Funny story. A young handsome bow-tie-sporting fellow walks into a bar. Bartender says: Hey, didn't I see you on The Apprentice? Handsome guy says, Yeah, but did you hear the one about me losing a congressional bid and then sitting around for a year not sure what to do with my life and then in a stroke of inspiration, after hiking around in the rockies and being verbally assaulted by a cooky Frenchman, deciding I would buy a 250-acre farm in Vermont where I would grow my own rye and make rye whiskey at the highest level of sophistication possible? No, says the bartender. But can I have a dram? OK, so not a great punch line. But it is sort of fascinating, don't you think? It's one of these classic American tales of remaking oneself again and again, always in the pursuit of perfection. After trying his hand in a number of arenas, Raj Bhakta found the one thing that he apparently can do really, really well, which is run a whiskey business.
In 2010 he launched WhistlePig, so named after said earlier encounter with the Frenchman, who approached him on a hike from out of the blue and asked, in his heavily inflected Frenglish, Could it be whistle pig? He then made kissy noises and puckered his fingers in Raj's face. It so astounded Raj that he never let go of the moment, and just a few years later turned this strange encounter into liquid gold. How he went from that anecdote to a rye whiskey made unlike any other—well, that remains a mystery.
But he hired former Maker's Mark master distiller Dave Pickerell, and off they went. As of now, the whiskey is sourced from undisclosed Canadian distilleries, and is counted as one of the great found objects in the whiskey world. It's ten years old, made from 100% rye grain (very rare, due to the material properties of rye, which is more difficult to break down than corn or wheat), barreled first in new American Oak and finished in used Bourbon casks for softness, and finally bottled by hand at the WhistlePig farm in Vermont. They're distilling their own whiskey there too, made from estate-grown rye, but perfection takes time. Meanwhile, they've settled on curating one of the finest bottlings to hit the market this decade.
And now, after years of rooting around in New England, the WhistlePig is finally whistling Dixie! I for one think it's hitting every note.