"Always in Alberta there is a fresh wind blowing." -Nellie McClung
Including a rye whiskey as a featured liquor initially may not seem like an unusual choice. Yet, this whiskey differs because it uses 100% rye. In the US, for a whiskey to classify as a rye, the “grain bill” or mash has to be at least 51%, while the rest can be wheat, sorghum, corn or other grains. Strangely, Canada has no requirements about a whiskey’s rye composition to label it rye, and some rye whiskey’s have almost none. This fantastic whiskey, while it carries the Vermont-based WhistlePig appellation, is actually produced in Alberta, but bottled in Vermont. This US-Canadian product puts the Aroostook War of 1838 between the two countries in the rearview mirror and celebrates international collaboration.
The nose of WhistlePig has a wonderfully spicy aroma. The spice of peppercorns comes through initially. The scent mellows subsequently with hints of autumn. Cinnamon and allspice present themselves after the initial intensity.
The flavor profile of WhistlePig Rye has similarities to Islay scotches with its spicy notes and almost peaty nature. While the mid taste and finish are bold, the initial sip brings a sensational smoothness. The delicate smoothness quickly gives way to a bold flavor with hints of caramelized sugar and clove. These give way to the finishing smokiness that hints at a peaty warmth.
THIRST AND HUNGER
Twist on a Classic: Bichon Frise
This classic drink, named after the dog, normally calls for vodka, grapefruit juice, elderflower liqueur, and lemon juice. To mix this up, I substituted the vodka for the WhistlePig rye. Vodka doesn’t bring a considerable amount of extra flavor to the drink allowing the citrus and elderflower to shine, but I thought the slight spiciness of the rye would be an interesting compliment. I wasn’t disappointed by the replacement. The layered flavors came through at various points in the drink and made a very satisfying cocktail.
For the drink:
1 1/2 oz WhistlePig PiggyBack
1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
3/4 oz elderflower liqueur (St. Germain)
1/4 oz fresh lemon juice
For the garnish:
Nick and Nora
Combine all of the drink ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice until three-quarters full, and shake for 10 seconds until chilled. Double strain into your glass through a Hawthorne and small mesh strainer. Add your garnish.
Something Original: The Collarless Goes West
WhistlePig Rye comes from the western prairies of Canada. This made me want to create a drink that captured various elements of the Western part of the continent. I thought a hint of smoke from the tequila would pair well with the rye. The prickly pear cactus simple syrup continued my western theme, and the sweetness balanced by hints of cucumber worked well with the two liquors. Finally, the sourness of the lime juice tied everything together, bridging across all the other flavors.
For the drink:
1 ½ oz WhistlePig PiggyBack
½ oz tequila (Espolon blanco)
¾ oz prickly pear simple syrup
1 oz lime juice
For the garnish:
Make your lime peel garnish. I cut it into the shape of the sun symbol on the New Mexico flag that comes from Zia people. Combine all of the drink ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake without ice for 45 seconds. Fill the shaker with ice about three-quarters full and shake for about 10 seconds until chilled. Use a Hawthorne and fine mesh strainer to pour into your glass. Add the lime garnish.
Eat Your Spirit: Rye Barbecue Sauce
This recipe is a riff on my favorite barbecue sauce from Adam Perry Lang’s Serious Barbecue. His original recipe calls for bourbon. I not only change this element but make a few other tweaks to enhance the WhistlePig in this barbecue sauce.
For the barbecue sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large vidalia onion
5 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup WhistlePig PiggyBack
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon lemon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups water
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1 1/2 tablespoons sriracha
1/2 granny smith apple
-Add the olive oil, chopped onions, chopped garlic cloves, and kosher salt to a large dutch oven and heat on medium-high heat. Saute for 10 minutes only stirring once or twice.
-Add the WhistlePig Piggy back and continue sauteing for another 5 minutes.
-Add the chili powder, lemon pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and cayenne. Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes.
-Add the water, brown sugar, ketchup, yellow mustard, apple cider vinegar, apricot preserves, and sriracha. Stir to combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.
-Immediately after it comes to a bowl, turn the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally.
-After 45 minutes grate the granny smith half and add it to the sauce off the heat.
-You can leave the sauce chunky or puree it with an immersion blender or pour the sauce into a blender after it cools.
Disclaimer: WhistlePig is based in Vermont. However, this whiskey was distilled in Alberta, Canada using Canadian rye and bottled by WhistlePig in Vermont. Normally, I feature the region the distillery is based, but I have not been to Vermont, and I love Alberta.
Alberta was the first place I remember a landscape instilled in me a sense of awe. I visited twice as a kid and drove through the province again on a cross-country continent road trip in 2018. Seeing the mountains and the prairies as 30-year-old had the same effect as my initial visit when I was 7. I consider myself lucky to have traveled so much early in life, and Alberta may have the most stunning scenery of any place I’ve been.
The Canadian Rockies that define the western edge of the province have some of the most iconic parks and sites in the world. The landscape is so dramatic that in 1984 it received a UNESCO designation as a world heritage site. Banff and Jasper National Parks are two of the best-known places in the region. They have glaciers, towering mountains, and snow runoff lakes of ethereal blue. You see wildlife everywhere: elk, moose, mountain goat, big horn sheep, and brown bear. And with every winding road you take up the mountains some new discovery is around each bend.
Calgary and Edmonton are the two largest cities in the province. I loved both as a kid, but only revisited Calgary as an adult. Both cities sit just east of the mountains at the beginning of the plains. Calgary mesmerized me when I was young because during one of my two visits, I went to the Calgary Stampede, the world’s largest rodeo. For a seven-year-old, who grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, a gigantic Canadian rodeo was a wondrous experience. Besides the rodeo, Calgary hosted the 1988 Olympics with the first Jamaican bobsled team for anyone who is a Cool Runnings fan and it has a big foodie scene. Edmonton, which lies two hours north of Calgary, is hazier in my memory. However, as a fan of dinosaurs, the dinosaur museum in Edmonton as well as the excavation sites outside the city stick out in my memory. Both cities are fascinating metropolises sandwiched between mountains and plains.
Alberta’s prairie seems to roll out endlessly as you drive out of Calgary or Edmonton east towards Saskatchewan. This fertile land is a mixture of grasslands, pastures for livestock, and fields of grains and cereals. This expansive environment provides that unique experience where the horizon truly feels untouchable. The drive through the prairie makes you feel comfortably small in landscape of inescapable sunlight. While all I did was drive the empty trans-Canadian highway across, I would go back again in an instant.
WhistlePig Piggyback 100% rye is the perfect spirit to have come from Alberta. The initial smoothness reminds me of the prairie and the subsequent spiciness creates flashbacks of the Canadian Rockies.