WhistlePig is famous for its rye whiskeys, so the launch of a single malt comes as a big surprise. Even bigger than that, however, is its age: 21 long years in barrel.
Formally known as The Béhôlden, this whiskey comes with plenty of punny, anti-Scotch goofiness that comes across as a bit of smoke and mirror work. “So rare and so fanciful it makes unicorns seem quaint by comparison.” “We’re talking about something far more serious than fairy tale – the new world’s first super-aged Single Malt.” “Here to outdare tradition, change course on the chieftain o’ the puddin-race, and liberate American palates from the haggis quo.”
Well the less said about all that the better, I think. Better to focus on what’s in the glass: A whiskey made from 100% malted barley at the first Single Malt distillery in North America (which is Glenora, in Canada), aged for 21 years and then finished in WhistlePig Rye barrels. 18 barrels in this first production run were produced, and all bottles are presented as single barrel offerings, numbered and encased in an ultra-luxe wooden box.
It is, hrmmm, nothing that Scottish single malt producers have anything to be afraid of. The nose seems engaging enough: Laden with maple syrup notes and cherry juice, then a punch from the barrel — fresh lumberyard, and a clearly grassy, rye spice-driven quality that folds some peppery underbrush notes into the experience. That overt sweetness translates directly to the palate, quickly gumming things up with more maple syrup and an almost saccharine quality that is reminiscent of iced tea with way too much Sweet’N Low in it.
The more time it spends in glass, the more it reminds me of a spiced rum — cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg all building steam. There’s a brown butter quality here that only adds to the dessert-like quality of the whiskey, then more sugar, here showing as brown sugar mixed with that unavoidable maple. Airtime helps to temper the rougher, peppery, woody qualities of the whiskey, for better and for worse. On one hand, the spice of the rye finish feels wildly out of place with a delicate single malt, and time in glass indeed helps that blow off first. On the other hand, the underlying malt turns out to be so sweet that, as soon as the rye is gone, you begin to miss it dearly. Maybe there’s a tipping point somewhere in the middle, but I never found it.
Should you drink this before dessert, with it, or after? For $800, I don’t think you should have to make so many damn decisions.
92 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #6.
B / $800 / whistlepigwhiskey.com