An Interview with WhistlePig Whiskey
ISC Barrels Account Manager Chad Spalding recently (virtually) caught up with the Master Blender at WhistlePig, Pete Lynch. Listen to their discussion of how Pete uses our ISC Barrels to craft WhistlePig Whiskey.
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Chad: Hello folks, Chad Spalding with Independent Stave Company here with my good friend from WhistlePig Distillery up in Vermont. This is Pete Lynch. Pete is the Master Blender at WhistlePig. Hello Pete, thanks for your time.
Pete: Chad, thanks so much for having me. It’s good to see you again. Albeit not in person, but hey – I love that we are able to adapt with times and at least get a little face time because I have been missing that beard of yours my friend.
Chad: Actually, I have trimmed it up lately.
Pete: I noticed, I noticed. You’re heading in the right direction.
Chad: Yeah but I’ll be back, stronger and louder. Alright Pete, we will get right into it. We’ve done these things with a few different distillery folks and our distillery friends that like to partner with Independent Stave and it’s always nice to pick their brains and get some good feedback from them. So, we’ll jump right into it – Pete, how in the world did you get started in the spirits industry?
Pete: That is a great question. Some would say depending on how you look at it, I started at the age of seven or so due to my father being a wine aficionado, a big wine buff. I would always be taking a sniff out of the glass. Begging him, ‘Just let me take a sip’. Then every time I did, I was like ‘Eww that is terrible’. But eventually worked my way into my first roll in the industry, which believe it or not was on the retail end – distribution side. Long story short, Vermont being a control state, our distributors are not existent, and I was working out of a place that both sold liquor retail facing and supplied various other restaurants [what] they might want. So, I got to learn some of the ins and out of the industry that way and really developed the love of whiskey. Because, fun fact, in Vermont if a bottle breaks, we don’t necessarily have to eat that cost, the DLC owns it and that gives me a little chance to actually step back and get an idea of what we are working with, build that library of knowledge if you will.
Chad: Perfect, that’s a little different route you took there, starting at the age of seven.
Pete: This isn’t going anywhere public right? This is just you and me?
Chad: Yeah, that’s what I told you anyway. I do have the five second buzzer over here to the left just in case.
Pete: Nice, there you go.
Chad: So, you guys are a great partner with Independent Stave. You have lots of ISC barrels in your program. What is, “Pete Lynch’s as the Master Blender”, what’s your go to ISC barrel?
Pete: Oh man Chad, that is a tough one because I’ll be honest, I don’t have a favorite quite yet. I really, if I have a favorite, it’s the program itself. It’s the fact that we can customize our barrels with the toast level, with the char level that is proprietary to us. That we worked, I mean you and I and Andrew have worked together for over the course of the years to say ok we are working with this type of spirit – we are looking to evoke these kinds of flavors – how can we do that using the proper barrel? And it’s not just within WhistlePig, but the industry as a whole, a lot of people are using these not just standard char but toasted then charred. It’s going to give us such a range of flavors coming out of our whiskeys, whether it’s rye, bourbon, wheat, single malt – you name it and we are going to be tasting, we already are, totally unique spirits that the whiskey world has never thought possible. Totally different spins on rye, that might be 100% rye but softer, a little bit fruiter because of that toast profile. I’d say I probably will know what my favorite barrel is, because as you know, we always have trials going on with you guys. At the moment we’ve got various trials but one in particular that I’m very much looking forward to seeing what comes out of it. We’re trialing various different toast profiles that we work with you guys to create specific for WhistlePig and really set the stage for future product releases to come and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
Chad: Yeah, totally agree. We’re the same on this side and can’t wait until that stuff comes out. We can start tasting that and when it gets a little older, gets a little age on it and it’s going to be super exciting.
Pete: Oh yeah, you’re telling me.
Chad: So, do you have a favorite cocktail or are you a neat drinker or both?
Pete: I’m going to say both for sure. I'm typically going for it neat. You know, I tend to look for the pure expression of the whiskey; but if you’re a cocktail guy, I am all for it. You know, once you buy a bottle of whiskey that’s yours to do with what you want. And I’m about to prove my self-theory right because my favorite cocktail with WhistlePig specifically is not very complicated. Is probably the simplest cocktail you’ll ever hear. It’s not what you are looking for. We call it “cream stock” and it is quite simply equal parts FarmStock, Rye Crop 001, which is pretty tough to get ahold of nowadays, AND cream soda.
Pete: Put them in there with a little bit of ice, mmm, summertime, beautiful sipper. Actually, not just in a jokey way, it brings out some of the great flavors that are inherit in FarmStock Crop 001. Some of the sweeter notes, hands down some of that youth from our one-year old whiskey that’s in that blend and it gives us that rye expression coming though. You can actually taste the barrel finish pretty excessively and man I can sip on that all day long. It’s not exactly what you might expect. You might expect, ‘Oh I love a perfect Manhattan’, ‘Oh an ole pal with WhistlePig 15 Year Old’ but no, it’s a basic cocktail Chad, it’s a cream stock.
Chad: I can almost certainly say that I’ve never tried any whiskey or bourbon with cream soda so it’s next on my list.
Pete: I’m going to send you a couple bottles of my favorite cream soda and I’m going to send you a bottle of FarmStock 001 and you and the office are going to just go nuts with that.
Chad: Hey, we don’t turn down free booze that’s for sure either. That sounds like a plan. Alright, so Pete, your crystal ball that you have sitting over there on your desk somewhere I’m sure. What does it read for you and the WhistlePig Brand in the next say 5-10 years?
Pete: Oh, alright, so we are definitely going to see a lot more farm-based innovation. That’s been going on from day one but we haven’t necessarily tasted, unless you have come to the farm itself and you got me drunk enough, you haven’t tasted quite yet. I’m really excited to show these expressions to the world. I think our latest release of HomeStock might have been the teaser. HomeStock was, to put very simply, a blend of rye, barley, and wheat. Wheat and barley is something we have never released before, never talked about but it’s something we have been playing with and it’s sort of to tickle the fancy in a sense and say, ‘Hey you thought we were just rye’ and rye is our bread and butter, rye is what we are always going to lay on, we are always going to make rye. BUT that doesn’t mean that we are not going to make bourbon, we are not going to make wheat whiskey, we are not going to experiment with anything that you know seems like it might have a good end product based off our market research. Based off our in-house distillation trials. Based off even what you guys say, ‘Hey with this special toast profile and a light char we can evoke some great single malt flavors’. You better believe that is what I am most excited about. Seeing that farm-based range, grow and expand maybe outside of just rye, maybe outside of just whiskey, who really knows. But really, just keeping our fingers to the pulse and seeing what the people want. Again, that HomeStock was a blended whiskey but most importantly it was a crowd-blended whiskey where I had absolutely zero control other than hey here is these three whiskeys. Blend them together however you want. Really get to the idea of what our fans really want to drink, gives us a better idea of what we are going to put out in the future. You know if somebody likes FarmStock 003 more than they like HomeStock then maybe we should change gears a little bit. But getting that feedback is huge in so many ways.
Chad: So, you took a few weeks off and let the folks make the blending session for you?
Pete: Yeah, I mean, you know I would have liked to take a few weeks off but yeah it was again, long story short we sent out these kits to 1,000 people through Flaviar across the country. We have them blend their own favorite versions of HomeStock and send in the submissions. I found the three most popular blend areas. And we actually did a live stream where we recreated these blends, tasted through them and gave people several minutes to vote on them. During those several minutes, you better believe I was biting my nails to the bone, hoping that it tastes fantastic and it does.
Chad: Alright Pete, so that kind of leads me right into the next question which is, you can explain again, what do you like most about being the Master Blender at WhistlePig?
Pete: Ah Chad, that’s an easy one. It’s the fact that I get to work with tastes and see such a wide range of rye whiskey, that’s such a range of ages; and also watch this whiskey grow up from age 5-10 and from age 10-15 and really see what rye whiskey has to offer at various mash bill percentages and various wood types coming from varies regions of not just North America but the world at large and getting a better idea of what we can then present to the world as our next bottle, as our next Boss Hog, as our next standard product, whatever that might be. Really just building that library of tasting knowledge if you will and keep my finger on the pulse of what rye was and what rye is right now and what rye can and will hopefully be. And back to the toasted barrels, that is a huge part of it. These special barrels that aren’t just the classic char profile, no knock against those but we are able to get to the depth of flavor out of them. Especially rye whiskey, letting it sit a little longer in that barrel, evoking some toastier notes, invoking some sweeter notes, really balancing out the main spice character of rye. I’m so fortunate to be able to taste these older whiskey’s, but also then try to build the future of rye as best as I can with my team at WhistlePig.
Chad: Perfect. Alright so the finale question here, so Pete if you were not the Master Blender at WhistlePig what would your dream job be?
Pete: I would like to be Andrew’s assistant.
Chad: Andrew Wiehebrink’s assistant [ISC Barrels Research & Development]?
Chad: He does have a good gig now, I’m telling you.
Pete: Oh yeah, there you go. Now honestly something I miss, and this is going to sound kind of funny and line cooks everywhere are going to hate me for saying it, I miss being a line cook. I miss just making a ton of food for a lot of people, you know being part of that sorta, hearing the ticket coming out, feeling the stress and having the guy to the right yell at you, having the guy to the left yell at you and working as a team in that sense, well you know. AND my favorite part is always, you know, when no customers are there and making yourself a little something special with the secret sauce.
Chad: There you go.
Pete: Oh yeah. The good ole days, right?
Chad: Absolutely. Well Pete, once again we at Independent Stave Company, we appreciate you and the WhistlePig team, and how great you guys are to work with and to provide barrels for. We look forward to the future with you guys and all these great cool barrels that we have laid down and to learn from and I can’t wait to start tasting some of them.
Pete: Ah Chad, thanks so much for being a part of the team, because you guys are truly part of the team. A lot of our successes current and future are going to be part of the ISC program, going to be attributed to it and I can’t wait to taste those with you guys man. Cheers!
Chad: Cheers to you Pete.
Pete: Thanks for being part of the ride all along.
Chad: Alright, thanks Pete
Pete: Chad, what a pleasure man.
Chad: Have a good one!