There are parties and then there are celebrations. One is merely a gathering of individuals accompanied by drinks, food and entertainment, while the other is an event which marks an important occasion. I mean, anybody can throw a party. All you need to do is get some friends together, buy some chips and dip, grab your phone and hook up your auxiliary cord. Some pyrotechnics and one stolen garden gnome filled with a questionable substance* later and you’re half way to starring in your very own Project X.
*That was a joke. We all know garden gnomes are evil.
So yes, anyone can throw a party. But having a celebration – a true celebration – well, that’s reserved for something special. Something meaningful. Something epic. After attending WhistlePig’s 2016 Grand Party, it’s of my humble opinion that they clearly chose the wrong semantics.
For the uninitiated, I suppose I should start at the beginning. WhistlePig, for as fun as it is to say, is a North American rye whiskey. Based out of Vermont, it was founded by Raj P. Bhakta when he purchased a former dairy farm in 2007. After recruiting master distiller Dave Pickerell, who some may know from his days behind Maker’s Mark, Raj set out to not only transform the farm into a prosperous whiskey distillery, but to bring new life to an industry that, in some ways, was forgotten. Raj and Dave had a plan; to make the best damn rye whiskey in the world. A one-stop rye shop. From growing their own rye to distilling their own spirit. From barreling and aging their affectionately named “white pig” (instead of the more commonly called “white dog”, which is the clear liquid one gets after distillation), to bottling and distributing. The dream was to accomplish everything on this one farm. Though WhistlePig was first released in 2010 with the help of Canada’s Alberta Distillers, as of autumn of last year (2015), when distillation finally began on the farm itself, that dream is on the verge of becoming a reality.
Fast forward almost a year later, Raj and the rest of the WhistlePig team hosted a two day event, inviting over 100 WhistlePig loyalists, buyers, traders, tasters and overall whiskey enthusiasts, to the farm in Shoreham, Vermont to commemorate their achievements. Whisky + Architecture had the good fortune of being invited and, needless to say, I obviously couldn’t let this opportunity pass us by.
The weekend was, from the beginning, a magnificent experience. This was my first time in Vermont, and I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever visited a cleaner, quainter state. Then again, since moving to America, I’ve spent most of my time in Washington DC and New York City, so I suppose that’s not saying much. Regardless, Vermont is beautiful. The drive from Burlington International to the WhistlePig farm was picturesque. The mountains on the horizon, the lush fields of farmland and the almost surrealistic blue sky was all very beautiful. The architecture is particularly quirky. I swear I saw everything from ranch houses to Victorian style homes to barn houses, all juxtaposed in small pockets of urban life spread across a greater rural environment. As I said, all very quaint. Yet, for as much as I admired the beauty Vermont – or at least the one and a half hour stretch between the airport and my destination – had to offer, what really excited me was WhistlePig’s distillery itself.
At this point I honestly believe that I’m not going to do my experience any justice by simply rambling on. Instead, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves and interject where necessary. I should also let you know that while I like to think I have an eye for stuff (you know, architect and all), I’m not a photographer. Added to which, there was so much going on during this trip that it was impossible for me to capture every moment. Regardless, here’s what I did manage to get on film and hopefully you get a sense of just how epic this occasion was.
When I first got to the farm, I was immediately in a state of euphoria. This might seem like a shock to a lot of you, but I haven’t been to that many distilleries – again, I’m just an architect. In fact, I can count the amount of distilleries I’ve been to on one hand. With that being said, of course the first thing I had to do was capture the walk to the distillery barn.
In case I forgot to mention it, no expense was spared in making sure all the guests were treated like family. And as any good family, drinks were waiting upon arrival.
With a bartender.
As well as a steward of the brand, in the form of Gregory Gatti, to lead us on a taste test.
And taste we did! Everything that WhistlePig has to offer, from the flagship WhistlePig 10, to the acclaimed WhistlePig 15. What was of special note, was my personal favourite, the WhistlePig 12, Old World. For those following us on instagram, you may recall that last year I posted the 12 claiming it to be my favourite rye whiskey. With all the whiskey I had this weekend, my stance has not wavered. The 12 is an impeccably delicious dram. A unique offering from WhistlePig, the 12 is actually 95% rye and 5% barley, as oppose to the 100% rye that makes up the other members of the core range. Additionally, the 12 is a marriage of three (3) different finishes, perfectly blended into a harmonious offering. Gregory took us through each of those casks before giving us the perfect 12 blend.
After Gregory parted his knowledge onto us, I realized that the festivities outside the barn were already in full swing.
I even got to try some SAP!, which is this oddly delicious maple soda that, though a bit questionable sounding at first, actually paired pretty damn well with the whiskey.
By the end of the day, with all the food, delicious whiskey and amazing people, I was exhausted. And this was just day one!
The next day we kicked things off bright and early. After being split into three groups, my group started with a detailed tour of the distillery barn.
For those familiar with WhistlePig, you may remember their 2014 Boss Hog release entitled “The Spirit of Mortimer.” That was dedicated to their famed mascot, Mortimer, who, as legend has it, gave up his life defending the honour of his mate, Mauve, who we caught a glimpse of grazing in the distance. Well, once they finally started production in Vermont, the team took their dedication a step further, immortalising Mortimer in copper.
Our tour consisted of seeing first hand how the rye is fermented.
How it is stored.
And of course, how it is distilled.
We were also given a sneak peak at what was to be officially released later that evening: the 2016 Boss Hog!
Afterwards, we made our way to the rick house to see how the whiskey was barrelled and stored.
Speaking of barrels, we were given the opportunity to leave our mark on the distillery by signing one of them. Please understand that at this point we (and by “we” I mean “I”) have had quite quite a couple of pours of whiskey, so excuse my poor penmanship.
All that whiskey I was drinking? Well I did keep some to save some new memories.
Soon enough it was time to head back to the hotel to shower and look presentable for the weekend’s main event: the black tie dinner.
During the 2 hour break, the farm went through quite the transformation. Gone was the lineup of the various whiskeys, and in its place were champagne flutes.
Everyone was dressed to impress and we were all eagerly awaiting the dinner, but in the meantime, we all mingled, and enjoyed some more of WhistlePig’s fine whiskey. Both inside..
…and outside the barn.
Just the atmosphere, fine whiskey and lovely people would’ve been more than enough to satisfy the hearts and palates of all in attendance, but, as I said, no expense was spared, as there was also live entertainment.
And of course, cheese. Lots and lots of cheese.
And then it was time for dinner. The tables were set. The sky was adequately dark. The lighting was in place. The guests on their way to their seats.
While I expected more pork, we were treated with delicious chicken breasts, green beans and mashed potatoes. Paired with our choice of white or red wine and enough WhistlePig 10 to inebriate an army. Raj took to the stage to deliver a heart warming speech about dreams, perseverance and most importantly, family. He then unveiled the long awaited 2016 Boss Hog, which was received with high praise and immense applause. It was then quickly poured and savoured by all.
With a raise of his glass and us following suit, Raj ended the night and thus the weekend. And I haven’t even touched on everything we did! I didn’t mention how we got to pour and bottle our own “white pig”, nor did I mention the top secret project we got to taste. I failed to talk about the trip to see “The Guru” near the creepy abandoned school bus and I forgot tell you about the bouncing castle for the kids who were also there. Did I even mentioned the hot air balloon?
All in all, to say this weekend was superb would undersell how grand it really was. Prior to my experience at the farm, I knew WhistlePig solely by the couple drams of the 10 and 12 I had at Smoke & Barrel in DC’s Adam’s Morgan. After my experience at the farm, I feel as though I’m intimately connected to the brand and that’s more than I could’ve ever expected. Yes, the whiskey is fantastic – and for me to say that about a rye, I think, speaks volumes – but beyond that, I’m going to associate this joyous weekend to every dram of WhistlePig I pour from here on out.
Just before my trip to Vermont, I, along with Finn and Neat, met up with a few other Instagrammers in New York. While I won’t get into the reason for our congregation, we did have a very poignant discussion on the notion of enhancing the experience of drinking whiskey, and what that really means. You see, I’ve always been a big believer in the idea that Architecture has a duty to create, not just space, but place. I even wrote a four piece essay on it. It’s all about creating memories and having those memories be a driver for how we perceive and interact with the world. Here at Whisky + Architecture, we’ve long been thinking about how we can accomplish this. This weekend in Vermont, at the WhistlePig farm, speaks to that. The farm is more than a few hundred acres of land and a small, but booming, distillery. It’s more than a couple buildings that house equipment. Thanks to this weekend, it is clear that the farm has a presence. And with that presence it has more meaning that what it simply functions as.
That’s why I started this whole thing off by saying this wasn’t a party. This was a celebration. A celebration of the achievements Raj and the team have accomplished in 5 short years since WhistlePig 10 was first released. A celebration of all the hard work that went into creating the brand and all the people that have supported it. A celebration of the fact that dreams do come true.
I’ve grown to respect the hell out of WhistlePig and will gladly consider myself an advocate in the hopes that one day, if you don’t already, you do too.
Cheers. – Peat