How does one review $300 rye whiskey? How much higher should one’s expectations be for the extreme premium and luxury of a product so far outside the realm of normal purchasing? It’s almost entirely uncharted territory for a humble American whiskey drinker such as myself. But here are the facts:
1. I’ve never spent anywhere close to $300 for a bottle of whiskey. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $50 or $60 on a 750 ml bottle of whiskey, which is one of the perks of being a bourbon and rye rather than scotch drinker.
2. Short of inheriting some kind of Uncle Pennybags-esque financial windfall, or celebrating the birth of a child, it’s a little hard for me to EVER imagine spending that kind of money on whiskey.
3. This Boss Hog from WhistlePig makes it seem like a significantly more reasonable investment.
I am a WhistlePig fan, there’s no doubt about it; and as I always feel necessary to state in any review touching on them at some point, it doesn’t matter to me that the (superior) juice is coming from Canada. I only mention it because someone is sure to write it in the comments otherwise, and I continue to look forward to tasting the product that WhistlePig is currently distilling and aging entirely on their farm in Vermont. But we’re still a few years away from that.
Over the last four years, I’ve loved their “base” 10 year, 100 proof rye whiskey, and this spring’s 15-year Estate Oak Rye was the highest score I’ve ever given at Paste. I wasn’t quite as enamored of the 12-year “Old World” series of dessert wine-finished ryes, but those were significantly different products with a fairly disparate aim. It’s straight-up rye whiskey where this brand shines, and they do so once again with this burly overproof release. It’s the third time that the brand has released their overproof “Boss Hog” iteration, and this time its surname is “The Independent.” Aged 14 years and finished in 250 liter scotch “hogsheads”—oversized from standard barrels—it’s bottled at barrel strength, which for my sample happened to be 120.6 proof. It’s conspicuous consumption rye, if such a thing exists, and you can be certain that anyone who fronts the $300 price tag for a 750 ml bottle will be holding onto the pewter pig stopper as a souvenir of having done so.
But enough of that—let’s actually drink the stuff. The nose is unsurprisingly huge, with big oak, deep, toffee-like caramelization and malt, vanilla and a plethora of spices. The sharpness of rye spice you might expect in younger, very high-percentage rye whiskey (say, the 95-5 ratio of Bulleit Rye) has not been smoothed away so much as buttressed by accompanying richness and sweetness that suggests very dark brown sugar. Going back in, I get more mintiness, and almost an earthy, peaty character that slowly reminds me that this was finished in scotch barrels, although any influence from the hogshead is quite subtle throughout. The complete effect, though, is almost slightly julep-like in its way.
On the palate, the spices in particular are huge and expansive: Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and a touch of anise. With gigantic flavors, it easily feels like something in its ABV range or beyond. Understandably, it’s fairly hot, but it’s almost a case where there’s so much else going on that you might overlook the alcohol at first. Moderately sweet but deeply rich, it develops cherry-like red fruitiness, chocolate and vanilla custard on repeat sips. I at first enjoyed this neat, but eventually acquiesced to the ABV and added a tiny splash of water. That splash helps quite a bit to make the rye more approachable and less hot, while still retaining the massive spice profile. It’s simply warm, comforting and obscenely flavorful whiskey, and I can’t imagine consuming it any way but neat or with a tiny amount of water. For the love of god, don’t be the guy who goes to a restaurant and orders this in a manhattan or an old fashioned.
Just enjoy it for what it is: A delicious, crazily decadent dram that punches both the taste buds and the pocketbook.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident craft beer and whiskey guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drink content.