The first BBS barrel pick was chosen in tumult. A yammering, hammering, market-stall maelstrom of bellowed insistences and table-thumping certainty. Four bourbons, each one chalk and cheese to the next; two standouts and one obvious pick. A thundering rollercoaster with an inevitable destination.
We came to our individual conclusions about the second BBS barrel in almost utter quiet. Because it was close. My God it was close.
Burger & Lobster on Threadneedle street played host to our second barrel pick. Twenty 50ml bottles – four from each cask – were laid out upon arrival, alongside a full-sized bottle of the distillery’s flagship expression. Whistlepig 10 year old rye.
A smidge of background, for those uninitiated. Whistlepig are Vermont-based distillers, who, in the interim between their first spirit run and the emergence of the first bottle-ready whiskey from their casks, have been independently bottling rye from the distilleries of Alberta in Canada and MGPI in Indiana.
Age dated, and generally bottled at a respectably solid strength, Whistlepig have achieved cult status to the degree that their special releases have become some of the highest priced American whiskies on the market. Questions and issues to address in another post, perhaps. Today was about the contents of those 50ml bottles, and the first rye that BBS would ever put our name to. Only the second Whistlepig to be independently bottled in the UK, and the first by a private society.
So. To the pours.
Funny thing, but just as with the selection of the BBS FEW, Sample 1 was the dog of the day. Particularly when tasted next to the clean, fruity and vibrant Whistlepig 10 year old it felt a trifle dull; a little muted and underwhelming.
After that, everything became rather difficult, because the following four samples were proof of Alberta’s credentials as perhaps the finest distiller of rye in the world, and of Whistlepig’s credentials as having a very, very good eye for a cask.
Sample 2 had an exceptional nose. There were those in the group who compared it to the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye … and went so far as to buy a double of the latter for frame of reference. The palate was a little quieter, but all told it was a mellow, mature and rather sophisticated number.
Sample 3 had me from first sniff. A proper, rip-snorting, full-blooded, no-holds-barred thoroughbred of a rye; the grain unabashedly bellowing its unique idiosyncrasies too loudly for alcohol to offer any distracting burn. As complete and intense on the palate as it was on the nose, and as balanced as you’d like, this was going to take some beating.
Sample 4 was all about the viscosity. A rye that nodded in the direction of bourbon, there was a fatness of nose and palate; an aspect of butterscotch that didn’t appear in the other samples and that pointed away from Canada and Vermont, and towards the plumper charms of Kentucky. A degree or two more of focus and intensity, and this could have been a winner. Alcohol crept up a little excessively though, and the balance of Sample 3 wasn’t quite there.
Finally, Sample 5. It shared many of the aromas and flavours of Sample 3, but the alcohol seriously overwhelmed; a little too much burn, especially on the palate, and a touch too much bitterness on the finish.
After 10 minutes of silent consideration, number 1 was agreed to have been ruled out, with the over-vicious sample 5 shortly behind. There was a degree of horse-trading and beating about the bush, but eventually a section of the group admitted Sample 3 to be our favourite. Samples 2 and 4 had their proponents too though, and rightly so, and so the bottles once again were passed around the table for a second nosing.
Sample 4 was the next to be eliminated, at which point @london_liquor and @The_Bourbonator marched off in search of comparatory Van Winkle to set against the remainders (which makes something of a statement in and of itself!) Cases were made, opinions were offered, and eventually it was put to a vote. By a majority of around two thirds, Sample 3, at 57.8% abv, won the day.
The bottom line was this though: once Sample 1 had been eliminated, it wasn’t a question of a “wrong answer”, only of which was the “most right”. Our second bottling lives up to, and to this taster, pushes past our first, and I’m thrilled to say that many more will be available for whisk(e)y lovers to purchase. And they should do so. It’s terrific.
Two barrels down, and this really is just the start. The bottlings will continue, and BBS will only get better and better at picking them. Exciting times lie ahead. Watch this space.
Words by WhiskyPilgrim