Straight Rye Whiskey
THE LEGEND OF DAVE PICKERELL
Few modern-day master distillers have had as broad an impact on the American whiskey world as Dave Pickerell, the gregarious and brilliant chemical engineer from Ohio. He made an impact while consulting for over 100 distilleries but is best known for his 14-year stint as vice president and master distiller of Maker’s Mark. He oversaw the distilling during the company’s most aggressive growth period, going from 175,000 cases in annual sales to nearly a million. For me personally, his time at Maker’s coincides with the years I fell in love with bourbon, and specifically Maker’s, so it’s fitting that the rye whiskey developed by Pickerell is the first rye that opened my eyes to just how good it could be.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS TIME TRAVEL
WhistlePig Whiskey was founded in 2007 in Shoreham, Vermont and sold its first bottle of their renowned straight rye whiskey in 2010. Pickerell sourced top quality aged, 100% rye whiskey from Canada that he felt was being misused in the Great White North and brought it down to Vermont. The whiskey aged an additional two years under Pickerell’s watchful eye and the rest is history. WhistlePig 10 Year Old Straight Rye was an instant commercial success, but that didn’t come without its fair share of criticism. The American whiskey business was in the midst of a deceptive marketing witch-hunt in the wake of high profile lawsuits and numerous stories in the media about the industry’s lack of transparency.
IT’S WHAT’S IN THE BOTTLE THAT COUNTS
Most consumers don’t concern themselves with where the juice is sourced as long as they enjoy the taste, and in that category WhistlePig’s whiskey is world-class. WhistlePig Boss Hog won Best in Class Whiskey at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, giving the young company and its legendary master distiller big-time bragging rights. The Boss Hog is a limited edition, which makes it difficult to attain. But newcomers to the rye space should definitely whet their whistle on the 10-year-old WhistlePig Small Batch Rye.
Sadly Dave Pickerell died on November 1st, 2018 of hypertensive heart failure.
This rye is an ideal crossover for bourbon lovers. The finishing years in charred new oak give the WhistlePig the bourbon-like characteristics of vanilla and caramel while the 100% rye produces a much drier and spicier delivery than just about any bourbon. To get a good sense of the spice difference between bourbon and rye, think of the difference between cornbread and rye bread. Bourbon is at least 51% corn; cornbread has those sweet, well-rounded flavors on the palate. Rye whiskey is made up of at least 51% rye, and rye bread has that signature pepper and anise character. That difference between the breads plays out identically in spirits. The variation comes from the percentage of rye, the amount of time aging, and the type of barrel and charring. WhistlePig Small Batch Rye is a 100% rye that spends 10 years aging in a proprietary combination of barrels. The result is a beautifully balanced spirit that blends the warm flavors of classic bourbon with the spice and kick of 100% rye.
CIGAR PAIRING: HVC San Isidro
The HVC San Isidro is an under the radar gem made at the famed Tabacos Valle de Jalapa Factory in Nicaragua using 100% Aganorsa filler and binder finished with a beautiful habano wrapper from Ecuador. The blend is nothing if not creamy and ultra-flavorful. It pairs well with the Whistlepig Small Batch Rye because in a lot of ways, they are very similar. The cigar delivers the traditional Nicaraguan characteristics at a subdues level thanks to the choice of priming as well as the age of the tobacco. The anise spices of the rye play well with the creamy flavors of the San Isidro. From a flavor and strength perspective, they kind of finish each other’s sentences.