From Dairy Farm to Whiskey: A Tour of WhistlePig Distillery
From cultivating their own fields of rye to aging whiskey in barrels made from surrounding oak trees, WhistlePig is a true “farm-to-bottle” distillery.
Roughly ten years ago, a dairy farm was transformed into a home for the highly acclaimed rye whiskey, WhistlePig, thanks to the vision of founder Raj P. Bhakta.
Today, WhistlePig Farm spans across 500 acres of rolling hills in Shoreham, Vermont, where it's home to one of the world’s finest rye whiskeys. But it all began with a 2009 purchase of Canadian blending whiskey to be rebottled back home in the Green Mountain State. That launched their five-year plan to transform the farm into a fully homegrown, “farm-to-bottle” distillery: from cultivating fields of rye to aging whiskey in barrels made from surrounding oak trees, to finally perfecting it with water straight from the estate well.
“Our grain. Our water. Our wood. We call it the Triple Terroir,” says world-renowned Master Distiller Dave Pickerell.
Situated in a 150-year-old renovated barn, WhistlePig’s distillery opened in 2015 and operates seven days a week producing true farm-to-bottle whiskey in a unique copper pot still designed by Pickerell. The still stands tall with a tarnished copper plate honoring the beloved farm pig mascot, Mortimer.
Faithful to the Triple Terroir, WhistlePig harvests estate-grown oak trees for custom barrels. Instead of French oak, sugar maple, and Garryana oak, they use only locally sourced Vermont oak, later sent to American Stave Company to be made into barrels. Shorter growing seasons — due to cold Vermont winters — boost the oak trees to grow hardier, forming tight growth rings. When made into staves and barrels, these tight rings constrict the fluid and extract certain notes from the wood. Vermont oak stands out among the rest, further enriching the “World’s Best” rye whiskey.
Released this spring, FarmStock might just be the future of farm-to-bottle whiskey. It's a manifestation of the dream that launched the company and meets the Triple Terroir standard. The first batch, deemed Rye Crop 001, combines the natural silhouette and boldness of the young estate whiskey with the richness of the five to six-year ryes, topped with the brilliance of the Scotch-like 12 Year whiskey. Similar to bourbon, this 86% proof expression gives off oak, vanilla and caramel scents. FarmStock was a milestone for the company, and will be an interesting expression to watch as WhistlePig's rye fields continue to grow, allowing for different "crops" of the whiskey each year.
But their biggest, most profound whiskey might be the one that debuted a season later. Released in September 2017, The Black Prince contains 100% rye whiskey, aged 14 years in a single American White Oak barrel — with a “tad” of water added — and finished in Armagnac casks from France. The deep amber spirit holds toasted almond, plum, allspice and warm apple crisp aromas, followed by notes of apricot and cinnamon sugar on the palate. The folks at WhistlePig suggest adding a drop of water to also enhance the notes of citrus fruits and black teas when imbibing.
Its namesake comes from a real-life English prince, Edward of Woodstock, who waged war in France's Aquitane country while also enjoying the fruits of its region: Armagnac. The price is royal as well: it's currently selling for $500 in most markets, making it a "special occasion" kind of spirit. But at the end of the day, there's really no comparison to it within the whiskey category.
WhistlePig is currently on an invitation-only basis for industry guests to stay in the farmhouse, learn the inner-working of the brand, and indulge in a few homemade meals with the ‘Pig family. General guests can visit the WhistlePig Tasting Room in Middlebury, Vermont, where it's open Thursday through Saturday from 11:30AM to 5:30PM, and Sunday from 11:30AM to 4:30PM.