the spices and caramel. The oak has tempered the spirit nicely – this isn’t as hot as I would have expected given the proof. Terrific stuff.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very Low. $400 is not cheap.


Review: Whistlepig 15 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Whistlepig 15.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
15 Yrs; New Charred Oak & Bourbon Barrels & New Charred Vermont Oak
Recipe
100% Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

Whistlepig is getting closer and closer to having their own grain to glass rye whiskey on the market, but, in the meantime, they've released a number of ryes from Alberta and MGP (in Indiana) stock. Generally, it's easy to tell which is which because the alberta is 100% rye (such as the 10 year old) and MGP is 95% rye (such as the Old World Series).

The 15 year old is Whistlepig's oldest product to date, being triple matured - first in a charred new oak cask, then in a refill bourbon barrel, and finally in a heavily charred Vermont oak barrel. Whistlepig's quest is for the "perfect rye" and experimentation with aging abounds - but this also adds to the list of whisky which has been matured in 2 different new charred oak barrels, showing the emphasis on oak coming from the US these days.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Woody and sweet on the nose, with lots of vanilla-laden oak and apple. Some peppery vegetal notes like arugula and watercress are at the fore – lots in fact – with lots of caramel, wood, and marmelade. Some nice medicinal notes too, and lots of spices - even some fenugreek. At the core, though, there are three main elements which strive with one another on this nose: wood, rye, and sweet caramel or wood sugar. The palate is quite sweet, with very sharp rye both in terms of spice and in terms of vegetal notes – but it is lightly bitter with all that oak. Creamy wood notes come in mid-palate to smooth out the sharpness of the rye. It finishes nicely with strong oak, dark cacao, arugula, spinach, and dill pickle. Quite sweet, once again, with all of that oak.

This follows the recent trend of very highly oaked whiskies. If you like lots and lots of oak, here is your whisky, otherwise I think a lot of the complex distillate is masked with the all-consuming oak. Though rye is big enough to stand up to quite a bit of oak, this is slightly over the edge and brings in too much bitterness and sharpness for good balance. Still, though, very enjoyable.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. Pretty steep stuff (~250$ CAD).