Ever since Raj Bhakta purchased a farm in Shoreham, VT some 10 years ago to begin his operation as the owner of WhistlePig, the company has been working toward a singular moment. Even as the brand garnered critical and popular acclaim for its initial 10 year, 100 proof rye whiskey, sourced from Canada and bottled in Vermont, there was always another business plan slowly gathering momentum. Truth be told, given the quality of the rye they discovered in Canada, it would have been perfectly understandable if the WhistlePig team simply stopped there and enjoyed the fruits of distributing a product that easily justified a top shelf price tag, as so few really manage to do. It would have been a sensible, smart bit of business to simply keep distributing that Canadian juice forever. But the folks at WhistlePig aren’t sensible.
And so, they renovated that farm. They planted groves of white oak. They planted fields of rye. They endured terrible yields, and learned to properly farm for the first time. They began aging and finishing some of the Canadian whiskey in barrels made from their own charred Vermont oak. And finally, they harvested enough of their own agricultural product to distill a Vermont-made rye whiskey for the first time. 10 years into the operation, WhistlePig is finally releasing the first whiskey they’ve 100% produced all on their own. And it’s called “FarmStock.”
The concept here is something the WhistlePig folks have dubbed “triple terroir,” and it’s truly unique to their operation in the U.S. No one else is doing this: Growing all the rye, all the wood, and gathering all the water (from WhistlePig’s own well) on the same patch of land. The idea is to make it as 100% localized and authentic as it can possibly be. For a brand that has caught no small amount of flak for importing a Canadian product, it’s almost a rebuke of their critics.
Here’s what’s actually in FarmStock: It’s a blend of ryes from various age brackets. The “star,” as you’d look at it, is the 1 to 2-year-old rye distilled on the farm, which makes up 20% of the total. The lion’s share, at 49%, is made of 5 to 6-year-old rye from Canada. And for the sake of complexity and smoothness, 31% is made from the same 12-year-old rye that is part of WhistlePig’s “Old World” series. It comes in at 86 proof—notably lower than other WhistlePig products. This “Crop 1” is the bottles you’ll find on store shelves now, while subsequent “Crop 2,” “Crop 3,” etc will slowly feature older “triple terroir” spirit distilled in Vermont, while incorporating that spirit as a greater percentage of the whole. Each release will be on the small side—“only a couple thousand cases,” in industry parlance, bearing the parodic phrase “bottled in barn.”
Now, if you’ve been paying attention to WhistlePig’s product over the years, you’ll know that this is a deviation from the norm in more ways than the location of distillation. This is a lineup where the “basic” brand is well-aged, 10-year-old, 100 proof rye whiskey, which is both stronger and older than the vast majority of rye on the market. The idea of 1-2 year old “WhistlePig” is an odd one, even if it is blended with older stock. This is how Raj Bhakta explained the concept, in a phone call:
“Here’s how I think of Farm Stock: It’s a combination of the best attributes of our aged whiskeys with the spiciness and brightness of youth,” he said. “What we’re debuting in the FarmStock is the attributes of our young whiskey, while keeping the majority of what we’re known for, which is aged stocks. I imagine there will be a crop 5 or 6 that will mostly be 4 or 5-year-old rye that is all triple terroir. But in the meantime, it’s the beginning of a journey.”
That time, and any time when home-distilled product could entirely replace their Canadian sources, is still far, far away. But FarmStock still represents a very big milestone for the company: The first time they get to actually taste one aspect of the goal they’ve been working toward for a decade.
But enough explanation. Here’s an actual review of FarmStock Crop 1.
I happened to have a little bit of the 10 year, 100 proof regular WhistlePig Rye on hand in my home, so I was able to taste the FarmStock alongside it for the sake of comparison.
In terms of appearance, one notes that this whiskey is a definite shade or two lighter in color, which you would expect from the younger average age. On the nose, it’s more intensely woody and oaky than the 10/100, like a freshly dumped barrel with more “green,” younger wood character. I also perceive it as fruitier, with notes of green apple and mint—I doubt the WhistlePig people will like the comparison much, but I think it has some of the same good qualities of the rye produced by MGP in Indiana.
On the palate, FarmStock is clearly younger, but bolder, than its 10/100 counterpart. Here you get some caramel and especially some toffee-like sugar, which combines with the fruitiness and a moderate helping of spicy rye grain. It’s brighter, more wood-forward and has a hint of citrus when compared with the 10/100, but has much less pronounced “baking spice” character. In terms of mouthfeel, it feels somewhat lighter, as you would expect from a 14 point difference in proof, and a bit less viscous than its older brother. Over time, it does develop an interesting nutty/cocoa note that is very nice.
In terms of value, this is a difficult whiskey to evaluate, given that it’s retailing for $89.99, about 10 bucks more than your standard WhistlePig Rye. Whereas in the 10/100, you’re paying for age and proof, here you’re paying for a unique experience. You’re paying as a contribution toward a decade-long project that is just getting started and is just collecting any kind of revenue for the first time. With that in mind, the price is less objectionable.
All in all, this is good rye whiskey, but its customer base is more likely to be devotees of WhistlePig as a company rather than first-time whiskey perusers picking it up off the shelf. It will be fascinating to see how future “crops” in the series slowly introduce more of the Vermont-distilled product into the blend, until perhaps one day FarmStock is a product entirely made on one patch of farmland in Vermont. And at that point, perhaps even the Canadian whiskey would no longer be necessary for the company.
“We’re growing both the amount of grain we’re producing on the farm, and our distillation capacity, but it’s going to be a long road,” Bhakta said. “It’s not impossible that eventually, all of our product would come from the farm, but that possibility would be years and years off in the future.”
Still, you have admire this company for having the vision to look so far into the future, toward that date. They are clearly unafraid of taking on such a project, so be aware: Don’t put anything past WhistlePig.
Distillery: WhistlePig Farms
City: Shoreham, VT
Style: Blend of Canadian straight rye, and American rye whiskey
ABV: 43% (86 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles ($89.99 MSRP)
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer who loves spicy rye whiskey. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink content.