WhistlePig's $800 Single Malt Whiskey Is Hog Heavenly

In a whiskey industry where distilleries can be older than entire countries, WhistlePig is a relatively young company. Opening its doors this century, it made high-end ryes its focus with the occasional bourbon or Irish, all to great attention from the start. The Vermont brand began sourcing and blending its whiskeys elsewhere before establishing its own farm and distillery to produce rye and the whiskey derived from it in a sustainable manner, even growing its own oaks and turning its wood into barrels on site.

This week sees the debut of its new single malt, a type of whiskey that comes from one distillery and that purists regularly hail as the best type available. The 21-year Béhôlden (yes, accent marks and all) is the oldest release from the company, beating out an 18-year double malt. While the company makes waves by releasing ryes often aged into the low double digits, WhistlePig says Béhôlden is North America's first super-aged single malt whiskey, and no American single malt is even half as old. But we welcome and will gladly test any challengers to the throne. (Looking at you, Stranahan's.)

Take a look with us at WhistlePig Béhôlden.

Where to buy WhistlePig Béhôlden 21 single malt

As of Wednesday, March 1, The Béhôlden is available to order on WhistlePig's online store. At a considerable price tag of $800, it's an expensive purchase, but if you're hoping to catch a discount in the stores, good luck. It may go up in price, but it likely won't go down, and first, you'll have to scout a shop that sells it. Your best bet to find it in person is to look for a shop that normally has regular expressions of WhistlePig in stock, but the online option is far and away the easiest way to procure this 750-milliliter bottle while it's available.

Availability is almost guaranteed to run out, though. Just 18 barrels comprise this release, which if our assumption of 200-liter barrels is correct, leaves slightly fewer than 4,800 bottles to be had. That's not the kind of production run that leads to a premium whiskey plummeting in price after it reaches the market.

What does WhistlePig Béhôlden 21 single malt smell like?

The Béhôlden's nose is floral and fruity, mostly cherry in aroma to match the wood grain color of its liquid. On the end, it settles into a touch of oiled leather and well-hidden vanilla, whereas most whiskeys would offer it up on the front. Apple bookends the front and back of this inhalation, but you'll really have to push to get it at the end.

The burn on the nose isn't the most intense you've ever encountered, but it's got impressive staying power that arises whenever it's swirled. There's a spicy punch that lingers even an hour after a pour. Handled more gently, however, and you can breathe deeply of its fragrant spice, which gives off the rye barrel finish to great effect. As we'll see from the flavors, this whiskey comes across as very straightforward, then reveals more and more of itself interwoven.

With a drop of water and the vanilla pops to the top of the nose. And suddenly this whiskey smells like making out with someone out of your league. Frankly, over the course of our review, we went from nodding at a well-done whiskey to realizing it has so much more hand to play than the cards it's showing. It's like a celebrity being deliberately humble while steadily revealing its jet-set life.

What is WhistlePig Béhôlden 21 single malt's body like?

This whiskey's color is situated right in the middle of the golden spectrum from straw to ruby, occupying a lovely color of Baltic amber. The legs form about 2 centimeters apart before returning home to nestle in a reddish-gold cedar color. A long sit after pouring only aids the drinking experience, and it's lovely to look at.

On the tongue, its texture is dense. It feels very much reduced by its time in the barrels, without being cloying or thick. It has a very moderate oiliness that is mostly detectable after swallowing, and then only to its benefit. If there were less burn to this texture, you might make more of it while chewing, but that's the hand we're dealt here.

It's not smooth, but it has enough depth to trick you into thinking it is. Still — and distilled — waters run deep, even if the burn never goes away. In fact, if you're a whiskey drinker who argues the burn is not to a whiskey's detriment, we've found your white whale.

All told, the texture is one of this whiskey's biggest and most interesting strengths.

How does WhistlePig Béhôlden 21 single malt taste?

It's sweet and deep for a good long stretch. When it does vanish, it swerves fast into more floral flavors emerging concurrently with the oakiness. By the end, it's exceptionally fruity, with golden raisin, plum, and currant in the slowly spreading warmth. March is a very aptly timed release for The Béhôlden, since each quaff tastes a time-lapse of spring from buds to summer fruit.

Still, it's difficult to appreciate at the chew stage because the burn never goes away and only intensifies with the mastication. A consequence of the rye barrels, perhaps? We should say in fairness that a second tasting night provided far less burn, so your pH mileage may vary. It was a much smoother experience the second go around, and one of the more emergent differences was that the saltiness — almost undetectable the previous occasion — confirmed it's blended so integrally that it's just part of this symphony.

A drop of water near the end of the sample sends traces of smoke winding their way to the fore, and then a really curious umami. But taken on its own, which is the way to enjoy the most of this glass, and it's fruity and sweet with a trace of caramel. We can't say it's like no other whiskey, but it sure is like the best parts of a lot of whiskeys.

How does WhistlePig Béhôlden compare to other 21-year single-malts?

This is not a lightning strike of incredible revelation as you might expect if you'd had other high-premium whiskeys. Don't worry, though — this whiskey differentiates itself in other ways that come mighty close to justifying its price point. Its strength is less the depth of its quality, which is substantial but on par with many labels below it, than the breadth.

Previously, we recommended the Glenlivet 21 over its 25-year older sibling as a great single malt scotch to try this year. While that one was very much playful in spite of itself, The Béhôlden is more of an introvert with a pleasantly reserved quality masking its rich inner landscape.

Every sip of this American single malt keeps surprising, like a conversation with somebody who reveals an increasingly adventurous life with every question you ask them. Whatever ideas you form from the first taste are built upon each drink as you return to the well, but not nearly

Honestly, it's like the best of every drop of bio-compounds, so each time you're adding to what impresses you here.

WhistlePig Béhôlden 21 in the final review

It might sound simple, but the more you drink it, the more you'll like it — not from getting accustomed or acclimated to the rougher parts of the ride, but because there's continually more to discover.

Actually, the best part of this whiskey might be those spaces when you're not drinking it. It's almost a blessing when you can't quite hold this hot potato in your mouth and examine it. The longer you leave between your next sip, the more you come to savor the fog of its ghost hanging in your mouth. This is not a whiskey to drink with a chaser. It does so much work after you've swallowed it, and that is what really impresses us here.

That's right, WhistlePig Béhôlden 21 performs best outside of the whiskey-tasting steps, which tend to obscure the actual experience that this single malt offers. Simply consuming it normally is the best way to experience what it offers. Looks like we'll be adding WhistlePig to the next update of America's best whiskey brands

Is WhistlePig Béhôlden 21 worth $800?

Look, the answer depends less on this whiskey and more on you. If we guessed blind, we might say this was a $500 whiskey, but we'd pay up to $800. We'd order it over some of the younger bottles in the Van Winkle family, so if that's your standard, this is a steal. We wouldn't pick it over George T. Stagg, but it wouldn't come in last against the remaining Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, where it's better than some for less than half the price. If you're someone with two grand in your pocket to spend on the best, you might call this single malt a discount. It's an easily justifiable $50 pour at your fancy bar, so if you get a bottle, it's cheaper than that per glass.

All in all, The Béhôlden seems fairly priced within range of its competitors. If it seems ludicrous to put it in Stagg company, go ahead and name a closer-range expression that lingers this much on the palate. Where Stagg is meant to sit in the mouth, Béhôlden 21 is at its best marching straight through and leaving the tastebuds wondering: Who was that masked man?

Another consideration: This won't be America's oldest single malt whiskey forever. WhistlePig plans to release a second 21-year expression in 2024, followed by an as-yet unstated single malt that will be even older down the road. Sounds like whatever distillate WhistlePig is sitting on, it has enough to let it ride.