When it comes to Vermont’s WhistlePig, I’ve had some rather conflicted feelings as of late. In the last few years, the company has increasingly moved its attention into other facets of the alcohol industry, not always with much success. There was the non-alcoholic rye whiskey, an idea better on the page than in practice. And then there was the lineup of PiggyBack canned cocktails, which I found inherently deceptive, given that they didn’t actually contain any of the brand’s famous rye whiskey, despite having the brand name of that rye whiskey emblazoned across them. When I’ve thought about WhistlePig recently, it’s often been in the context of feeling as if the brand had gotten a bit too far from its roots.
And the thing is, they’re really good roots. The core WhistlePig product has always been one of my favorite rye whiskeys, and they’ve made some of the best extra-aged rye whiskeys on the market over the years. Their price points always caught some attention, but as inflation took its toll and the entire industry premiumized, WhistlePig’s products actually seemed to become a better deal, rather than a worse one. Along the way, they also began to work in their own, Vermont-grown rye distillate, without losing track of the company’s house flavor profile. Zero in on the core product lineup, and there’s still a lot to like here.
The Boss Hog series, meanwhile, is entirely its own beast. WhistlePig’s annual, ultra-luxe limited edition series is built around a philosophy of “five promises” for each edition: “you are guaranteed a stupendous and powerfully complex whiskey; single barrel in origin, bottled at proof and unique from anything you’ve ever before tasted.” For this, the consumer pays a premium beyond even what is common for the limited release whiskey world, with MSRPs in the $600 range. And with retailer price gouging being the rampant industry problem it is, that kind of MSRP starting point means you can easily browse online package stores and see unscrupulous retailers trying to score $1,500 or even $5,000 for a bottle of Boss Hog, confident that someone will eventually come along to pay it.
These are amounts of money so high as to lose all meaning, and it’s almost impossible to assign worth or value to a sample with such a price tag attached to it. So let’s focus solely on what this year’s newly revealed Boss Hog IX: Siren’s Song brings to the table on its own merits.
This ninth iteration of Boss Hog “begins with some of the oldest rye on our farm,” which one can’t help but note is not an actual age statement. This “well aged” rye whiskey then receives a very unique double finish “in barrels formerly belonging to Greek fig nectar and scratch made Tentura – a Greek style liqueur inspired by Ancient Patras.”
These cask finishes are coming from barrels crafted by WhistlePig’s own whiskey makers, Liz Rhoades and Meghan Ireland, who crafted both the fig nectar ( watch out for wasps! ) and Tentura being used. Tentura, meanwhile, is a spiced liqueur typically produced from Greek brandy, traditionally infused with the essence of flavorings such as clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and citrus fruits. Which is all to say, we would expect Boss Hog IX: Siren’s Song to be redolent in both fruit and spice flavors.
Thematically, this year’s batch is inspired by the Muses of Greek mythology, each of which is depicted on one of nine bespoke pewter toppers: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania. Bottles come in at cask strength, between 102.5 and 106.2 proof. My own sample weighs in at 103.4 proof, or 51.7% ABV.
So, how will those genuinely unique finishes impact WhistlePig’s classic, 100% rye spirit at cask strength? Let’s get to tasting and find out.
On the nose, this pour of Boss Hog IX: Siren’s Song is redolent in dark rye bread, chocolate hazelnut spread and spice. There are suggestions of jammy dark fruit, and the bread is somewhat toasty, with touches of earthy rye and brighter fruit. One gets a suggestion of some of the baking spice notes, with cinnamon and clove, and also some lighter and more delicate florals.
On the palate, the first taste immediately provides a big rush of spice before one becomes acclimated—intense baking spice notes of sweet cinnamon and allspice. Probing further, and you access more waves of brown sugar and spicy oak, along with honey and fig jam. The big punch of baking spice present on the first sip remains, but mellows, while the fruitiness begins to intensify with more vinous qualities, a combination of dried/stewed dark fruits. Overall residual sweetness is still pretty moderate—this doesn’t read as really overtly sweetly, and the rye spice certainly hasn’t been lost either. The intensity of the spice profile might be a bit too much for some, but those who enjoy those baking spice notes will probably find it quite alluring.
All in all, you can’t say this batch of Boss Hog IX: Siren’s Song is hurting for uniqueness. The fig nectar and Tentura treatment very clearly provides the kind of character you would expect to receive—the sticky dark fruitiness and spice notes are unmistakably there. How much would/should one be willing to pay for such an experience? Impossible for me to say, as a $600 MSRP is far outside of anything I’ve ever paid in my life. But purely as a flavor experiment, I have to see this as a success. How much you’re willing to shell out to taste that kind of experiment is up to you.
City: Shoreham, VT
Style: Straight rye whiskey
ABV: 51.7% (103.4 proof)
Availability: Limited, $600 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.