Whistlepig’s 21-Year Béhôlden Is the Best Whiskey I’ve Tried This Year

Yeah yeah, I know Whistlepig can be contentious among the whiskey scenesters, but I don’t care. I agreed to review this simply thinking it might prove useful for a future round-up list that Tasting Table is building up by the metric tonnage. Instead I was caught flat-footed by how much Whistlepig Beholden 21 grows on you, not only upon return visits but while you’re drinking it. I try to resolve never to take a pricy whiskey as implicitly better, but facts is facts, and when something like Glenlivet 25 or BTAC shows up, it’s usually easy to see why it’s so far above the rest. (Or isn’t. I wanted that Weller more than anything to deliver. I was afraid going in that I was going to be so biased towards reaching the top of my go-to wheated bourbon that I would inadvertently put it too high in the collection.)

And this super-aged single malt…well, go read it, but buddy, this whiskey goes so rapidly in the course of a single Glencairn from “Yeah, that is good,” to “Holy mackerel, wait, WHAT?” And that’s odd, because most good whiskeys let you know right up front just how quality they can be. This one unfolds and never stops.

But even now, I find myself hard-pressed to say why a whiskey is good beyond “I can taste this is a higher quality than that bottle of J.R. Sluckenclack’s 2-year bottled-in-fib.” I don’t think quality is objective in whiskey, but I do feel there’s an accomplishment in substance that can be a challenge to articulate without simply saying “This is rich and smooth.” I’m probably tasting some interaction of the water, alcohol and esters that someone better educated could explain, but I’m only at the stage where I can argue comprehensively in favor of Evan Williams being underrated but Mercer & Prince failing to impress, cool as its container may be.

I also eschew the “notes of blah blah blah” as much as possible, so if you see that from me, it’s usually a taste that really struck me as true. The more of these reviews and recommendations I do, the more I thought about making some kind of map of the most basic whiskey flavors and drawing the whiskey on it, so I never find myself grasping at lines like “Traces of piano varnish underpin the redolent taste of abalone and hatred.” But sonofagun, as in all good ideas in the whiskey world, Bruichladdich already beat me to it:

As did their Islay compatriots at Kilchoman:

Better standards, in my eyes.