What do you get when you select four James Beard-nominated chefs from across the country, fly them to a Vermont distillery, and give them a fully immersive lesson in whiskey blending? According to online craft spirits club Flaviar.com, you end up with a lot of dad jokes and a few axes thrown toward a bonfire. But the chefs also learned enough to blend a limited-edition, bespoke rye whiskey for WhistlePig.
This all started in June, when WhistlePig brought Michael Gulotta of MoPho/Maypop (New Orleans), Jamie Malone from Grand Café (Minneapolis), David Posey from Elske (Chicago), and Justin Woodward of Castagna (Portland) to the WhistlePig Farm in Shoreham, Vermont. They were then introduced to WhistlePig's master blender, Pete Lynch, who explained the blending process — and poured a lot of whiskey samples — before allowing the four chefs to put their new skills to the test.
"I have blended whiskey before, so once we got to that step I just jumped right in and started making different batches with different percentages of four rye whiskies that had been aged for 12 years in different barrels," Woodward told Food & Wine. "After tasting and tweaking the recipe, I came up with a blend that I really enjoyed. After that, I made 3 other recipes but ended up going back to the first recipe, as that one was my favorite."
When Woodward and his co-blenders called it a day, the result was the soon-to-be-released WhistlePig X Flaviar Chef’s Blend 2019, which retails for $124.99, and will be sold in a limited run of 1,000 bottles through Flaviar. "The process of blending a whiskey has much in common with the creative process of creating a menu and so we thought it would be an interesting experiment to take four incredible chefs, who are real bastions of flavor, and have them play around with the blend of a new whiskey expression," Flaviar.com co-founder Grisa Soba said.
The WhistlePig X Flaviar Chef's Blend is comprised of 40% Madeira-finished rye, 30% Sherry-finished rye, 20% port-finished rye, and 10% Sauternes-finished rye. "Madeira, Port and Sauternes are the magic trio in our WhistlePig 12, and the chefs’ decision to add Sherry Cask Finished Rye so prominently to the WhistlePig X Flaviar Chef’s Blend 2019 takes that trio to a place we've never before seen," Lynch beamed. "The blend showcases a rich complexity with subtle nuances, adding a great Sherry derived spice and nuttiness, and tremendously deepening the flavor profile."
"The hardest part for me was remembering the four types of barrels. It was interesting how different the blends were with just small changes in percentages of rye," Woodward said. "[As a chef], I look for a combination of complexity, flavor, nose, and length on the palate."
Although WhistlePig X Flaviar Chef's Blend won't be available on the website until October, all four chefs are hosting special dinners in their respective restaurants for Flaviar members, and each menu will be designed to complement the flavors in the whiskey.
Posey's dinner at Elske was held on September 6, and Maypop served its WhistlePig menu on September 9. Interestingly, both chefs selected pork belly for the entree: Posey prepared bacon-wrapped pork belly with green beans, roasted apple, and watercress, while Woodward went with Slow Roasted Pork Belly Char Siu with Muscadine grape mostarda and olive almond sticky rice. The other two meals are scheduled for September 17 (Grand Café) and September 19 (Castagna).