On Saturday November 15, 2014 Dave Pickerell, then Master Distiller at WhistlePig and former Master Distiller for Maker’s Mark, visited Harrison Wine Vault (which opened in a former bank 3 years prior and has a dedicated whiskey room) to sign bottles of Whistle Pig Rye exclusive Barrel #6, only available there. WhistlePig is known for 100-proof straight rye whiskey (made from 100 percent rye mash), double-barrel aged for at least 10 years on their farm. Pickerell, who described himself as a “chat monster,” fielded questions about the industry during his visit — he fielded a few for us ahead of time.
What are the characteristics of the rye you’re bringing to Harrison Wine Vault?
It has a finish so long it needs its own zip code. Like all WhistlePig rye, it has great balance and dry, spicy notes. It’s one of the true great sipping whiskeys—it’ll make a great cocktail, but it’s excellent on its own, something to sit by the fire and enjoy during the last part of the day.
You were with Maker’s Mark for 13 years. What prompted the move to WhistlePig?
Maker’s Mark was essentially a craft distillery when I started out with it, and it was fun watching it grow into the country’s third best-selling bourbon. But that had its limitations—for example, I couldn’t touch rye. In 2001 I started volunteering at George Washington’s distillery in Mount Vernon, Virginia, and the resurrection of his distillery was, I think, the beginning of the resurgence of rye. I wanted to be part of this movement, bringing this new subcategory to the market.
I’ve read that Whistle Pig rye, although produced in Vermont, is actually distilled in Canada and imported to Whistle Pig just for aging and bottling. Is that correct?
It’s an interesting story. In keeping with the Vermont Act 250 law, designed to preserve agricultural land, we set out to distill grain grown on our farm, but there were so many legal hassles and so much paperwork, and we needed to get to market. So we partnered with the only distillery that made 100 percent rye, which was in Canada. Eventually we found additional sources, currently two in Canada and three in the United States, and then started shipping them our own grain, grown on the Whistle Pig farm, to distill. Just earlier this year, we got clearance to start doing our own distilling, and we hope to be distilling on site by July 4 of next year.
If you really need help deciding what to do with this stuff, try this recipe from their website:
2 oz WhistlePig
2 dashes orange bitters
½ oz bourbon-soaked cherries
Dash of Vermont maple syrup
Splash of soda water
Fill a brandy snifter glass with ice and build drink in order of ingredients, garnish with an orange twist.
*Created by The Common Man Restaurant in Warren, VT
289 Halstead Ave, Harrison