WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

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WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

Unread postby Mike » Thu Nov 29, 2012 9:28 pm

There are them as poo poo Canadian whiskey............ I be not amongst them. I find favor with several Canadian whiskies, just as I do some Irish whiskies and some Scotch whiskies. When I saw WhistlePig on the shelf at 'my' liquor store something in the back of me mind dislodged and I did some research on WhistlePig. If you are curious, you can do the same. What I found was enough to convince me to purchase a bottle ('tain't cheap, y'all).

So, here me sits, sipping a 10 year old 100% rye whiskey from Canada by way of Vermont. It is 100 proof. As you might expect, being a 100% rye makes for a rye that is more 'grainy' than the ryes I recently compared in another post. But the time in the barrel was well spent. This rye probably has the most subtle 'attack' of any rye in my memory......... the oak, she lay low, which makes me guess that, like most Canadian whiskies, it was aged in used barrels...... Still, for a 10 year old whiskey, it is fairly light in color. The sweetness comes from the rye grain more than from the barrel............... but the barrel has put a definite damper on the rye spiciness.

The thing I like most about the best Canadian whiskies is that they offer a certain softness and subtlety that I find appealing. This rye whiskey lies well within that tradition.

This whiskey prompts me to try it side by side with the Delaware Phoenix (Cheryl Lins, proprietor and Bourbon Enthusiast member) Rye Whiskey. I do not recall exactly how much rye is in Cheryl's Rye Whiskey, but it is a considerable amount and is a beautifully grainy rye whiskey. Even though Cheryl's Rye spent only 12 months in the barrel, it was a small chared barrel which means that the whiskey to barrel contact was much greater per volume per time. Chery's Rye is a wonderful whiskey that is very evocative of the grain fields and is almost like a potion of rye in a glass........... unique, rich, sweet with the grain from our yonderhood.

WhistlePig is Canadian through and through...... softness, delicacy, and balance. What is missing, if you count it as absent, is a thick and rich barrel cover that has its own powerful attractions (Chery's rye, young as it it, has more of these qualities). Which is to say that no whiskey ever has everything in perfect balance............ and a whiskey that did might would not satisfy at all times.

Sometimes we want this, sometimes that. It is my opinon that if you like whiskey in its many manifestations and incarnations, you would like WhistlePig rye. It is excellent whiskey........... and so is Cheryl Lins' Rye Whiskey!!
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

Unread postby EllenJ » Fri Nov 30, 2012 6:45 am

Yes, I'll admit it... I DO enjoy some Canadian whisky from time to time. Gary can attest to that. However, I have trouble identifying Whistle Pig with "Canadian Rye" whisky. For one thing, it's straight rye, which means no GNS, flavorings, or colorings. And that's not required (nor true in most cases) of Canadian whisky. In that respect, it's much closer to what I would (with some historical authority) call "East Pennsylvania" rye whiskey. And that appellation's region would include what is now New York and New Jersey. It's as different from the Maryland style as it is from the western Pennsylvania (Monongahela) style.

When the loyalists in the PA/NY/NJ area fled during and after the Revolutionary secession, some went to the Virginia wilderness of Shenandoah and Kentucky, some went to out to what would have become Westsylvania if not for the so-called Whiskey Rebellion, and some went to Ontario. That style of rye whisky carries the heritage of the latter group, and Joshua Booth, one of Canada's first legislators, was among them. An iconic brand, named for Booth's homestead at lot #40 on the Lake Ontario bay of Quinte, was marketed by Corby a couple decades ago (and has been recently revived, I understand) and I have a feeling that the juice used in Whistlepig was distilled in the same plant as Lot #40. Or at least by the same distiller somewhere.

That was also the style common among most upstate New York distillers, and that's why Whistle Pig reminds you so much of Delaware Phoenix (Chery's brand, made in Walton, NY). Thom McKenzie's rye from Finger Lakes also has that flavor. Even though Thom himself is a good ol' southern boy from Alabama, and always will be, no matter where he lives at the moment, his product is very true to the New York style of rye whiskey.
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Re: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Sat Dec 01, 2012 11:19 am

Guys, good thoughts as always, and I always like John's historical angle. (John is the first person I know to posit that Canadian rye whiskey came in with the United Empire Loyalists). I agree too that WhistlePig and the two products mentioned below said to be from the same distilling source may well resemble what early U.S. northeast rye was like. We ended up blending it, but in this trio of products, and Lot 40 also mentioned further below, you are probably tasting the "original" Canadian whisky, except that it would have been sold at 2-3 years age in the mid-1800's which again shows why blending came in (colour, flavoring, using of spirit distilled at a high proof as the base): to soften some of that young congeneric taste.

But, some data: WhistlePig is aged solely in new charred oak barrels. It has to be, because it is described as a straight rye whiskey and sold in the States. It can't be called straight rye unless it was aged in new charred wood. The reason IMO it has a more restrained character than U.S.-made straight rye is the Canadian climate. I'd assume the warehouses were not cycled, and therefore you have an overall cooler climate with less cycles into and out of the interior barrel frame than in Kentucky or Indiana (where most U.S. rye is currently made).

Also, Whistlepig is 100% rye I understand. Corn as it ages in wood lends a certain richness, but this is absent in a 100% rye product. (Although, it depends how it is made: if it was 80% rye and 20% barley malt it would likely be much richer, even if 20% rye malt was used, that is likely).

WhistlePig used 100% unmalted rye and enzyme to do the conversion based on what I've read here and there, and likely (but it isn't known for sure) was made at Alberta Distillers in Alberta, Canada which is owned by Beam Global.

There are two other ryes apparently from the same stocks but with different selection or batching: Jefferson 10 year old straight rye and Masterson's Straight Rye, also 10 years old. Of the three, I like Masterson's the best, but they are all good. They do taste somewhat Canadian still, but again I put that down to:

1) The Canadian aging climate - and even if Alberta Distillers cycles, still the overall effect cannot be the same as what the natural KY climate delivers.
2) The use of 100% unmalted rye.

Lot 40 is made by Corby whose whiskies are distilled at the same plant in Windsor, Ontario that makes all the Canadian Club products. It was reissued recently and is better than ever, not as congeneric as before. It is apparently made from malted and unmalted rye, a mix. It is rich and flavorful, richer than the three whiskeys mentioned earlier IMO but an off-set is that it is not - or not by my taste - aged 100% in new charred oak, I think it is aged in re-used wood or a mix of new charred and reused wood. It has some of the "wild" taste of the Anchor Distilling products, that is what I mean by congeneric, but is superior to any of those IMO.

I haven't tried Cheryl's rye as yet and would love to.

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Re: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

Unread postby Mike » Sat Dec 01, 2012 2:15 pm

Thanks to John and Gary for adding some background and germane thoughts on Canadian Whiskies and on WhistlePig. John's points on the origins of Canadian Rye whiskey are well taken, as are Gary's about why this whiskey, although 10 years old, is not like a 10 YO from Kentucky.

I guess my point, John, about it being a Canadian Whiskey was that this rye is quite soft and smooth to me, much like most all Canadian Whiskies with which I am familiar.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

Unread postby EllenJ » Wed Dec 05, 2012 11:54 pm

Mike wrote:I guess my point, John, about it being a Canadian Whiskey was that this rye is quite soft and smooth to me, much like most all Canadian Whiskies with which I am familiar.

Mike, that may be more a result of Dave Pickerell's selection and vatting skills than anything else. Remember that Dave comes from the Maker's Mark school of very balanced, non-agressive, sophisticated whiskey, rather than the "Holy Cow! That sure has a TON of flavor" school that describes many American bourbons and ryes. That he can accomplish that without resorting to blending (dilution) with GNS (which is the case with most Canadian whiskies) is a tribute to those skills.
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Re: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Dec 06, 2012 10:56 am

Lot No. 40 and the new Dark Horse have flavors which are more assertive than WhistlePig and Masterson's, however I like the rounded softer expressions of a straight whiskey palate and Masterson's in particular gets it right for me. I think in part anyway, the "big flavor" approach was designed for bourbon and rye that was diluted in a highball or mixed with other ingredients for a cocktail.

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Re: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

Unread postby EllenJ » Thu Dec 06, 2012 4:26 pm

gillmang wrote:... I think in part anyway, the "big flavor" approach was designed for bourbon and rye that was diluted in a highball or mixed with other ingredients for a cocktail.Gary

That's the kind of keen, history-based observation that I treasure from you, Gary. Once seen from that angle it becomes obvious that you're right on the nose. Except for throwing back "a-shot-o'-rye", most of the American-style ryes were indeed the basis for cocktails. In fact, bourbon cocktails might have been thought less "manly-manly" simply because they didn't have as strong a flavor "kick" as American rye. Bourbon was meant to be sipped, slowly, and really is a kind of "cocktail" in itself (at least the more complex and layered examples). Rye can be, too, but often isn't. I've long wondered why that's so, and your explanation makes perfect sense to me: Rye (at least the stronger-flavored styles) is designed to be an ingredient in what will be one of many kinds of cocktails produced on-site by a bartender (or at home), rather than a ready-to-pour-from-the-bottle beverage. Lighter-bodied Canadian non-blended rye whisky, as well as such straight bourbons as Basil Hayden and Maker's Mark, are intended for either lighter-flavored versions of those cocktails, or often for sipping neat, as they have that complexity and sophistication that blended whiskey can never accomplish (well, maybe some blended Scotches, but that's another story).
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Re: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

Unread postby EllenJ » Thu Dec 06, 2012 4:34 pm

By the way, that said, I should point out that my PERSONAL preference is for the strongest-flavored, fullest-bodied rye whiskey available. I'm sure that's how those who enjoy single-malt Scotch feel, too, because every single-malt Scotch was originally designed to be used in producing blended Scotch. Each of the malts from individual distilleries provides a relatively single-dimensional flavor to the refined whole. Since the mid '70s, those individual distillers have found that many people really enjoy the somewhat lopsided "balance" (if you can call it that) that makes single malts so distinctive. I feel that way about rye whiskey, and to an extent about bourbon as well, even though only a very few bourbons are the result of mixing the products of different distilleries.
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Re: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Sun Dec 09, 2012 4:14 pm

John thanks and I agree that rye and even bourbon at full proof offer great experiences neat for "old hands" such as we, but for the general market, I believe 100 proof and big barrel taste (in both drinks) was marketed mainly to ensure the drinks would stand up in a highball or cocktail.

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