As a disclaimer, I wanted to be forthcoming that this bottle was provided as a sample, making it my second review via free sample. This forced me to think about what my sample policy would be going forward, and basically it will state that I will only accept samples from non-Colorado craft distilleries that are not available here. Every review via sample will be marked on the top of the post, but don’t expect more than 1 or 2 a year.
Montana’s Whistling Andy Four Grain Bourbon
As much as I love a well executed, well aged bourbon from a big name distillery, there is something romantic about a young whiskey made by a small group of guys and girls in a building no bigger than an Applebee’s. Colorado has 19 distilleries making whiskey last I checked, putting us in third in the nation behind Washington State and New York. Our distilling scene is growing just like the beer scene did here in the late 1970s, but we aren’t the only state with a booming whiskey industry. Up in Montana, the Whistling Andy Distillery in Bigfork recently bottled the first batch of their first bourbon, making them one of nine whiskey distilleries in The Treasure State.
The master distiller, Brian Anderson, named the distillery after his father who was given the nickname “Whistling Andy” while serving in the Air Force. Brian’s mother and co-owner Linda is also a veteran of the Air Force, as well as their partner Michael Marchetti. All together, this gang of Air Force veterans has over 36 years of service between them, and I am extremely thankful for their service to our country. The fact that they decided to make bourbon afterwards only makes me like them that much more.
Whistling Andy uses 100% Montana grains sourced from two family farms, and their current bourbon is a four grain mash bill using with 60% corn, wheat, rye and barley. They mill their grains onsite, ferment everything themselves, and distill in a 135 gallon Vendome copper and brass still that could be framed and hung in a museum.
Since it is a “straight bourbon” without an age statement, you can assume that it is a minimum of four years old, and probably not much older than that.
Edit: Whistling Andy is 3 years old. The TTB approved the label without an age statement and with a “Straight Bourbon” claim, knowing the actual age. This is not how I understand 27 CFR 5.4 (a)(2), but the TTB calls the shots. Sorry for the confusion.
A bottle sells for around $38, and is bottled at 80 proof. They do have plans to release different styles of whiskey at higher ages in the future, but this being “Batch 1″ of Whistling Andy Bourbon, those releases may take a few years to mature.
They recently built a 3,000 square foot rickhouse which has about 40 full size 53 gallon barrels of whiskey aging inside. Overall, that is a pretty big operation for a distillery that is just now bottling their fist run. There are a few barrels of rum in there as well, which immediately makes me think of a potential rum barrel aged Whistling Andy! It is almost too easy not to make it.
The only complaint I have as a potential consumer is that it has a 40% ABV claim. That is a little light for my taste, but I can deal with it. Sometimes I forget that a majority of whiskey drinkers enjoy lower proof and a cube of ice in their whiskey.
Admittedly, I am quite selfish, so I would still prefer to see it closer to 100 proof.
Review of Whistling Andy Four Grain Bourbon
Color: Sandy copper.
Nose: Cinnamon candy, agave, cherries, vanilla toffee and a very distinct scent of the old Bit-O-Honey candy create a very unique sweet nose. There is a nice, round baking spice, a faint scent of hay and every now and then, I would catch a sweet Play-Doh note which had my nose buried in the glass for about twenty minutes! Very, very interesting and fun nose.
Sip: As expected, the mouthfeel is light. More Bit-O-Honey, vanilla fudge, a light caramel sauce, and then a transition to a modest amount of cherry pie and tobacco. The back palate is where Whistling Andy makes its mark. Somewhat smokey, somewhat sharp, there is a complex balance of cinnamon, clove and pepper that mixes with toasted oak, an earthy mineral note, and some clean mint. It is somewhat white-doggy in the back for a brief moment, but overall age is not an issue.
Finish: The finish is surprisingly long considering the mouthfeel. Vanilla fudge, honey and cinnamon sticks linger the longest. Eventually, notes of hay, toasted oak and vanilla catch in the back.
Overall Grade: B-
Whistling Andy is one of the better craft whiskies that I have come across boasting a “straight bourbon” claim. The four grain mash bill gives the profile plenty of depth. There is more than enough in the nose and profile that separates Whistling Andy from other bourbons, and the standard bourbon flavors are all there. I love the Bit-O-Honey, and was entranced by the Play-Doh in the nose. Summed up, this is a very tasty, well blended young bourbon, and it is scary to think how good Whistling Andy could be with a few more years and/or a slightly higher proof.
I really do think that with five to ten percent more alcohol, Whistling Andy would be teetering between a B+ and A-. My main complaint is that it is light. A higher ABV would thicken the mouthfeel and crank up the profile. I am also a sucker for dark sugars, so a higher char or possibly more time in oak could bring out the darker caramel and maple syrup notes that I found to be missing upfront.