Like many craft distilleries, WhistlePig has been selling other people’s whiskey while it gets its own operation up to snuff. In fact, WhistlePig isn’t just making its own spirit, it’s growing its own grain and even making its own barrels from trees grown on its own land. Even the water is from WhistlePig’s own well.
The company’s first rye harvest took place last year, and WhistlePig used that grain to distill whiskey that has been aging since then. About 100 barrels spent a year aging before WhistlePig took those casks and blended them with older stock to produce Farmstock Crop 001, a one-time-only release designed to showcase a little bit of the Vermont terroir.
The blend looks like this:
20% 1 year old rye (from WhistlePig’s Vermont operation)
49% 5 year old rye from Canada
31% 12 year old rye from Indiana
And here’s what it tastes like.
To start with, the color of the whisky is quite light — a pale gold that is a clear indicator of how much young whiskey is in the mix here. There’s youth on the nose as well — an overlay that filters notes of butterscotch and simple vanilla through a moderate but evident breakfast cereal character. On the palate, the whiskey is softer than the nose would indicate, though barrel notes pick up the slack of astringency and ensure a quite youthful-leaning experience. The body offers some barrel char, some bacon, some baking spices… plus hints on the back end of raisin, menthol, and heavier clove elements.
All of this mingles on a palate that shows off plenty of promise, but which still squarely lands in the “work in progress” category. Ultimately I’m intrigued by what I’m tasting so far, but given the composition of the whiskey it’s difficult to see exactly where this might end up. For now, it remains a curiosity that will largely be of interest to WhistlePig completionists.
B- / $90 / whistlepigwhiskey.com
R. J. Cooper and Son is the company behind St. Germain, Creme Yvette, and Lock Stock & Barrel whiskey, a 16 year old whiskey sourced from Alberta Distillery and crafted from a mashbill of 100% rye that is pot-distilled. This is actually the second release of Lock Stock & Barrel, following a 13 year old release of the same mash that is no longer in production but which is still reasonably available.
While we haven’t ever covered the 13 year old, we received the new 16 year old for review. Thoughts follow.
On the nose, the rye is fragrant and rich, detectable from across the room with its telltale notes of baking spice, citrus peel, butterscotch, and well-mellowed barrel char. Some light menthol (perhaps lightly medicinal) notes emerge given a half hour or so in the glass. Immediately sweeter than many ryes, particularly 100% ryes, the palate keeps its focus on the cinnamon and allspice notes, offering a relatively traditional backbone that showcases some typical notes of burnt brown sugar, toasted marshmallow, and an oak-heavy finish. Add water and the citrus comes out a little more clearly on the palate, along with some muted tropical notes.
All told, there’s nothing particularly surprising here — the fruit notes are perhaps the most unusual aspect of this whiskey, and that’s hardly a rarity — though that may not be such a bad thing. Surely there’s a place in the world for a well-aged 100% rye that doesn’t break the mold, that goes down easy and that tastes, basically, just like it should.
B+ / $140 / lockstockandbarrelspirits.com
Templeton continues to build a name for itself with its 95% rye expression, sourced from Indiana’s MGP and bottled in Iowa, and to celebrate 10 years in business the company is introducing a limited edition 10 year old “special reserve” rye. 34 barrels were turned out to fill 6,080 bottles, each hand-numbered and boxed. (A full 10 years on, Templeton has finally announced it will build its own distillery, at a cost of $26 million, in the city of Templeton, Iowa.)
The whiskey has a few things in common with Templeton’s last special edition, 2016’s Templeton Rye 6 Years Old, although its much more savory, its sugariness dialed back. With this 10 year old, that means a nose heavy with burnt grains, fresh rubber, and some oxidized fruit character, like a vinegary compote. There’s an aroma that’s hard to place but ultimately it falls somewhere in the gingerbread/fruitcake realm… if it were cut with a hint of petrol.
The palate continues the intensely savory character, which takes on some of those traditionally spicy rye notes, mingled with a quite heavy granary character. One would expect that after 10 years in barrel, a whiskey like this would have lost some of that crispy-crunchy rye grain character, but Templeton 10 is really hanging on to it. The finish shows off more brown sugar and molasses than the palate proper would indicate, but it’s the lingering notes of barrel char and burnt matches that stick with you for the long haul — and which make the whiskey feel like a much hotter concoction than it is.
B / $150 / templetonrye.com
WhiskyFest remains one of the best ways to meet other spirits enthusiasts, hear from some of the industry’s biggest names, and of course try a wide variety of whisk(e)y, including many hard-to-find and expensive offerings. The VIP ticket, which provides an additional hour of sampling, is particularly useful for discovering the true rarities, as most exhibitors showcase a special bottle (sometimes literally just one) only for that hour. Although celebrating its 20th year in 2017, this was only the second time the event has been held in my backyard of Washington, DC. As with years past, I discovered some real gems, sampled heavily, and stopped being able to really taste anything after about 8 o’clock. Notes on everything before that are below.
Tasting Report: WhiskyFest Washington DC 2017
AnCnoc Highland Single Malt Vintage 2001 / B / a golden, creamy whiskey with some pleasant stone fruit notes
Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 3 / A / a real standout this year; sugar cookie nose with layers of dried fruit and baking spice notes; honeyed with a long finish
Deanston 20 Years Old / A- / the Oloroso finish shines at cask strength along with hints of gingerbread and a syrupy sweetness
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition / A / incredibly balanced and sultry; sweet smoke nose and a palate full of iodine and sugary oak
Compass Box Spice Tree Extravaganza / B / sweet and floral with coconut on the palate; a bit thin
Compass Box This is Not a Luxury Whisky / B+ / bolder than expected and almost too sweet, but wonderfully smoky with faint dark fruit notes on the finish
Ardbeg Kelpie Committee Release / A / matured in virgin oak from the Black Sea region; the palate is chocked full of sweet, oriental spices in addition to the honeyed brine and peat smoke of traditional Ardbeg
Ardbeg Kildalton / A- / a mix of sherry and bourbon casks; soft on the nose and gentle on the palate with a good balance of vanilla sweetness and raisin notes
Craigellachie 23 Years Old / B+ / the oldest Craigellachie in the range described as “meaty,” but I was getting more fruit and herbal notes on the palate
Alexander Murray & Co. The Glenrothes 22 Years Old / B- / honey sweet with minimal complexity; some anise and spice on the finish
Balblair 1983 / A / tons of caramel on the nose with a rich bourbon-inspired palate, cinnamon biscuit and semi-sweet chocolate developing into a slightly smoky, brown sugar finish
William Larue Weller / A- / cinnamon sugar nose with a syrupy palate that leaves a fantastic menthol and cinnamon RedHot flavor in the roof of the mouth
George T. Stagg / A- / hot brown sugar under loads of alcohol (72%!) but developing into chocolate and pipe tobacco
Blood Oath Pact No. 3 / A / rich caramel and dark fruit nose with a vanilla custard and berry palate, slightly drying on a long finish
Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey / B+ / sweet with subtle rye spice on the nose, dark fruit and a little dill on the palate; good balance of the sherry and rye
Yellowstone Limited Edition 101 Proof / A- / great oak nose and subtle red fruit notes layered with toffee and rye spice
Elijah Craig 23 Year / B+ / caramel and oak nose with a palate dominated by cinnamon and drying tannins
Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition / B / more fruit on the palate than the standard small batch but lacking the complexity and body of previous editions
Hillrock Sauternes Finished Rye / B- / black tea and caramel nose but the palate seems unbalanced; clove and rye spice overpower the dark fruit in the wine cask
Hillrock Sauternes Finished Bourbon / B+ / floral nose with vanilla; baking spice notes integrate well with the wine cask, leaving a lingering raisin quality on the finish
Sagamore Spirit Cask Strength / A- / a great craft, cask strength rye; rich honey and vanilla on the nose with a creamy texture showcasing more of the same on the palate along with a warming rye spice
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades / B+ / a complex nose, chewy body, but the palate falls flat with too much menthol and candy corn
FEW Spirits Bourbon (Delilah’s 23rd Anniversary Bottling) / B / a touch of grain and shoe polish on the nose, tart cherry notes on the palate fading to cinnamon; interesting but not exactly an easy sipper
The Quiet Man Traditional / B+ / light on the nose with a buttery palate showcasing simple but enjoyable vanilla and faint citrus notes
The Quiet Man Single Malt 8 Years Old / A- / toasted cereal nose with honeysuckle; a luscious palate that is also soft and light with vanilla, fresh ground cinnamon, and nutmeg
Michter’s first release of 2017 is here, and it’s got a special significance because it is new Master Distiller Pamela Heilmann’s first bottling, a 10 year old expression of Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye. As Michter’s notes, she is “the first woman since Prohibition to serve as Master Distiller at a Kentucky Distillers’ Association distillery.”
Now Michter’s did not actually distill this rye (Michter’s is a longtime sourced whiskey producer, though it opened a distillery of its own in 2015). That said, the label is clear that this was distilled in Kentucky (so, it’s not from Indiana-based MGP). Any other details about the source, mashbill, or much else remains a question mark.
As for this release, it’s another solid whiskey from Michter’s, though it’s quite unusual from the start.
The nose features toffee and butterscotch, but it’s filtered through notes of canned peaches, mint chocolate, and lemon Pledge — exotic but interesting, and definitely unique. The palate is equally interesting, with light (but not unpleasant) medicinal notes, green banana, apricot, sesame oil, and more oily furniture polish notes. These continue well into the lightly medicinal finish, which builds on that oily lemon character add adds some heavier notes of eucalyptus plus hints of spicy and nutty fruitcake.
All told, it’s a bit of a departure from what we’ve come to expect from rye, but one that rye fans should definitely have in the arsenal.
B+ / $150 / michters.com
The latest batch of High West’s Bourye blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys comes with a new label to boot. Now the jackalope is much larger and in full focus, better to connote the “limited sighting” that Bourye always represents.
High West normally tells you more about the individual whiskeys in each bottling, but this year it plays things a little closer to the vest (namely the ages of each individual whiskey in the blend). Here’s what we know about the 2017 release:
• A blend of straight Bourbon and Rye whiskeys aged from 10 to 14 years
• Straight Rye Whiskey: 95% rye, 5% barley malt from MGP & 53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley malt from Barton Distillery
• Straight Bourbon Whiskey: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt from MGP
And here’s what it tastes like.
This is a sweeter expression of Bourye (particular vs. last year’s release), which makes it dangerously easy to sip on. The nose is heavily aromatic with gingerbread, baking spices, marzipan, and candied nuts, giving it a real Christmas cake character that makes one wish it had come out two months ago. No matter, we can drink it today just as well.
On the palate, notes of apricot and orange give way to brown sugar, chocolate, molasses, and more of that spicy gingerbread character. Out of all of that, it’s lingering cloves on the finish and some smoldering burnt sugar notes, giving it just a hint of savoriness. All in all, say what you want about sourced whiskey — this just goes to show that High West knows how to find true honey barrels and blend them together with sustained and impressive skill.
92 proof. Reviewed: Batch 17A17.
A / $80 / highwest.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
We looked at a few of the products of budding craft distiller Sonoma County Distilling Co. in 2015, and now we’re back with some fresh coverage, including a look at the second batch of SCDC’s Cherrywood Rye and a first encounter with a limited-edition rye flavored with… wait for it… truffles.
Thoughts on both whiskeys follow.
Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey (2016) – Our second look at this whiskey. Distilled from unmalted Canadian rye, unmalted Canadian wheat, and cherrywood-smoked malted barley from Wyoming. Double distilled in alembic pot stills and aged for one year in new, charred American oak. Designed to mimic the flavors of a Manhattan cocktail exclusively from the impact of the grain. My tasting notes are considerably different than last year’s edition. Heavily wood-forward on the nose, it’s got tons of youth, but also an ample focus on fresh grain, but also perfumed at times with floral notes. Cherry is hinted at aromatically, but it really hits its stride on the palate, where a burst of fruit hits the tongue before the wood component again muscles its way back to the fore. This wood character hangs around for some time, along with some light mushroom and forest floor notes that mingle with modest vanilla and caramel at times. As for the “Manhattan in a whiskey” mission? Well, it’s not quite accomplished… at least, not after just one year in barrel. Give it a few more years and let’s talk again. 95.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B- / $55
Sonoma County Distilling Co. Black Truffle Rye – This is something else, Somona County’s 100% rye infused with French black perigord truffles. The nose doesn’t give a lot of truffly hints, coming across with a raciness that borders on astringency. Give it some air and you catch notes of evergreen and cedar cigar box — not quite the mushroomy truffle, but headed in that direction. On the palate, a massively different experience awaits, offering a surprisingly gentle woodiness that is tempered by brown sugar, and nutmeg-heavy baking spice. As it develops on the tongue, the whiskey seems to change, evolving on the fly to reveal layers and layers of flavor — cut flowers, rhubarb, dried raspberry, and an insidious earthiness that, in the end, must be where the truffle finds its footing. This is a whiskey that’s almost impossible to digest and dissect in just one sitting. Give it time in glass, and ample time on your shelf, as you explore its many mysteries. 100 proof. A- / $75 (375ml)