In December 8, 2009, Kentucky's Vendome Copper and Brass Works, which makes much of our country's distillery equipment, introduced Dave to an entrepreneur by the name of Raj Peter Bhakta who had bought a 500 acre farm in Shoreman, Vermont that he named WhistlePig. A few weeks later, Raj and Dave shook hands on the farm and spent three days socializing that ended in a decision to do business together.
More after the jump ...
What the hay is a "whistle pig"? It's a reference to the sound a groundhog makes when he's feeling threatened. Raj tells a great story of how he was walking around Vermont when a French man with long flowing gray hair came to a screeching halt on his bike, and perplexed at what he saw, hissed with a French accent, "Is that a whistle pig?" Raj thought the whole groundhog incident so hilarious, he decided to name his farm project WhistlePig.
While most American rye whiskeys are aged six years or less, the first bottling by WhistlePig debuts on the market at a more mature 10 years old. Many whiskey companies today seem to shy away from bottling the traditional 100 proof alcohol strength that was characteristic of quality whiskeys for years, but not WhistlePig. Besides its 10 years in oak barrels and 50% alcohol by volume, this new whiskey is also distinguished by its mashbill (that's whiskey talk for recipe) of 100% rye. Anchor Steam in California has also made a 100% rye whiskey, but this is a rare whiskey recipe these days -- most American rye whiskeys are at least 51% rye but also include corn and barley.
Why is that? Rye is a more expensive grain and it's also harder to work with in a still because it has a tendency to make a foamy mess, sticking to distillery equipment. Rye distillation takes a special hand.
Like most start-up whiskey businesses, WhistlePig has bought whiskey from another source while in the process of getting distillery operations up and running. They don't admit from what Canadian distillery they bought the whiskey, but they do have big plans of their own. Their ultimate goal is to be a sustainable farm, even growing their own certified organic rye. Now that's a rare thing in the States since most distilleries source their grain elsewhere. To operate as a single estate in the whiskey business is an admirable goal.
Only 1,000 cases of WhistlePig's first bottling were released and half of those are already sold. Check New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco markets for availability with Domaine Select as distributor. I have not yet had a chance to taste it since I'm all the way down in Baja, Mexico but Dave describes the flavor as "fireworks in your mouth with a finish so long, it's got its own zip code." Knowing me all too well, Dave also says, "It's bold...it's outspoken." The price averages $70 a bottle.
Alabama-born LeNell Smothers defines herself first and foremost as a bartender, but she's been called many things -- most recently, the proprietress of Casa Cóctel with partner Demián Camacho Santa Ana. She's owned her own whiskey label, called Red Hook Rye, and has been recognized by her home state as an honorary Colonel. Other interests include gin, sin and men.