WHISTLEPIG 10 YEAR SINGLE BARREL RYE
Barrel #20234 selected by K&L (2021)
MASH BILL – 100% rye
PROOF – 112.5
AGE – 17 years 11 months
DISTILLERY – WhistlePig (sourcing from Canada)
PRICE – $109
WORTH BUYING? – Absolutely
I’ve long been a fan of WhistlePig 10 Year, especially in its cask strength single barrel releases selected by various shops. A regular haunt of mine, K&L, put out four barrels in 2017. The K&L spirits buyer at the time, David Driscoll, was about to end his time in that role and said of these barrels, “I think I’m going to look back at this string of WhistlePig barrels years from now as some of the finest procurements of my spirits buying career.” I bought all four.
Over four years later, I still have one of those four bottles left in my bunker. Others have come and gone in between, most notably a 2020 release that was actually aged 17 years 8 months, not 10 like the standard label states. That bottle made an exceptional impression—rich brandied raisins, rye florals and grasses, finely ground black pepper, burnt cinnamons, caramel drizzled on toasted pastry bread, dry oak, all together decadent. A WhistlePig 15 Year SiB from 2020 didn’t come across quite so well, hampered by a rubbery creosote note I just could not get past.
Comparing another of Driscoll’s prized 2017 K&L quartet to a Wilderness Trail cask strength only reinforced my love for WhistlePig. They were very similar, and held their own against one another. I thoroughly enjoyed both. Yet it’s WhistlePig I’ve found myself returning to more often. It’s the dependable creaminess, the soft dill, the oozing caramel notes, everything going down so easily at any proof it would seem.
That 2020 17+ disguised as a 10 Year was a notable departure into a certain kind of rich, brandied decadence I never would have guessed to be WhistlePig tasted blind. I loved it. And so I didn’t think too long when this nearly 18 Year release popped up on K&L’s online New Product feed. Could history repeat itself despite the gamble that is any single barrel?
At uncorking, not quite. Not that it was bad at all. Just different. Out of the gate, this Barrel #20234 was dark and succulent on the nose, with raisin, plum, black cherry, something like soft charcoal or chalk, a smoke note, organic peanut butter, dense dessert bread or cake, all of this fairly reserved despite its complexity. I really needed to pull it out of the glass. The taste was both sparkly and dark, like gold flakes in moonlight, with dark juicy raisin, dark chocolate, some tart apricot seared on a pan, lots of toasted oak, and a sprig of mint. So while it was not as drippingly decadent as the previous 17+ Year had been, in its own much drier way it was also deliciously antiqued.
But as the weeks went by, it grew gradually drier as it took air. I figured I should give it a formal tasting soon…
…And so here we are, just over two months after uncorking and nearing halfway into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a Canadian Glencairn.
COLOR – an array of toasted ambers, from pale to dark, like a spectrum of late afternoon sunlight toward Summer’s end…
NOSE – reaches right out of the glass, with those wonderful soft dill notes, a bouquet of rye grasses and spices, bay leaf, warm honey drizzled on crisply toasted wheat and rye breads, toasted cinnamon in butter, faint dry caramel and apricot
TASTE – syrupy, toasty, the dry qualities balanced by gooey sweet qualities, with the range of rye grasses and spices, the dill now dried, some cracked black pepper corns, solid oak, and a warm bright caramel note running beneath it all
FINISH – a soft lingering warmth, with oak, rye spice, rye bread crusts, and dark dry caramel
OVERALL – dry indeed, yet lovely, like the gently burnt ends of Summer
I would miss the more succulent and fruity notes from closer to uncorking if the current dry state of this whiskey weren’t so lovely on its own terms. It helps to be sipping it at 4:30 p.m. on a warm sunny day. It’s Spring as I sip this. But Summer looms, and the colors, aromas and flavors of this rye presage those dog days of August, when the light and air take on their dry toasted qualities after weeks of blaring sunshine…
For science, I should pour some of this into a traditional Glencairn for a more focused experience. But this Canadian Glencairn has always shown off rye whiskeys superbly, and I’m enjoying it perfectly well, so, “science” can wait for another day.
The dry qualities mean this whiskey wouldn’t be for everyone. Nearly 18 years in oak have pushed it to its limits in that regard. And as I noted, since uncorking it’s been airing out further in that direction. The past few pours, though, seem to have settled within a certain range. I suspect what I’m tasting today will be close to what I’ll taste at the eventual bottle kill pour.
I love it when a whiskey conjures a season or time so clearly. This is a glass of late Summer in Northern California—arid, relaxed, thoughtful without pondering. A kind of free association guided by burnt sunlight. Someone else might live somewhere else, and have other connotations. In any case, when a whiskey’s flavors are specific, ones response tasting it often follows. This WhistlePig SiB demonstrates how a whiskey is not only history in a bottle, but also light, time, place, and what we bring to it.