Whiskey lovers are always looking for the best sip possible. From the Bulleits to the Jacks and the Wellers to the Pappys, the bourbon explosion of the last half-decade has proven that craft beer has strong competition when it comes to our fetishization of alcohol. Now, the palates of whiskey aficionados are pivoting towards bourbon’s spicier cousin: rye.
This shift isn’t as much about taking a new step forward as it is about reclaiming the past. In colonial times, everyone drank rye whiskey — especially in the Northeast, where one half barrel of rye was reportedly sold per person each year. Then, with prohibition, it nearly disappeared from sight.
What sparked our recent renaissance? The craft movement has certainly helped. So have the many accolades various ryes seem to be collecting at competitions across the country. Then there’s the idea that whiskey fans have evolved — drinkers who got hyped on whiskey during the boom of the late 2000s are ready to level-up their palates. A quick look at the data supports these three theories. Over the past five years, ryes have seen their volumes grow by 536 percent.
With the hype comes feverish excitement to try “the best” and in that regard, one brand has put itself front and center in any rye conversation: WhistlePig. The small Vermont distillery has as much buzz as any tiny Vermont farm could ever hope to have. They produce the one brand that every aficionado longs to own. They’re the “Supreme t-shirt” or “LCD Soundsystem secret show” of alcohols.
In April, WhistlePig’s Boss Hog won “Best Whiskey” at the San Francisco Spirits Competition — marauding through a blind taste test field of 2,200 very expensive whiskeys.
The rye was so powerful that I had to eat three pieces of cheese, rinse my mouth out four times just to get its finish out of my mouth for the other whiskies. My colleagues agreed that its complexity was leaps and bounds better than the other whiskies, albeit many believed the bourbon stood toe to toe. And so when the rye won best whisky, the judges cheered and screamed. We all knew the flavor was unbeatable. Since we taste blind, I had no clue for whom I voted, but I was stoked thinking an American distillery just won.
For the average consumer, WhistlePig has cornered the market on “age statement” rye. Even if you can’t afford Boss Hog IV Black Prince (it’ll run you over $400, if you can find it), you can get “mini-Boss Hog,” WhistlePig’s 10-year flagship bottle for about eighty bucks. For those who enjoy rye, it’s worth every penny.