There’s a certain price point at which the mere idea of reviewing a whiskey becomes sort of fanciful. A $25 bottle, sure. I can tell you what “good value” looks like and tastes like in a $15 bottle, or a $25 bottle, or a $50 bottle of bourbon or rye. There are “value markers” and no shortage of comparisons to make. There’s some ethereal kind of objectivity present—hard to grasp, but it’s there.
A $500 bottle of rye, though? That’s subjective by its very nature. What would the liquid inside have to be capable of, to be “worth” half a grand? At that point, each individual consumer’s monetary status is a bigger indicator of their perception of value than the whiskey in the bottle. Someone who makes $12 an hour at their part-time job is going to be hard-pressed to ever, under any circumstances, consider a $500 bottle of whiskey a “good value,” even if it makes their eyes roll back into their head with orgiastic delight.
So at this point, there’s only one way you can really review such a whiskey: Just talk about the liquid. So that’s what I’ll do.
WhistlePig’s “Boss Hog” releases represent the apex of the popular Vermont distillery’s program, both in prestige and price. They’re barrel-strength, overproof rye whiskeys, like everything else in the WhistlePig line, with the addition of extra age and strength. This fourth edition of Boss Hog, dubbed “The Black Prince,” is 14-year-old, 124 proof rye from MGP in Indiana, finished in French Armagnac barrels, which the distillery says makes it a first of its kind. Regardless, it echoes the distillery’s previous series of 12-year ryes that were finished in Madeira, Sauternes and port barrels.
On the nose, The Black Prince immediately shows intensity, with deeply caramelized notes of brown sugar and molasses, chased by macerated dark fruit and hints of stone fruit—apricot?—as well. This is very fruit-forward whiskey for a cask-strength release, with less wood than I was expecting, and intense booze—it would seem that the brandy barrel finish has really brought out its fruity sweetness. All in all, the proof and finish seem to smooth things out a bit and boost richness, making the nose less clearly a rye whiskey than in lower proof WhistlePig offerings such as the classic 100/100. This is almost bourbon-like.
Consumed neat, The Black Prince brings massive flavors to the palate. Huge fruitiness is the signature, dripping in caramel and baking spices. We’re talking explosively flavorful whiskey here, and pretty intense booziness—I’m getting fruits that include pear, red berries and apricot, all at once. It’s thick, slightly syrupy and mouth-coating, with an extremely long, drawn-out burn and finish that segues into lots of spice. Think mulling spices, of the sort one might use in a winter hot toddy—cinnamon, clove, anise.
The Black Prince is on the edge of being too intense to be easily enjoyable as a neat sipper, so I then added a very small amount of water to the dram. This resulted in a considerably more approachable dram that opens into green apple fruitiness while still retaining much of the same spice character. It was here that it finally felt to me like an MGP rye whiskey for the first time, as the addition of water also brought forth a lot of rye spice and light dill. I can’t necessarily choose one mode of serving over another, except to note that it’s easier to drink with a splash of water.
All in all, another very memorable whiskey from WhistlePig. Would I ever be able to justify spending $500 on a bottle of it? No, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never tasted a whiskey that I could justify purchasing at that price, so the point is moot. If you see this one at a bar and you’re feeling particularly decadent, you can at least be certain that it will make an intensely flavorful celebration dram.
City: Shoreham, VT
Proof: 124 (62% ABV)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $500 SRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor buff. You can follow him on Twitter.