This was another gift (thank you Josh)! This is an interesting whisky to cover because the name is so long and it all tells a story. Located in the far northeast of the U.S. in Vermont, Whistle Pig is a fairly new entrant (established 2015) in the field, and is a rye whisky specialist. They produce various expressions and have a good reputation. This expression is a Canadian Rye whiskey. The interesting story starts there: Canada has no specific rules about rye whiskey. How much rye you get depends on the producer’s taste. The WP team started as rye aficionados, so we can assume a healthy serving of rye in the mash bill (which they do not post).
Also you might wonder how a Vermont distillery is producing Canadian whisky? It also gets odd if you do the math. They started distilling in 2015, so how do they have a 12 (let alone 15 and 18-year old) whiskies? Their website explains that they purchased a good quantity of Canadian whisky back in 2007 when they bought their Whisky Pig farm. There you go.
This Old World expression is a bespoke blend of three cask types (hence the ‘World’ moniker), and aged a very long (for a North American whisky) 12 years in cask. The cask types are:
– 63% Madeira cask
– 20% Sauternes
– 17% port
However, what we learn from the back label is that these casks were used for ‘finishing’ —typically a few months’ duration. The 12-year maturation was in American oak barrels, so we are expecting a pretty straightforward, but well-aged, rye with some hints of these aforementioned finishing casks. Assuming the casks used for finishing are first-fill, you’d get a pretty good whack of flavor from the all three cask types. I’ve had whiskies aged in Sauternes and in port and both were quite appealing in different ways. The Sauternes lends a luscious sweet flavor, the port a drier, woodier flavor.
Note: this is a bespoke blend and hence different from the normal 12-year Old World, which is not marked as Canadian, and is finished with Madeira (63%), Sauternes (30%) and port (7%). So this ’11th Street’ version is likely a bit drier than the regular Old World, having less of the sweet stuff and more port.
At first blush, the spirit is a deep ruby red color and quite appealing. I do have doubt that all that color came exclusively from the casks…it is as dark as an Aberlour which spends all its time in sherry.
On opening, you definitely get a big whiff of aroma. I don’t write in a little room any more so the fact the opening of this bottle commands attention is a good sign. Nosing the glass reveals rich sherry, the unmistakable woody structure of port, red apple and strawberries, all of which we can attribute to the finishing. That is followed by nuttiness and fresh grass from the rye. There were some seriously good casks used for that finishing.
The palate is interesting. At the same time sweet (Sauternes) and carrying heavy port and sherry flavors from the Madeira and the port barrels. Having spent so long in new-oak casks, the palate carries a healthy tannin bitterness that balances the sweet. The whiskey is smooth on the palate, unctuous even, but as on the nose, the rye flavors are nearly overshadowed by the finish. Under all that fortified wine runs honeysuckle sweetness which fades to dry port and finally some characteristic spicy rye flavor. The finish is moderately long: port and tannins making a clean finish of the fruitier elements.
Whistle Pig ‘Old World’ Canadian Rye Whisky Bespoke Blend, 43% ABV
Nose: A very sherry-like fruitiness, port, red apple and strawberries. Followed by nuttiness and fresh grass from the rye.
Palate: Smooth. Well balanced sweet and dry from the wines casks, walnuts and fresh grass. Spicy rye.
Finish: Moderately long: port, a nice woody bitterness, subtle wafts of Madeira.
Bottom Line: At about $125 a bottle for the Old World 12-year, you’re expecting this ‘ought to be good’ whiskey. And it is good, worth the coin. But be aware that this expression is an odd duck. I was intrigued by how a 12-year-old rye would have aged, but this is what the Scots would call a ‘monster’—not a sherry monster, of course, but a triple-wine monster. With its mix of sweet and structure (sherry and Sauternes vs. port and rye) this expression makes a good dessert whisky: reflecting the sweetness of the desert, but cleaning up the palate with dispatch. Trying this makes me more interested in trying a rye of long maturation without a wine cask finish.