When it comes to the world of whiskey, I’ve always been of the mind that if the product is delicious, I don’t really care about its point of origin. I don’t care if the liquid is sourced from one of the big “whiskey factories,” like MGP in Indiana, if the flavors are on point or it represents a good value. It’s a great way for younger “distilleries” and bottlers to get off the ground, perhaps before beginning legitimate distilling of their own.
As such, it’s never mattered to me that the juice for WhistlePig Rye Whiskey is sourced from Canada of all places, from Alberta Premium distillery, before being hand-bottled in Vermont. I’ve loved the standard 10 year, 100% rye, 100 proof version for years. With a higher rye percentage, higher ABV and bigger age statement than almost all other American ryes on the market, it’s an incredibly expressive, unique, spicy rye that has rightfully earned a sought-after place in the market despite a sobering $70 price tag.
The thing is, though, that WhistlePig could have simply stopped there, but they didn’t. Rather than continue relying on the Canadian spirit, they’ve now been working for years on transforming their Vermont farm into a single-location distilling destination. They’ve built the tools to do everything in one spot, from growing the rye to harvesting Vermont white oak for the barrels. It’s still going to be years before you see the first “start-to-finish” WhistlePig produced entirely in Vermont, but the company is giving fans a taste of what’s to come with their latest release—WhistlePig 15 Year-Old Vermont Estate Oak Rye. This is a 100% rye whiskey that has been finished for six months in Vermont-charred oak, a symbolic first step on the path toward WhistlePig’s single-location rye. And it’s spectacular stuff.
The aromatics on this rye explode out of the glass; big, assertive and complex but incredibly soft and inviting at the same time. Molasses-like sweetness and campfire woodiness is buffered by a melange of spices—cloves, black pepper and tingling, exotic allspice. There’s nary a whiff of harshness or overt booziness, which has mellowed beautifully. It smells like the larder of a trade ship bound from the East Indies with a cargo of valuable spices. I would buy a Glade plug-in for my apartment if it made promises to smell like the nose on this whiskey.
Most of those same impressions follow straight through onto the palate. This heavily aged rye packs a wallop that handily exceeds the burn one might expect from its 92 proof, which was presumably decreased a bit from the 100 proof base whiskey to retain nuance and drinkability—possibly a good idea, given that the burn already trickles all the way down one’s chest drinking the rye neat. It’s a beautifully deft balancing act between caramel and toffee richness, deeply charred, smoky oak and a plethora of spice notes. It’s whiskey that made me wish the sample bottle was significantly bigger in volume so I could try it in a variety of different ways. Which is to say, I want more of this stuff, pronto, even if the suggested retail price is $199.99.
Ultra-premium, pricey rye whiskey still isn’t as common or sought-after a commodity for sipping as expensive Scotch or bourbon, but Whistlepig’s 15 Year-Old Vermont Estate Oak Rye makes a strong case for why big, 100 percent rye whiskey has been surging in popularity. So to quote Ferris Bueller: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
Distillery: WhistlePig (sourced from Canada, aged in Vermont)
Location: Shoreham, Vermont
Availability: Limited spring release, 750 ml bottles, $199.99 suggested price.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor. You can follow him on Twitter.