WhistlePig Boss Hog IV ‘Black Prince’ Review

Whiskey Name: WhistlePig Boss Hog IV ‘Black Prince’ 

Distillery: Distilled at MGPI, finished and bottled at Whistlepig

Whiskey Type: Straight rye

Release Date: 2017

Price: £539 or so

Age: 14 years

ABV: 59.6%

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Mashbill: Not sure which of MGPI’s recipes they’ve gone with for this one. I’d guess the 95% rye, but you’ll have to do some digging if you really want to find out. At least 51% rye, obviously, with whatever is left being made up by malted barley.

Introduction/Background: The random number generator which WhistlePig use to set their prices got particularly overexcited when it came to The Black Prince.

The fourth edition of their cask strength ‘Boss Hog’ series was never going to be a wallet-friendly number, but then it was named ‘Best Whisk(e)y in the World’ at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and an office conversation along the lines of ‘that 3 at the start of the number – you meant to write 5, right?’ probably happened.

It’s named after England’s Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock, who caused all sorts of problems for the French. He gave them a slap at Poitiers, captured their King, and nicked – amongst quite a lot of other stuff – some barrels of Armagnac brandy.

This ties in nicely with WhistlePig’s decision to finish their all-conquering Hog in ex-Armagnac casks. And, of course, they’ve taken their commitment to historical commemoration even further by charging a King’s ransom for it. To my mind, though, the historical link would be more apposite if WhistlePig had opted for an ‘English people drink free’ policy.

Anyhow, having grumbled about pricing and made a snarky joke or two, what do I think about how this rye actually tastes?  

Appearance: The colour of 54 ten pound notes. (Actually, to be fair, it’s darker than that. Nice sort of mahogany really.)

Nose: Classic mature rye nose, though – bizarrely – more reminiscent of something from Kentucky than from MGPI. Polished oak for a moment or two before major fruit kicks in. Figs and plums, with tarter blackberries. Blackberry jam, in fact. Marzipan adds a little roundness. The whole thing is sewn together by a mature, rancio note which is slightly reminiscent of an Armagnac, but – to me – closer to something like an old red burgundy. Bags of complexity, but for a cask strength rye it’s not as intense as you might expect. Alcohol is well controlled though.

Mouth: Comes seriously alive on the palate, and is suddenly as spicy as all hell. The spices here are served several ways though; dry and peppery intertwangles with sweeter cinnamon and savoury clove. There’s a smoky herbaceousness too; more overtly MGPI stock than on the nose – that dill thing adds a bit of lift and dimension, along with pinewood and dried orange. More of the black fruits – plums and cherries –  but not quite as prominent as they were on the nose. Medium bodied, which allows the spices and woodiness (not over-woodiness) to flourish, though the alcohol does prickle a fair bit. Hints of Armagnac, but only a smidgen.

Finish: A gradual fade, with the earthier notes skulking around longest.

Value for Money: It’s £540. £540.

Summary: This is a great rye. Lots of complexity, lots of superb flavour.

£540, however, is crazy.

I tasted this next to tomorrow’s review (no spoilers) and the value ratios didn’t stack up.

I know I go on a lot about price – and there is, of course, the argument that one person’s ‘great value’ is another person’s ‘exorbitantly expensive’ – but to me this rye underlines the undeniable fact that pricing in the ‘rare/premium’ sector of whiskey has gone nuts.

When @MCRBourbon reviewed the Booker’s Rye (another ‘best in the world’ winner, but from Jim Murray, not from San Francisco) he rightly pointed out that its $300 RRP was not good value. Seriously poor, in fact. Black Prince had an RRP of $499 in the US, and I just don’t think that price can be justified.

I don’t mean this to be a witch hunt and – as I’ve made clear – the whiskey itself is very decent. WhistlePig are also far from the only people charging insane sums for whiskeys, though they may be the most prominent and obvious example in the USA.

But it does make one wonder where the line is. And how much release V will cost.

Overall Verdict: Love the whiskey, terrified by the price.

Huge thanks to Mark Latimour for the incredibly generous sample.