by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes
There's a strong ethic behind that decision. Knowing it (being aware that buying Maker's Mark means buying into a network of local support and sustainability) makes the drink taste all the better.
Dave Pickerell has packed his experience, talent and vision, and started producing something named for a groundhog - but Chicagoan rye lovers don't need to see their shadows to try WhistlePig. They do need to wait - just a week or so. It's coming our way. (Apart from Chicago, only New York and LA will be seeing WhistlePig this year. There simply isn't enough to go around the nation.)
Made from 100 percent rye, WhistlePig spends 10 years in brand-new, charred oak barrels. The aim, Pickerell says, is to "showcase the full-bodied spiciness of the rye" - and the trick is in the aging, so that you balance wood and grain. "Too young," he says, "and it comes across as green and spicy, on the finish there's too much of a kick, too much wood, and it comes across as bitter."
Pickerell gives his whiskey time to mellow out, to age gracefully. "Being in the 9- to 11-year range . . . it gives us a finish that, instead of being a kick, it's a nice butterscotch, vanilla, long warm finish - smoky, woody but not too woody."
As to using local grain, "We are heading toward having our own farm organically certified," Pickerell says. "We will eventually be making an estate rye there."
The first certified rye planting will take place this year, but you won't have to wait 11 years to taste the organic whiskey. "We may produce some small-barrel maturation, so that we can bring some out a little earlier," Pickerell says. He pauses for a second and adds, "'Cause I'd like it to come out while I'm still around."