STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY
100% rye. 100 proof. Aged for 10 years in New American oak barrels. Oh yeah, WhistlePig is a seriously strong, seriously good rye.
It’s full-bodied with great hints of wintery spice wrapped around a black pepper center. The long aging tames some of the heat and brings along the vanilla and a touch of dark chocolate.
It’s got a pretty good story, too: Dave Pickerell, longtime Master Distiller for Maker’s Mark, believed that rye was going to be the next big thing, so he went on a quest to find the best rye possible. He fell in love with an unusual 100% rye (rumor has it, it was made by our neighbors to the North, but he’s not telling). He teamed up with WhistlePig founder Raj Bhakta, who bought a 200-year-old working dairy farm in Shoreham where they began hand-bottling the whiskey. Today, they’ve built a distillery, are growing their own organic rye and are working towards distilling and aging their own rye whiskey.
Until then, we’ll just have to settle for drinking this powerfully delicious spirit of top-secret origin that has garnered rave reviews since it hit the market. How’s that for American pluck?
TIP OF THE TONGUE
While whiskey at this price is usually too precious to mix, we love this rye splashed into warm apple cider for a restorative winter warmer.
The spirit of the event is that you cook and prepare what you can carry in your Land Rover. We don’t want to kill creativity or fun by creating a huge list of rules. At the same time, we don’t want cheating or shortcutting of the cooking process.
Official Rules for 2017:
No store bought already made items (example – Pillsbury dough, an angel food cake with canned strawberries, etc.) If it’s already made – you can’t use it. If you are not sure – ask.
No pre-prepared food (example – meat marinated at home, or purchased, pre-chopped ingredients, anything made for the event at home or store bought and brought to the event).
Support vehicles are not allowed to carry extra supplies, cookware, grills, etc.
If you tow a camper with your Land Rover you may use it during the Challenge.
You may not utilize a camper towed by a support vehicle.
No external power (generators or electric power). Vehicle powered inverters are allowed.
We encourage you to purchase locally sourced ingredients
wherever possible (please keep proof of purchase) as this will add to your overall score.
Portions should be prepared for 5 judges. Please prepare a small bite size portions. Remember they are sampling more than 50 entries (times THREE courses!).
Each course (app, main, dessert) will have a team of five judges. The judges will stick to a predetermined route through the campsite. Your arrivals package will contain a copy of the judges map. We hope this will instill order and allow for teams to observe the judges progress through the campsite and fire their dishes accordingly. Judges are limited to a 2 minute stay for each presentation. If your dish is not complete the judges will return for a second visit after a complete route through the campsite.
- Locally Sourced Ingredients (Please post your receipts in an easy to read location)
Prizes will be judged and awarded by select sponsors:
Stony Creek Brewery – best dish using Stony Creek beer.
YOU CAN VOTE TOO!
Vote for your favorite team by using the ballot in located in the Field Guide magazine.
World Class Whiskey – From Vermont?
I’ve been writing on wines and spirits for over 15 years, and living in Vermont for even longer, but the two have never had much in common – until now.
Unlike vodkas made from Maple syrup or even lactose (really), WhistlePig, which is bottled on a farm in rural Shoreham, Vermont, is not just another marketing gimmick – according to many critics it is the best rye whiskey in the world.
As I reported recently with the launch of a high-end rye from boutique bourbon maker Knob Creek, super-premium rye is the hot new spirits category. America’s favorite before Prohibition, rye is again all the rage among bartenders heralding a return of classic cocktails like the Manhattan and Old Fashioned. But WhistlePig is almost too good for this, and can be appreciated on its own.
Introduced in mid-2010 and made in very limited quantity (1000 cases), the story behind WhistlePig is unique. Industry legend Dave Pickerell, the longtime Master Distiller for the renowned Maker’s Mark bourbon distillery in Kentucky, decided to devote himself to a quest for the best rye possible, the next evolution of boutique bourbons. He wandered the earth trying rye whiskies, until he found what he considered its finest expression in the form of a new Canadian version, made from nothing but rye grain (law requires the majority of starch to be rye in order to be labeled rye whiskey, just as it requires 51% corn for bourbon, but pure ryes are rare).
For various reasons, including the fact that rye grain is considerably more expensive than corn, but also because a straight rye distillation is very tough on equipment, gumming it up with sticky residue, few distillers have bothered with pure rye whiskey. But the Canadians solved the sticky problem with two solutions, using malted rye and by developing a special strain of yeast-like fungus for distillation (for much more detail on this issue, check out this article from a great site devoted entirely to Canadian whiskies).
So Pickerell teamed up with WhistlePig founder Raj Bhakta, a former contestant on The Apprentice, who purchased a two century old working farm in Shoreham and renamed it WhistlePig Farm and began growing his own rye. Bhakta purchased the incredible Canadian rye whiskey, still in bulk storage, brought it back to Vermont, hand bottled it, and it blew critics away with rave reviews. At the same time, Bhakta and Pickerell, now Master Distiller for WhistlePig, have set up their own distillery on the farm and are working towards producing their rye from start to finish going forward.
But where it is made is not nearly as important as how it tastes.
Pickerell fell in love with the stuff because of its strength, purity (100% rye grain) and maturity – he calls the combination of proof and purity 100/100 and along with 10 years of aging in new American oak barrels, claims it hits “the sweet spot” in all three categories. I think he is right, and the balance between the higher than usual strength, higher than usual purity, and lengthy aging is perfect. It certainly does not taste like 100 proof, or half alcohol, because the woodiness for the aging perfectly balances the strength. It’s got just a hint of herby spice, maybe a little mint or cinnamon, but nowhere as much as many whiskies and less spicy zing than most ryes. Rather it j tastes of grain, its essential component, in a good, earthy, bread-like way, with the caramel-rich mouth feel of well-aged whiskies. I hesitate to call it straightforward, because that makes it sound simple, but its straightforward – it tastes like rye.
I’m not the only one who likes it. When the first batch was just released in mid-2010, it immediately earned a whopping 96-point rating from Wine Enthusiast – the highest rating the prestigious magazine has ever given to a rye. The Tasting Panel magazine gave it 94, and F. Paul Pacult’s acclaimed Spirit Journal gave it the highest possible 5-star rating. Details magazine simply called it “America’s Best New Whiskey,” while the Wall Street Journal named it one of the top five whiskies of the year. There was no shortage of other accolades.
And the odd name? Well to really appreciate that, you have to listen to the funny story in first person audio from Bhakta on WhistlePig’s website, but hey, it’s as good as lots of names, and to go with it, they created a suitable logo which reminds me of the Monopoly board game guy crossed with a pig. If I’m going to buy a $70 bottle of rye from anyone, it’s as likely as not to be a cartoon high-roller pig with a top hat and cigar.
But seriously, as whiskey lovers continue to enthusiastically embrace WhistlePig, there is likely to be a lag between the sellout of the limited first batch and future production, so hesitation might not be the best strategy.
For America, it has been a long road back to rye.
Before the American Revolution, most Americans ate rye bread and drank Caribbean rum. Dutch settlers pushing up the Hudson brought the rye grain with them from the Low Countries, and introduced it to their Yankee neighbors, who needed a crop that could survive a winter far harsher than what they had left behind in England. Meanwhile, British ships regularly offloaded large volumes of rum shuttled from their West Indian colonies to their great colonial ports of Boston and New York. If Americans drank whiskey at all, it was because they were backwoodsmen too far from these ports to access this rum. These pioneer farmers turned to building their own stills, and distilling whatever might be left over from their harvests, as a way to keep the chill off in the cold northern winter.
Things changed in the cities, though, after the colonists entered open rebellion. The Crown responded by hitting Americans where it really hurt: by placing an embargo on rum imports. Thirsty and resourceful, the young republic turned to something it could produce independently: rye whiskey. If the American Revolution had an “Official Beverage”, it would’ve been rye. All the classic American whiskey drinks, like the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan, called for rye. The hearty grain was right at home in northeast American soil, toughing out the long winters and persevering throughout the seasons. George Washington himself became the largest producer and distributor of rye in the United States.
Pure, aged rye is more flavorful, complex, and delicious
than any corn-based whiskey.
Though sturdy and resilient in the ground, rye couldn’t stand up to the punishment of the Civil War. Along with the rest of the country, the rye industry was torn apart. As the decades passed, the punishment continued; prohibition and two world wars conspired to keep America’s finest whiskey buried in the frozen past. Even during periods of great prosperity, from the Roaring 20’s to the Baby Boom, the country poured all its capital-crop love into the sweetest, easiest grain of all: corn. Poor old rye was hung out to dry. With the lowest sugar content of all grains, it is the most difficult grain to distill. Rye is tacky, bratty, and stubborn… but the labor of love is worth the struggle. Pure, aged rye is more flavorful, complex, and delicious than any corn-based whiskey – just ask The Founding Fathers.
Speaking of fathers, WhistlePig was born in 2007, when Raj P. Bhakta bought the Farm. Rather, he purchased the farm. The point is, he is alive and well and married and a father, and the proud owner of WhistlePig Farm. After spending his last dime on 500-plus magical acres in Shoreham, VT, Raj joined forces with Master Distiller Dave Pickerell (of Maker’s Mark fame) to plot the long awaited return of rye whiskey to the States. The two men got their hands on the best batch of aged rye in North America. A few months later, in February ’09, they hatched a 5-year plan to transform WhistlePig Farm into the first ever single malt, one-stop rye shop, with all stages of the process located on site: from growing the grass, to distillation, to barreling and aging, to bottling. With the opening of our single-estate farm distillery in the summer of 2015, what was once a pig-headed dream will be a top-shelf reality.
On January 1, 2010, Raj & Family cleared out an old barn, rolled up their flannel sleeves, and started bottling the exquisite rye. The ‘Pig was out of the pen! In 2013, the gang harvested its first crop of rye. And when distillation begins on the farm on July 4th, 2015, the WhistlePig vision will be complete. Just like that, after 200 years of lying dormant, Miss American Rye is back on her feet.