We’re a few short months away from the 2020 New Orleans Bourbon Festival (NOBF), but that hasn’t stopped founders Barbara Hirsch-Napolitano and Tracy Napolitano from visiting the country’s distilleries to pick barrels. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
I’ve had the pleasure of joining Barbara and Tracy for NOBF barrel picks before, and was actually scheduled to visit WhistlePig distillery for this one. However, my clumsy ass badly sprained my ankle just two weeks before the visit, tearing a ligament in the process. Talk about bad timing. So it was with great anticipation I awaited this release – the fruits of their labors.
WhistlePig “The Deuce” is about 12 and a half years old, bottled at 119.6 proof. It’s 100% rye distilled in Canada and aged in Vermont. I’m a big fan of WhistlePig’s standard 10-year-old bottling. It’s a big, satisfying rye whiskey. “The Deuce” takes that standard profile and cranks it up a notch or two.
The nose carries lots of butterscotch alongside hints of rye spice, vanilla, and cardamom. Sweet cane syrup hits the palate first, soon followed by waves of spiced caramel and juicy red fruit. Rye spice slowly ramps up and makes headway in the mid-to-back palate. A touch of toasted oak appears just before the long, warming finish. Vermont hugs are just as warming and welcoming as Kentucky hugs.
Not only is WhistlePig my favorite release from the brand, it’s also my favorite New Orleans Bourbon Festival barrel pick. The rye whiskey is big and bold, sweet and spicy, and has just enough flavor components in-between. It’s complex, but more importantly it’s tasty as hell. You can pick up this bottle for about $75 in high-end New Orleans-area retail shops. I think I’d better grab a second bottle. Totally worth it.
Say what you will about WhistlePig, but make no mistake: they produce some fantastic rye whiskey. While they are busy churning out new distillate in their new still at their Vermont distillery, WhistlePig continues to mature and bottle sourced Canadian whisky in interesting ways. First was their outstanding 10-year-old standard rye expression. After that was the highly-rated cask-strength 13-year-old Boss Hog. 2015 saw the release of WhistlePig Old World, a 12-year-old rye finished in three different wine casks. I thought the cask finishing was a bit overdone, but okay otherwise.
Now, WhistlePig’s oldest expression to date, a 15-year-old rye whiskey, is being released. Made from 100% rye, the whiskey is finished in barrels made from Vermont Oak trees grown on the WhistlePig farm. The company says these trees experience a short growing season, giving the trees a tight grain pattern.
This one’s bottled at 92 proof, but the nose seems a bit more intense than expected. Oak spice, vanilla and toffee dominate the nose. With a little airtime, the sweet, creamy notes tame the spicer ones. The entry is full of wonderful warm spice (cinnamon, cloves). The palate isn’t as sweet as the nose. Oak tannins and vanilla bean develop soon after the spicy entry. There is a bit of a sweet creaminess and a slight citrus note coming in at the back palate. The finish is long but a bit drying, leaving behind notes of cigar box, cedar, and dried orange peel.
All in all, this is one fine rye whiskey. At 15 years old, the big dry oak notes don’t really shine until the back palate into the finish. I expect a whiskey of this advanced age to showcase big oak notes, and this whiskey succeeds in that. Maybe the oak is a tad overpowering on the backend. Minor gripe aside, WhistlePig 15-year is full of fantastic flavors that only a well-aged rye whiskey can bring. While this one was enjoyable, I’d probably reach for a bottle of their 10-year-old rye first. The suggested retail price is $199.99 for a 750ml bottle.
Dave Pickerell and the folks at WhistlePig have been experimenting with cask finishes. For newbies, cask finishes involve a brief second maturation, usually in ex-sherry or port casks. In this case, WhistlePig finishes 12-year-old rye whiskey (distilled in Indiana) in a blend of three different casks: French sauternes, madeira, and port. More specifically, this expression is comprised of secondary maturation in 63% madeira, 36% French sauternes and 7% port casks. WhistlePig Old World is bottled at 86 proof and retails for around $70.
The nose here is mostly fruit forward: cherry, berries and plum, with a slight cherry-flavored cough syrup character. A sweet rye grain with some herbal qualities is present. Taste-wise, this whiskey can be best described as sweet, fruity and dry. The wine casks finish shows its hand early, as fruit notes burst on the entry. They don’t dominate, however, as a sweet rye grain note comprises the majority of flavor. A bit of toffee and a hint of mint round things out. The finish is candy sweet and quickly becomes dry.
Regular readers of this blog know I’m a fan of cask-finished whiskey. It’s a great way to couple flavors of whiskey together with sherry, port or other influences. However, it seems to be slightly overdone here. The ‘old world’ cask finish almost wipes away any spiciness usually associated with rye whiskey. The fruit sweetness of his expression from WhistlePig comes across as more of a whiskey to have with dessert. This is an interesting whiskey, but I prefer WhistlePig’s standard 10-year-old 100 proof rye whiskey.