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Whistlepig Old World 12-Year-Old Rye Whiskey

Whistlepig Old World 12-Year-Old Rye Whiskey

Rather than give you a backstory on the history of Whistlepig, I’ve decided to come out swinging about this bottle of Whistlepig that I’m reviewing today. Ever since I became a serious whiskey drinker around 2018 (yes, I’m a baby), I have watched the price of this exact bottle climb into the stratosphere. The first time I saw it at a store, it wore a price of $84.99. Meanwhile the 10 Year, 100 proof Small Batch version next to it wore a price of $69.99. Now six years later the Old World Finish is $140 and the 10 year is $79.99.

What is with the astronomical jump in price? I don’t buy any excuse that claims that Canadian Rye Whisky from Alberta Distillers (the kind that Whistlepig sources) has gone up that much in price. The proof is in my example of their 10-year-old version – it’s only being sold for $10 more per bottle over the same span of time. But maybe you believe that the finishing casks that Old World uses have gone up in price? I would argue against that happening because other producers seem to be selling finished whiskies for about the same prices that they always have.

But I do have one wild theory as to why the price has increased. Read on as I connect the dots.

Whistlepig has raised the price on Old World Finish because they saw a competitor do it first

My theory on the reason behind Whistlepig’s price increase for Old World has to do with one of its main competitors. I’m talking about High West’s Midwinter Night’s Dram Rye Whiskey. For the first five years, MWND was sold slightly under $100/bottle. I bought my first bottle in 2018 for $89. Nowadays it retails for $125. This is slightly absurd because the the quality of the rye whiskey has gone down – it’s blended from 5 to 9 year old rye whiskies. MWND’s secondary price has also increased to around $200 these days – even though it once commanded a $250 valuation from 2020-2022.

I fully believe that Whistlepig saw the similarities between Old World and MWND and asked themselves “Why not us?” After all, we’re talking about a low-proofed rye whiskey finished in wine casks. And while the cask types don’t fully line up with each other, they’re still the main focus of the liquid inside.

What is Whistlepig Old World anyway?

Back when the 12 Year Old World label was originally launched in 2015, Whistlepig used 12-year-old 95/5 rye whiskey that was distilled in Indiana. It would continue to use that same rye whiskey up until the end of 2018. Starting in 2019, the label changed to the one you see in my review. The backside indicates it is a “Product of Canada.” This jibes with the stories we were hearing of Whistlepig running out of MGP rye whiskey around that same time. Most reviewers (myself included) recognized a shift in profile across all of their products to a grassier, thinner profile. It was even more apparent in their single barrel versions.

Whistlepig finishes each component of Old World in separate casks (Madeira, Sauternes and Port) before blending them together and proofing it all down to 86 proof. They do make a single barrel version – but it carries a $40 premium over the standard Old World version. The main difference between the single barrel and the batched version is that the finishing barrel ratios are different from the batched version. Those single barrels are more of a micro-blend, but I’ve seen some that consist of only one finishing barrel.

One thing I usually point out in any review of a Whistlepig product is just how much they rely on their previous accolades to sell their modern products. Whistlepig Old World is no different. It was awarded a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2015. To this day they continue to include that tidbit in their product literature.

But that was a very different product back then. I’d even go as far as to point out that tasting notes and high praise of the product from reviews published prior to 2019 should be disregarded. If you’re looking to buy a modern bottle, read reviews published only after 2019 (and make sure they’re not reviewing an older label, too).

So how does the modern version of Old World taste? Let’s find out. I am sampling this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: I was fully expecting to find the finishing barrels taking the lead here. To my surprise, it’s the grassy, earthy and botanical notes of rye whiskey that is so very “Alberta.” And that’s fine! A rye should smell like a rye. But it defeats the purpose of being triple-cask finished if I’m having to dig a bit to find the wine finishes. Slowly, scents of berries, wine and “Pop Tarts” being to emerge. Everything is overlaid with a semi-sharp cinnamon note. I even find a tiny bit of oak within it all.

Palate: Just like on the nose, the Canadian Rye Whiskey is more prominent than I was prepared for. The green notes are mostly covered up, but the spice of the rye shines through. It’s also slightly bitter. The finishing barrels do show themselves more than they did on the nose with flavors of red wine and sweet berry juice. Neither side is fully dominant. The palate is not as complex as I was thinking it would be. I’d love to tell you more flavors were present, but I couldn’t pick them out. I blame the low proof.

Finish: This is one of those unexpected whiskies where the finish is nothing like the nose or the palate. I find lingering notes of mint, menthol and pear. Wine still floats around. Molasses offers some sweetness, but the finish is too short to enjoy much of it.

Score: 5.9/10

I have been split on what to think about this rye since before I purchased it. I hate hate hated it for its low proof. It’s simply inexcusable to be 10 proof points lower than Midwinter Night’s Dram. There’s really no reason for any whiskey to be lower than 90 proof and especially not one for this price.

I think one of the biggest negatives about this rye whiskey is just how weak the finish is. Had this been an unfinished rye whiskey from Alberta bottled at 86 proof, I would never have purchased it. Instead, I was hoping that the finishing barrels would make me a believer. That did not happen. It’s times like these where I look at a whiskey like Basil Hayden and see that their creators realized that 80 proof was too weak for finishing barrels alone – so they had to literally blend in the rum or wine to the bourbon to get the flavor they wanted out of it. Maybe that would have been preferable here?

Final Thoughts

If you’re a connoisseur of rye whiskies, you will find this entirely unfulfilling. My score is rather generous because I’m not here to burn a perfectly serviceable whiskey to the ground. But the honest truth is there’s nothing here for me. If you love rye whiskies, there’s nothing here for you either. This is simply a bottle that people buy their friends as a gift when they hear they’re “into rye whiskey.”

The price is this high not because it’s actually the cost of the ingredients needed to make it, it’s so you don’t look like a cheapskate when you gift it. Out of all of my enthusiast friends, not a single one owns this bottle. So if you needed the motivation not to buy this bottle, there it is.

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