Funny as I sit down and start to think about last Friday's WhiskeyFest Chicago, I recall more about the people I saw and the conversations we had that had nothing to do with whiskey. Blogs being already too self-indulgent, I'll refrain, although I did have a good time dishing like schoolgirls with Fred Noe.
The whiskey highlight may have been Dave Pickerell's WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey. Pickerell is the former Master Distiller for Maker's Mark. His current project is a found whiskey whose source is being kept secret (naturally) but we know it's Canadian and since the mash is 100 percent unmalted rye the list of possible suspects is short.
Canadian straight ryes are very rarely sold that way. They are made as flavoring whiskeys, to be just one component of a blend. Since the typical Canandian blend is mostly nearly-neutral blending whiskey, the flavoring whiskeys have to be potent and this one is. Pickerell does a little trick where he names some of the characteristic rye flavors while you're tasting and they jump out at you as he does.
People do this at guided tastings all the time. It doesn't always work, but it works like a dream with WhistlePig. Clove? check. Spearmint? check. Anise? check. Wintergreen? check.
As straight ryes go, this is in some sub-category all alone. It's not a typical straight rye, but it is good.
There also isn't very much of it so only Chicago, New York and L.A. will get WhistlePig, which is 100° proof (50% ABV) and 10 years old. It should be on shelves in a month or two and will sell for about $70 a bottle. At that price I hate to say this, but you really do need to get some.
There were more micro-distilleries at this WhiskeyFest Chicago than ever before. Jess Graber (Stranahan's), Scott Bush (Templeton), David Perkins (High West), and Robert and Sonat Birnecker (Koval) were all there, to name a few. With the exception of Stranahan's, they all featured either found whiskey or white whiskey. Props to Perkins, who put his oat distillate into barrels for exactly five minutes so he can legally call it whiskey.