Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Dinner with a Whiskey Legend
It’s not every day one gets to have dinner with a legend. Master distiller Dave Pickerell, of WhistlePig Rye, hosted a dinner last Friday for which we were lucky enough to snag a ticket.
Dave was the distiller at the helm of Maker’s Mark when the company (pardon the pun) made their mark on the whiskey world. He drove the brand from craft distiller to production behemoth – over 1.3 million cases at the time of his departure. Known for its consistency and approachability, it is still one of the top brands in the bourbon category. After leaving Maker’s Mark in 2008 he worked as a consultant for a variety of small craft distilleries.
By 2009 he and Raj P. Bhakta (owner of the WhistlePig farm) developed a plan to return Rye Whiskey to prominence in the USA. The highly anticipated “Old World Finishes” series is one of the ventures WhistlePig is using to do so. The whiskies are 12 year old rye finished for 3-4 weeks in barrels used for different old world fortified and dessert wines. The series releases are each finished barrels formerly holding Sauternes, Port, and Madeira. The final release is a marriage of the three. The proof is in the glass, these whiskies are worthy of some serious recognition.
Throughout the meal Dave answered questions from the diners and talked about the approach he took with the “Old World Finishes” series. After hatching this plan he proceeded to source two shipping containers full of different barrels from Europe. Once the rye was aged he put them in front of his contemporaries – a series of focus groups, predominantly made up of bartenders from around the country, helped shape the program into what it is.
Dave relied heavily on this input regarding the final products. He likened the final bottling of the project to an orchestra with each type representing a different part of the symphony. The Port finish, with its rye spice, Christmas fruits and a dark chocolate finish is the base of the orchestra. The Madeira finish has loads of peppery spice, cinnamon, nutmeg and other baking spices are abundant and this is the most powerful of the three and represents the woodwinds, which drive the orchestra. The Sauternes finish is the softest in many ways, showing apricots and other stone fruits, hints of rye spice and a delicate feel on the palate, accenting the other two much the way the string section does. The marriage bottling is the orchestra as a whole and tastes as such, you get those delicate hints from the strings, the power of the woodwinds and the foundation of the bass instruments as represented in all 3 whiskies individually. Each whiskey stood out from the pack of what is on the market today for the rye. Each also paired quite well with the dishes presented. The most complete pairing being the amuse course of foie gras torchon with the Port finish.
A thoroughly enjoyable meal with great conversation and a learning experience about WhistlePig that is unparalleled, this will not soon be forgotten. And keep an eye out for any release from this distillery, they really are bringing Rye to the fore. The “Old World Finishes” are available only in restaurants and bars. You can find your shot at the Bounty Hunter Smokin’ BBQ and Wine Bar in downtown Napa, CA.