Craft distilleries are popping up all around the country. Some states have jumped on that trend harder than others — New York and Texas are two I’m particularly familiar with — but others are joining the movement as well. And in the process, they’re adding their own unique voice to the conversation about what makes an American whiskey. In 2010, Montana entered that game, opening their first craft distillery in Bigfork.
Formally trained as a geohydrologist, Brian Anderson is also self proclaimed whiskey geek. He started dreaming of opening his own distillery around 2003, and less than a decade later he (along with his wife and two business partners) opened Whistling Andy Distillery in Bigfork, Montana — which is currently the oldest operating distillery in the state.
The distillery was named after Brian’s father Andy, who earned the nickname “Whistling Andy” while serving in the armed forces.
Since they opened their doors, the Whistling Andy distillery has focused on locally sourced grain to glass whiskey, using raw materials from the local area and turning them into delicious spirits. Their products are now available around the nation and worldwide, and the business remains privately owned.
All of Whistling Andy’s spirits start with locally sourced grains from the Montana area. In this case, they start with a mixture of 40% barley, 40% wheat, 15% corn, and 5% rye which is then combined with deep aquifer water to be cooked and fermented.
That mildly alcoholic mixture is then run through their hybrid still to produce the new make whiskey, which is socked away in charred barrels for three years before being proofed down and bottled.
Interesting to note is that this whiskey meets all the requirements to be a bourbon except for one: the corn content. There’s only 15% corn in here, which is well short of the 51% requirement. From a reviewer perspective, that makes this an interesting comparison to a bourbon, as it makes clear how the difference in grain content impacts the flavor.
This is a clean and sophisticated bottle, which is somewhat surprising. Perhaps it’s a big stereotypical of me, but I’d expect a Montana whiskey to be a bit more “rough and tumble”. Instead, we have something that looks like it would fit in at a sleek cocktail bar or an instagram-friendly speakeasy.
For the shape of the bottle, they went with a tall and slender design (basically a cylinder with straight walls and a small cross section). It’s a bottle design that I usually associate with sweeter spirits like a limoncello or a liqueur, not a whiskey. The bottle sports a sharp shoulder and a short neck, and is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
The label here is similarly sparse in a minimalist aesthetic sort of way. The brand name is probably the largest element on the label, with most of the space just being open white space. I will say that this is probably my biggest pet peeve with label designs, specifically since the massive label obscures the whiskey inside and doesn’t allow you to get a good peek at the contents. That’s just exacerbated by the slender design, as there’s not much space around the label either.
The spirit is a beautiful straw color, much lighter than other spirits that have been aged for a significant period of time (like the three years this spent in a barrel).
Right off the bat, too, this smells sweeter and more citrus-forward than other whiskies. I get some brown sugar in the aroma, but right behind that is some orange, a bit of lemon, and some crisp apple along with baking spices.
Once you take a sip, that fruity color palette continues, albeit with some slight differences. There’s some brown sugar, but that fruitiness has transitioned to more of a dried apricot flavor instead of the crisper notes from before. There isn’t much bite or acidity in here, which I think is thanks to the barley- and wheat-focused grain bill. There’s a touch of pepper spice in the middle of the flavor profile (that’s the rye content trying to peek through), but the finish is nice and smooth with that dried apricot lingering on.
Lighter spirits are often at a disadvantage when you add a couple blocks of ice. For darker bourbons, it can be a godsend as it attenuates the sometimes overpowering flavors, although at the expense of the lighter and more nuanced aspects. So when your whiskey is entirely lighter and nuanced flavors, things don’t usually go well.
That’s unfortunately what seems to be happening here. The dried apricot flavor has been diminished to the point where it’s almost like a tiny hint, lost in the alcohol content. If anything, the lemon I saw in the aroma is what’s coming through most clearly now, accompanied by the almost buttery mouthfeel you’d expect from a barley-based scotch whiskey.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I usually like a darker and richer flavor to my old fashioned. Dark chocolate, smoke, burned caramel… all of these are good flavors. And none of that is in this glass.
That’s not to say this is necessarily a bad old fashioned — just a significantly lighter version. You do need a touch of sugar to completely balance out the bitters, but the flavors mix nicely. The added aromatics blend nicely with the fruit that’s left in the whiskey for a crisp, clean flavor profile.
This reminds me of a penicillin cocktail, which uses lemon juice, honey, and scotch whiskey as the ingredients. In fact, I think it would probably work much better in that context compared to what we have here.
Given how the rest of this review has gone, you’d expect the mule to be a bit of a bummer. But, quite surprisingly, you’d be wrong.
Right up front, the lighter and sweeter flavors in the whiskey do a good job complimenting the bitter ginger beer. It isn’t as balanced as you’d normally see with a darker bourbon, but the flavors combine to make something that is dangerously close to lemonade.
But that’s not all: while the rye content might not be a major component of the grain bill, it still does its job here. There’s a touch of black pepper spice that is coming through near the finish, adding a kick that you wouldn’t see in a vodka-based mule.
The great thing about whiskey is that everyone has a different taste and opinion about what they like. I generally prefer a darker and richer experience, but at the same time I can appreciate a lighter and fruitier take. And that’s what we have here: a lighter and more fruit-forward expression of American whiskey.
In fact, I’d almost recommend thinking about this as closer to a scotch than anything else. The flavors in here are similar to a fruity Highland whiskey and behave in much the same way, which is delicious when taken neat and refreshing in an old fashioned.
I think that this bottle is absolutely worth the price they are asking for it. This is a great tasting whiskey, and if you don’t have something fruity and light on your shelf, then I’d recommend giving it a look to round out your collection.
|Whistling Andy Harvest Select Whiskey|
Produced By: Whistling AndyProduction Location: Montana, United States
Aging: 3 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $48 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
I’d have no problems selecting this Harvest Select whiskey again in the future.