The sixth version of WhistlePig’s Boss Hog bottling is here, and it’s the company’s most audacious — and likely polarizing — whiskey to date.
The Samurai Scientist, officially denoted not as The Boss Hog 6 but rather The Boss Hog [Japanese symbol for 6 which doesn’t show up correctly here], is wholly unlike anything else in the WhistlePig stable. The trick? The whiskey was distilled in Canada using koji fermentation techniques (which is used to make sake, among other products) and, after spending 16 years in oak, it is finished in barrels seasoned with umeshu, Japanese plum wine.
Umeshu seasoning is becoming a thing of late, most notably seen in the release of St. George’s Baller single malt. But what will it do with rye whiskey as the base? And in the first Boss Hog without Dave Pickerell running the show?
Before we taste, and answer those questions, let’s dig into some details from the distillery.
The Samurai Scientist is named for a legendary Japanese chemist, Jokichi Takamine, the pioneer who introduced koji fermentation to the American whiskey industry in the 19th century. The limited-edition whiskey is the embodiment of a genuine collaboration between WhistlePig’s team and Japanese brewers from Kitaya, an award-winning sake, shochu and umeshu producer located near Yame City in Fukuoka Prefecture on Japan?s Kyushu Island. The umeshu used is Saikoo, a uniquely traditional, aged umeshu made by Kitaya. The whiskey was distilled in Canada using koji fermentation and aged for sixteen years before being finished in umeshu seasoned barrels and bottled by hand on the WhistlePig Farm in Shoreham, VT.
“It was an honor to work alongside the team at Kitaya to bring this collaboration to life in the form of the first American whiskey finished in Japanese umeshu barrels. With the introduction of The Samurai Scientist, WhistlePig continues to pave the way for innovation across the rye category,” says Jeff Kozak, CEO, WhistlePig. “Dave Pickerell committed to five promises for The Boss Hog, including being distinctly unique from anything we’ve done before. He had a thirst for exploring and trialing techniques from around the world, and Takamine was like-minded in propelling whiskey innovation across continents. This vision continues to drive us to explore beyond the limits of American Whiskey.”
“We finished one of our oldest whiskeys in barrels that held Kitaya’s eleven-year-old umeshu. With umeshu being an intensely aromatic spirit, it does not take long to impart deeply complex flavors. Each barrel of The Samurai Scientist is bottled at proof. Only 90 barrels exist and each bottle notes the barrel number and proof, ranging between 120 – 122,” says Pete Lynch, Master Blender, WhistlePig.
The Samurai Scientist is crowned by a hand-made Danforth pewter stopper representing Takamine’s family heritage and ground-breaking contributions in the field of chemistry. It is presented in a gift box elaborating his story.
Well, like Baller, it’s weird weird weird stuff. The nose is exotic and unique, the influence of the umeshu pouring over the rim of the glass right away. Notes of bacon fat, pepper, burnt toast, and wet leather dominate, to the exclusion of anything sweet. The palate is aggressively savory — beefy, with a heavy, heavy wood influence up front. Notes of stewed prunes, more bacon, fennel, and star anise are evident, though there’s the lightest hint of butterscotch candy in the mix, too. The finish never wanders very far away, with an enduringly smoky, meaty, and woody character running roughshod over everything else. Drying and heavy, it sticks to every corner of the mouth and refuses to let go.
For better or worse, this is an experience unlike anything we’ve seen from WhistlePig to date. There’s no doubt that this will wander too far afield for most palates, however — and at 500 bucks a bottle, it’s not something I can overwhelmingly recommend experimenting with. For those of you with palates that run wholesale toward savory flavors and who also have money to burn, well, snap it up.