Taste Test: WhistlePig Forced Out Its Founder. His Sweet Revenge Is a Stellar New Rye.

Sometimes you find yourself right back where you started, whether it’s your love life, your career, or a complicated corn maze. In the case of WhistlePig founder Raj Bhakta, five years after being forced out of the company he helped turn into a rye whiskey powerhouse he’s returned to his roots. Bhakta Spirits’ new rye whiskey gets a unique French twist that elevates it into a bottle worth tracking down—with a few caveats.

In the years since leaving WhistlePig, Bhakta turned his attention to armagnac with a specific focus on rare single vintage expressions. But he couldn’t stay away from whiskey for long (although he did have to wait for the non-compete clause he signed to expire)—he launched a nearly 10-year-old bourbon last year, and more recently he unveiled Bhakta 1928. This was a rye whiskey blended with four different Armagnac vintages and an aged Calvados, a far cry from the rye finished in different barrel types that is WhistlePig’s bread and boozy butter. The new 2013 Straight Rye Whiskey hews closer to his whiskey roots—it’s a 2013 vintage rye aged for 10 years and eight months that was sourced from MGP in Indiana and made using that distillery’s 95 percent rye-five percent malted barley mashbill. Then for a final flourish, it’s finished for 75 days in Calvados casks sourced from France, and this last step has turned what is a pretty standard and readily available rye whiskey into something much more special.

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The nose leads with a bouquet of apple, grape, and a bit of spice. The palate is very fruit-forward, kind of like an elevated Edible Arrangement with notes of hot mulled cider, fresh raspberry and blackberry, vanilla, and a pinch of black pepper. This whiskey is almost unrecognizable as a standard MGP 95/5 rye, but I mean that in a good way. That core identity is lurking somewhere in the background, but it’s been embellished with notes of fruit and pear, along with a little menthol, cinnamon, and anise. The whiskey is bottled at 107.6 proof, and while that does bring some heat to the palate it’s still an easy sipper.

So the question you might be asking yourself is: Why should I spend 150 bucks on a 10-year-old MGP rye that I could find from other brands for less than $100 (including, ahem, one from WhistlePig), even if it does have an interesting cask finish? If that truly presents a conundrum for you, then the answer is maybe you shouldn’t. But if you’re a whiskey fan who is interested in trying what is ultimately a really good cask-finished rye (and maybe you just got your tax refund), or perhaps you’re just curious to see what Bhakta’s take on rye is post-WhistlePig, take this bottle for a spin.

Score: 87

  • 100: Worth trading your first born for

  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet

  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram

  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market

  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable

  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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