WhistlePig Farms Is Now A Distillery

November 13, 2013


Please note: This article will be updated based on new information that current versions of WhistlePig come from whisky that has been re-gauged into other barrels and aged for four additional years in Vermont. It’s fair to say they have added new dimensions through on-site maturation.  Their licence to distil is being held up by objections from a neighbour but that seems very likely to pass soon.  In the mean time they are growing their own rye on 1200 acres of farm, and having others distil it so they can learn more about it and hit the ground running when they receive permission to distil it. My stance has softened greatly given that current versions of WhistlePig are stepping stones to Vermont-distilled rye whisky made from Vermont-grown rye grain.

They now have an operating distillery in place and are mashing their own rye and distilling spirit from it.

The first bottles said product of Canada on the back label.  The TTB told the that since it was re-barrelled in Vermont it was an “Ingredient” and had to be labelled as made in Vermont.  TTB has since relented and the words Product of Canada are back on the label.

There are two kinds of distillers: Those who distill whisky, and those who buy whisky. Usually, bottlers make no pretenses about selling whisky made by others. However, there are some who pretend to make whisky and divert attention from the reality through marketing campaigns.

A smartly dressed young man was pouring WhistlePig rye at Whisky Live recently. I’ve been a fan of WhistlePig from the day in 2010 when it was released. Sure, I have several bottles at home but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for another wee sip. I savoured my sample, revisiting the big hearty full-bodied all-rye. Other than Masterson’s, it’s probably the best rye whisky on the market anywhere, today. The only puzzle? Why do the people who bottle WhistlePig insist on pretending that it’s American whisky when it isn’t?

WhistlePig is distilled in Canada, from 100% Canadian rye grain, then matured and blended in Canada. Dave Pickerell, the distiller they hired to find a source of good rye whisky has gone on record saying that Canada makes the best rye whisky in the world. And one blind tasting competition after another confirms Pickerell’s opinion. So, why are the bottlers of WhistlePig so evasive when asked about its origins?

It’s made in Vermont,” the young man informs me.

Actually it’s made in Canada,” I respond, helpfully. He’s young, perhaps he doesn’t know.

Yes but, we grow our own rye.”

Yes but you haven’t been around long enough to turn it into 10-year-old whisky.”

Yes but we send the rye to Canada.”

A deliberate non sequitur – I roll my eyes.

We’re building our own distillery next year.”

Super. So now we know that until 2024, at least, they will not have any home-distilled 10-year-old rye ready for bottling.

Your latest release is 11 years old, right?”

Yeah but we’re pouring the 10 tonight.”

Great, I love it, can I have a taste?”

In a recent issue of The Bourbon Country Reader, Chuck Cowdery talks about the phenomenon of distilleries that consist of little else but a bottling machine and labeler. They buy other people’s whisky and pretend it’s their own. “This they [do] with varying degrees of guile,” Cowdery tells us. And, most importantly, “No one has converted their products from sourced to home made. No one.”

As I said, I have been a fan of WhistlePig from day 1. Unfortunately the guile with which this wonderful whisky is marketed also began on day 1. Rather than tell us that WhistePig is sourced whisky, the marketing folks invented a new evasive term. They called their whisky “found” as if somehow it had been lost. Sorry boys, distillers in Canada keep track of every barrel of whisky they make, and every drop of whisky in each barrel.  If they don’t, government excise officers will close them down. As romantic as the image might be, there are no lost barrels of whisky waiting to be found.

According to their website, “WhistlePig was released in the summer of 2010 to great critical acclaim, earning 96 points from Wine Enthusiast, their highest rating ever for a rye whiskey, a “highest recommendation” from Spirits Journal, as well as accolades from The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Forbes, Maxim, Imbibe Magazine, and many others.”

While we are delighted that Wine Enthusiast seems to agree with Dave Pickerell, that Canada makes the best rye whisky in the world, we wonder what the editors of “Wine Enthusiast, Spirits Journal, The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Forbes, Maxim, Imbibe Magazine and many others” would think if they knew that the bottlers of WhistlePig had duped them into believing they were publishing stories about American whisky? Do they know yet that the whisky they wax rhapsodic about is actually 100% Canadian? I doubt it.

So let’s be clear. WhistlePig is wonderful whisky. It wins one award after another. Yes, it is bottled in Vermont, but it is distilled in Canada by Canadians, from Canadian rye grain, then matured and blended in Canada by Canadians before being shipped in bulk to Vermont for bottling. Great whisky? Yes! American straight rye? Absolutely NOT.

The folks at WhistlePig have made bold statements about growing their own organic rye and distilling it into whisky. Well, there’s a reason why Canada makes the very best rye whisky. Pickerell himself warns that whisky made from Vermont-grown rye will never match that which they purchase from Canada, but the people who run the farm are insistent.

Fear not, with less than 100 acres of arable land WhistlePig farms will never produce more than a tiny portion of its grain requirements anyway. Add to that their idea of growing “organic” rye and their expected production will become even more inadequate. But the biggest impediment is this: The best whisky rye grows on marginal land and in harshly cold climates. Sorry WhistlePig, Vermont’s climate is just too pleasant to grow the spicy rye needed to make whisky as good as that you have been buying in Canada.

Oh, and truth in labeling? It’s there in tiny letters on the back.

More information about WhistlePig here.


33 Responses to “WhistlePig Farms Is Now A Distillery”

  1. Exactly! Well put, Davin. That answers my question from last sunday’s Tweet Tasting (#DavinTT).

  2. Brian:

    Is there really a marketing advantage to calling yourself American, despite the facts?

    Why can’t Whistlepig tell the whole story and explain that they go out and find wonderful whisky and you can trust their judgement that they’ve put together a solid product?

  3. I agree that even though the whiskey is good, just don’t lie (or fudge) about the source. Of all of the sourced whiskey companies I’ve talked with, Chattanooga Whiskey http://www.chattanoogawhiskey.com/ was the only brand to say upfront, “Hey, we source our whiskey for now.” They’ve done quite a bit to change the laws in Tennessee so a distillery could be opened in Chattanooga. They’ve got a building, a huge fan base and great people working for them. They will succeed, I believe, as the first sourced whiskey to turn ‘legit’. Here’s a link to my review of the whiskey and an interview with Joe Ledbetter, owner of Chattanooga Whiskey. http://whiskeynose.com/chattanooga-whiskey-interview-review/

    Thanks for bringing up this touchy topic that most people want to walk around. Here a link to my review of Whistle Pig’s 100/00. http://whiskeynose.com/whistlepig-100-straight-rye-whiskey-review/ Keep in mind that I didn’t realize the depth of their deception at the time.

    • Davin:

      Hi Ernie,
      Thanks for chiming in and for including those links. In Canada a few craft distilleries have gone from sourced to home-distilled whisky successfully. The difference is that they started distilling first then added sourced whisky while they wait for their own whisky to mature. I’ll be watching Chattanooga with interest.

    • Brian:

      Pendleton also manage to put it right on the label: “Canadian Rye Whisky”

      It’s pretty small font, but it’s at least something.

  4. Well said, Davin…turns out they even entered WhistlePig as an American whisky in the World Whiskies Awards and managed to win “Best American Rye”. I questioned it and was told, “that’s the category they entered it in…and since the label proclaims Vermont more than it does its Canadian origin…” (rolling of eyes).

    • Davin:

      Maybe they don’t know the difference.

  5. Nail on the head!!! The frustrating part I wonder about is why? Why do some companies rely on ignorance in the industry or worse that their target audience is that gullible? Would they not realize that people educate themselves and worse (Oh my goodness) “whisky writers” might actually research, ask questions and print the truth for others to see/discover?

    Then what happens… Mistrust and ridicule because they won awards for something they are not.

    Thanks Davin for bringing things to light and setting things straight, as always.


    • Davin:

      My Mom told me that the problem with not being truthful is that you have to remember what you said.

      WhistlePig is great. WhistlePig is Canadian. WhistlePig is NOT made in Vermont nor will it ever be unless they find a good source of Canadian rye grain, a large column beer still and a large pot still. Micro and local just won’t cut it.

      Yes, some micro distillers make really fantastic rye whisky. It just doesn’t have the same flavour profile as WhistlePig. That is neither good nor bad, just a reality. And yes, local rye, regardless of where it is grown will make good whisky in the right hands. Again, it just won’t taste like WhistlePig.

  6. well written Davin.

    I don’t really understand how you can enroll a whisky based on such falsehoods…

    Would i prefer an American rye to a Canadian? sure not, so what’s the use? really shocking.

    • Davin:

      Hi Gal, Brian,

      American straight rye has a well-deserved reputation for excellence. There just isn’t enough of it yet to go around. If you get a chance, try Sazerac or Rittenhouse. They’ll blow you away.

      Perhaps the guys at WhistlePig didn’t see the Canadian whisky renaissance coming and decided to hop on the straight rye bandwagon instead.

      The team at Masterson’s has taken a different and entirely honest approach and achieved even greater success than WhistlePig. Masterson’s talks openly about sourcing its rye whisky in Canada and they are completely frank about not distilling it themselves. They also add significant value in selecting the barrels for each batch.

  7. Hallelujah!!!! Just tell us what’s in the bottle. I’m sick of the current us trend of some snap advertising and BS marketing campaigns. Some trumped us fairy tale to make you think that some how you are buying some undiscovered whisky. More often than not good whisky is the product of hard working and dedicated individuals and/or companies that invest time and money into these people. JUST TELL US WHAT IS IN THE BOTTLE!!!

    • Davin:

      Well said, Ed:
      More often than not good whisky is the product of hard working and dedicated individuals and/or companies that invest time and money into these people.

  8. Dave K.:

    I agree 100% with your sentiment regarding truth in marketing, and the desire to have the contents of our liquor bottles honestly labeled.

    That said, I suspect the sad fact is that for every person that makes buying decisions based on that information there are ten that buy because of attractive packaging, a compelling back story whether true or not, or worse yet, hyped scarcity that has nothing at all to do with the product. As whisky becomes more popular that ratio will only increase. Sorry to say, we are not the audience that whisky makers, or marketers are targeting.

    We will have to continue to get our information from professional whisky writers like Davin in order to make our decisions on the fringe of an ever expanding market.

    So Davin, thanks for your efforts, they are much appreciated!

    • Davin:

      Thanks Dave.
      Bottom line? WhistlePig is great whisky so why not let the juice speak for itself instead of pretending it’s something that it’s not?

  9. Dennie Hammer:

    Dido! The best that we can hope for, is that those of you who have the energy to keep up with the ever changing world of whisky keep us informed. The rest is up to us.

    Integrity does make a difference to the buyer.

    Thanks Davin

  10. Andy:

    On Facebook months ago “The Whisky Reviewer” did a write-up on Whistlepig. Talked about the farm and the rye source. In the comments I told him…this is 100% Canadian. After a short time….there ws an *edit* at the bottom stating it was made in Canada.

    • S.D.:

      Maybe that was because in said article, I explicitly wrote the whiskey was selected, not distilled by Dave Pickerell, and didn’t feel at that time that any further comment was necessary by the time I got to it in 2013? I do tend to underestimate the passion some people have for extracting every last drop of blood.

  11. [...] But WhistlePig’s provenance raises an interesting question: is it Canadian whiskey, or is it American rye? Davin de Kergommeaux at Canadianwhisky.org wrote recently: [...]

  12. Yello to Mello:

    Whoa, never seen an article like this around here…a rare treat.

    I got my first bottle of Whistlepig on a trip last week. I agree, like Masterson it is also a top rye whisky!

    Of course its understandable why they chose that marketing strategy. At times its nice to trumpet how good Canadian whisky is but I don’t think it matters that much. They bought some nice whisky.

  13. [...] but it’s not ready yet [Update: they're not. They're building a distillery next year - see Davin's site for more details], so in the meantime they’re buying in spirit (really very good spirit, from all reports) and [...]

  14. Andy:

    WhistlePig just released the barrel proof Boss Hog recently. I read there is no “made in Canada” on the label. Is this LDI/MGPI rye from Indiana?

    • Davin:

      I am not certain, but I think not. However, this is a rumour they seem to want to encourage. Just more confusion. To my knowledge the Boss Hog is also Canadian rye. I have seen other bottles of WhistlePig with the country of origin left off. Perhaps some places allow this and it would help muddy the waters to do so.

  15. Hollis Devillo:

    Great article. Thanks. Do you happen to know who makes the whisky? Who distills it?

    • Davin:

      I think most Canadian distilleries make at least some 100% rye whisky. Which one makes WhistlePig, I can’t say, but the whisky itself is fantastic.

  16. Rufus Carlson:

    Many so called distillers in Vermont are fake. Like Vermont Spirits, Smugglers’ Notch to name just a few.

    • Davin:

      I don’t know about the others, but WhistlePig whisky is truly outstanding. We can call them what we like but they have a unique and highly desirable product.

  17. Javier:

    Ahhhh, more from the craft micro distillery trend. It may be the best out there but finding out that the whole company, bottle, location, and where it actually comes from, is a big marketing ploy really sucks. Is this how they justify a $70 dollar bottle? It’s gotta be good because it’s from AMERICA! Well Americans do not like being lied to. Nobody likes a phoney. As for the Canadians, I would be pissed that someone took a product that you should be rightfully proud of and try to pass it off as being made somewhere else.

    All trends will end as is the cycle of life, and the the micro craft booze like this will eventually become a niche market

  18. On the surface it seems they would have wanted to highlight the Canadian origin from the start and secondarily point to skill in blending, aging, future plans, etc. It seems the marketing storm is over for now, and we can go back to enjoying the product. The next question may be, if they raise their own 1200 acres of rye, will they be expected to harvest it themselves or will their audience allow outsourcing? :-)

  19. It must be nice to be so rich that you can put up $10M and wait four years before you need to sell your first bottle. Of course Whistle Pig bought elsewhere when they started up. They needed an immediate cash flow just like the hundreds of other micro-distilleries that have started up recently. Otherwise it is only a rich-man’s game. No blue collars allowed.

  20. [...] in stores right now was distilled in Canada before being selected for bottling in Vermont. This has some reviewers crying foul over what is essentially a well-executed PR campaign. (For what it’s worth, WhistlePig has applied for [...]

  21. [...] ginger ale. You know, mixing something that has a great tag line and all-American branding but is actually made outside the U.S. with something [...]

  22. R:

    So … what is the Canadian source?

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