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WhistlePig’s Founder Just Dropped a Distinctive New Bourbon Aged in Armagnac Casks

Raj Bhakta is all in on the concept of vintages in spirits.

Bhakta 2013 Bourbon Carrie Burr for BHAKTA Spirits

WhistlePig founder Raj Bhakta parted ways with the rye whiskey brand in 2019, the result of an acrimonious split that forced him out of the company. A few years later, he returned to the spirits industry with an unexpected focus on Armagnac, and now he’s back in the whiskey world with the new Bhakta 2013 Bourbon—finished in Armagnac casks, of course.

The bourbon, aged for nearly 10 years, was sourced from MGP in Indiana and has an unusual mashbill of 99 percent corn and one percent malted barley. “It’s not a common mashbill,” Bhakta told Robb Report in a recent interview. “You’d think it would be extra sweet or, for lack of a better term boring, but it’s actually one of the more interesting bourbons I’ve ever tried.” That was before it was finished in casks that previously held Bhakta 50 Armagnac for a few months, a blend that was matured for at least half a century with some liquid in the mix that is much older than that.

Bhakta said that the inspiration for this bourbon actually came from the last WhistlePig Boss Hog release he was involved in, The Black Prince, which came out in 2017 and was finished in Armagnac barrels. “This 2013 bourbon is a perfectly lovely 10-year-old bourbon,” he said. “When we finish in the Bhakta 50 cask, that’s what makes it absolutely extraordinary.” We had the chance to try a sample of the unfinished whiskey (“A behind the scenes view courtesy of my fuck-up,” said Bhakta), and indeed the secondary maturation has had a profound impact on the bourbon. There are rich notes of dried fruit, candied orange, nutmeg, and vanilla on the palate, along with some oaky tannins and a bit of caramel apple pie. And he’s right—it’s sweet, but not overly so.

Bhakta is is laser-focused on the concept of vintages for his Armagnac releases, and now this new bourbon. “The concept of the brand is that we are a house of vintages writ large,” he said. “I’ve been traveling and finding what’s unique, what’s interesting, what’s outside of the norm and extraordinary, and buying those things on a global basis. My eyes were opened to the idea of vintage spirits from Armagnac. The whiskey that I first released at WhistlePig was a 1999 100 percent rye from Alberta. If I was gonna buy a bottle of WhistlePig now, I’d pay a hell of a lot more for that 1999 than the current product. The vintage release concept is gonna turn into the most powerful trend in the business.”

That remains to be seen, but there are some other brands and distilleries releasing vintage whiskeys, like the George Dickel Bottled in Bond series and some single malt scotch expressions from Bruichladdich. The next release on Bhakta’s docket, however, seems less focused on vintage and more on blending—a rye whiskey combined with a bit of Armagnac and calvados that he’s been tinkering with and deciding what to name. “As you let it marry or cure [in the barrel], whatever you want to call it, it moves,” he said. “It will taste like whiskey, then Armagnac, then calvados. It’s very curious what’s happening in there.”

We will have to wait a few months to try that rye whiskey, but you can purchase the new bourbon now from the Bhakta Spirits website for $150. Give it a try and decide for yourself if the concept of vintage spirits means anything to you.

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