We check out WhistlePig!
Loving the WhistlePig 10 Year Old squirreled away inside October’s Pour & Sip box? Us too! So Kristiane poured herself a dram and reminisced about a visit to the Vermont producer earlier this year...
What’s the opposite of culture shock? That’s the closest way to describe the cosy snugness, the warmth of the welcome, the unexpected ease that comes with arriving at the WhistlePig farm.
It’s a little over an hour’s flight from the luminous lights and hustle-bustle of the Big Apple to Burlington. It’s Vermont’s most populous city, yet ‘most populous’ doesn’t stretch all that far in this part of the world – around 42,000 people call the place home. But it’s another hour or so’s drive south, skirting the shores of Lake Champlain, distant mountains in sight, until you get to the WhistlePig Farm in Shoreham. Population there? Just 1,200.
It was February and the ground was swaddled by the most perfect pillowy snow. I arrived at night; even in the dark, the drifts gave the farm a certain luminescence. The night might have held a needling chill, but the farmhouse was aglow with the sort of cordiality usually reserved for lifelong friends. We chatted and drank (WhistlePig, obviously) into the small hours.
In the crisp light of day it becomes clear just how remote the WhistlePig distillery is. Fittingly situated just off Quiet Valley Road, all you can see for miles are rolling hills and forests. Turns out that’s exactly what you need to grow rye, raise trees for barrels, and become an authentic grain-to-glass operation.
WhistlePig was founded in 2007 with the purchase of the farm and its surrounding land. The team started sourcing 10-year-old Canadian rye whiskey, which became the heart of the distillery’s blends as its own production slowly ramped up. Under the watchful eye of the late Dave Pickerell, operations expanded to include milling, mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation. Every drop from the distillery goes into local Vermont oak. And rye remains front and centre of the WhistlePig philosophy.
Why rye? The distillery itself describes it as a ‘bratty’ grain. And indeed it is. Sticky, difficult to process, unpredictable, often lively in the glass – but get it right, and the joys are endless. Rye whiskey has a characteristic green freshness, a vibrant spice, a warming complexity. WhistlePig has this by the bucketload, and more.
Thirteen years on, and there’s an experimental, disruptive even approach coming through. I meet lead distiller Emily Harrison and Meghan Ireland, WhistlePig’s maturation chemist, who take me on a tour of the distillery, including a peek inside their lab. Across from the pot stills are hundreds of sample bottles, liquid taken from all kinds of casks. There’s a genuine pursuit of flavour, alongside the hunger to master every single stage of production. Less and less of the core releases comprise Canadian imports. As the years tick on, so does the volume of WhistlePig’s own spirit in the bottles. FarmStock expressions are especially exciting – this year’s 003 bottling is the first to contain a majority of farm-distilled spirit.
Specific innovations include cask maturation. Rye is pretty distinct, but play around with the likes of Sauternes, Madeira and Port and you’ll get a whole new flavour experience. Then you can look to the likes of The Boss Hog VII. Named Magellan’s Atlantic, it’s finished using new Spanish staves from northern Spain along with South American teakwood. It’s the first time both have been used in the production of rye whiskey. Experiments happen before the cask too, though. While I was there, Emily and Meghan had just started fermenting using koji, a type of fungus, on the rye grain. Fascinating stuff.
Back to WhistlePig 10 Year Old. It’s a personal favourite of mine. The Canadian rye is rich, mouth-filling and warming. The spice is balanced with those gorgeous fresh mint leaf notes, creamy caramel and some toasty oak. At 50% ABV it packs a punch (don’t be afraid to add a drop of water), but it’s elegant as much as it is opulent. A treat of a dram, neat or in a Maple Old Fashioned (stir 45ml, 8ml maple syrup, three dashes of maple bitters over ice and garnish with orange peel).
The big question: are there pigs at WhistlePig? After checking out the distillery, we trek up the hill behind the distillery. The snow crunches pleasingly underfoot; I sink up to my mid-calf. Beneath us the red walls of the farm buildings almost burn against the white. Then I spot him. Mortimer Jr. snuffling his way through the snow with his sheep pals. He’s a majestic Kunekune pig, black with a few sandy splodges down his back. All the creatures happily snaffle corn from the surface of the snow, clearly content in their surroundings. And wouldn’t you be in this perfect corner of Vermont?
Enjoy the whisky!