One-of-a-kind whiskeys are not so easy to come by, but guests at a recent dinner presented by Vermont’s WhistlePig enjoyed the rare treat of being the first in the world to taste experimental cask-finished ryes. The members-only WS Club in New York City—home to the Whisky Advocate bar—played host to the dinner, the first of many planned events bringing together distillers and blenders with whisky lovers in an intimate, conversational setting. Considering the caliber of the whiskeys poured—including WhistlePig 18 year old Double Malt and the Boss Hog VI: The Samurai Scientist—the bar has been set high.
Selected by master blender Pete Lynch, the ryes—part of WhistlePig’s experimental single-finish program—had never before been shared with the public, but Lynch wanted to pour something special to make the evening extra-memorable. “The single-finish program is one of those behind-the-scenes items at WhistlePig that most of our audience does not necessarily get to see,” he says. “We’ve been building up an archive of finishes from around the world. Some may see the light of day in a larger-format release, some may only see the palates of a select few.” The ryes served at the WS Club were both aged 12 years and then finished for five to six weeks in a different wine cask—one red wine, one white burgundy, both made of French oak and re-toasted before being filled with whiskey. Lynch deliberately chose wine cask-finished whiskeys because of the venue: The WS Club has not only a top-class whisky bar, but a wine program to match, which serves only wines rated 90 points or higher by Wine Spectator. “I hoped that our attendees’ palates would appreciate these flavors,” Lynch explains.”The re-toasted red wine cask and white burgundy both speak to the root of our finishing program and its beginning in Old World wines.”
WhistlePig has, at any given time, up to 20 unique casks being used in the single-finish program, from rum (Jamaican, Guyanese, Peruvian, Havanan) to brandy (Spanish, French, and more) to a variety of wines and beyond—even non-oak casks from time to time. The results can be all over the map, flavor-wise. Although the distillery’s cask-sourcing process ensures high-quality wood, it isn’t able to fully predict how the whiskey will react, and occasionally the flavor profile turns out not as expected. When that happens, Lynch and his team might use the whiskey as a blending component—or they might find that one of their customers likes the unusual flavor, and sell the whiskey to them. “With the variety of palates the world has to offer, oftentimes, someone will enjoy a cask for the very reason I or another do not,” Lynch notes.
Because each single-finish cask yields a limited number of bottles of truly one-of-a-kind WhistlePig, the whiskeys are all highly sought-after. Some will be poured for a select few at events, while others may be offered as private picks for retailers and restaurants. But when a cask finish works especially well, Lynch and his team take note: These whiskeys have the potential to become something more permanent in WhistlePig’s range. WhistlePig’s Old World 12 year old rye, for example, was born from finishing experiments conducted by the late master distiller Dave Pickerell, and many releases of the limited-edition Boss Hog—including the most recent, The Samurai Scientist, finished in umeshu plum wine casks—started off as single finishes.
Lynch won’t say for sure whether the red wine or burgundy cask-finished whiskeys will show up as part of a wider release down the road—but the reception they received from the discerning diners at the WS Club bodes well for their future prospects. “There is absolutely a chance that we’ll see these finishes [again]—perhaps not as a full-blown, readily available release, but as something a select few get to enjoy, wherever these finishes find their home,” he says. “That’s not to say we won’t see something like a Boss Hog using these barrels down the road…and that’s really the fun of this program.”