Ever since they converted an old Vermont dairy farm into a craft whiskey operation in 2007, WhistlePig has made quite a name for itself with their consistently highly acclaimed rye whiskeys. They ante up on their limited edition special releases year on year, which includes ultra-premium expressions such as the 17 year Boss Hog VIII and 18 year old rye (with ultra-premium prices to boot.)
So how would such a luxury-end rye producer enter into the booming non-alcoholic spirits market? By going the extra mile by actually making the whiskey — distillation, aging, and all — and then removing the alcohol. (The Devil’s Slide starts with PiggyBack 6 year old 100% rye.) It’s a bold approach, but quite on brand for the producer.
The “whiskey” itself is opaque, with the color and muddiness of apple cider. It looks like a liquified Werthers. The nose is peculiarly “thick” with muted pastry elements, such as a yeasty parker house roll that started with apple flour. The palate is a very tempered version of mulled apple cider, including a sort of spiciness and heat delivered in the distinctive manner of a cinnamon stick lingering in your drink. It is thin in flavor but dense on the tongue, with a viscosity more akin to honeyed water. In fact, when drunk neat, this tastes like a soft chai tea at room temperature.
I was turned off by my first pour due to a neat pour falling quite short of the unavoidable expectations and hopes of it tasting like, well, whiskey. It doesn’t. But once that perhaps unfair bar is set to the side, I started to enjoy its character on its own merits. I’m not sure its best showing is neat, based on the profile shared above (unless muted chai tea is your jam). I then treated myself to a mocktail old fashioned on the rocks and found it quite refreshing, with a kick that was sufficiently convincing.
The tricky proposition with non-alcoholic spirits is whether the drink is meant to be a one-to-one alternative to its alcoholic counterpart; and so far no one, including WhistlePig, is coming as close as non-alcoholic beers have been to the alcoholic version. In the recent boom of spirit-alternative offerings, the more successful formula seems to be to offer a different drink experience altogether. Many rely on an infusion of botanicals, particularly to try to mimic the heat, bitterness, and oakiness of whiskey, with regular complaints that some varietals can upset the stomach. Devil’s Slide is a safer bet, since it really is made from distilled grains.
Devil’s Slide is an interesting enough spirits alternative, and it will find both fans and detractors since everyone’s reason for being sober-curious differs, as do their preferences. This release may be a little lacking, but I think they are really on to something. I anxiously await what they will think of next.
B- / $50 / whistlepigwhiskey.com