For decades, New York Yankees fans would chant “1918” whenever the hated Red Sox came to town. That was before David Ortiz arrived. “Big Papi,” as he is affectionately known, in 2004 helped reverse the “Curse of the Bambino” famously plaging Boston for the previous 86 years, and helping the team win two more World Serieses in 2007 and 2013. Thus cementing his place not just in Boston lore, but in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
Paying homage to his recent hall of fame induction, Vermont-based distillery WhistlePig teamed up with the slugger to create a truly unique rye whiskey. For WhistlePig’s new PiggyBack Legends Series: Big Papi Barrel, Ortiz worked directly with the whiskey makers to create this very baseball-centric whiskey (confused? more on that in a second).
Since it’s a limited-edition expression, the bottles are only available for purchase at shop.whistlepigwhiskey.com for $49.99 (starting March 31st). If you want a bottle signed by Big Papi himself, you can purchase one for $340 (in honor of his number 34), with proceeds going to the David Ortiz Boston Heart Classic. It should be noted that while this is a baseball and Boston Red Sox-themed bottle, it’s only the first edition of the brand’s limited-edition single barrel series (“PiggyBack Legends”), with more expressions to come later this year, in partnership with Barstool Sports.
Whether its association with Big Papi and the Sawx makes it sound more or less attractive is something only you the individual consumer can answer. Here’s what we found inside the bottle.
WhistlePig PiggyBack Legends Series: Big Papi Barrel
Average Price: $49.99 (MSRP)
This expression is a 100-percent rye whiskey from Canada that was aged for a minimum of six years in American oak barrels. Here’s where things get wild: it was finished in barrels containing David Ortiz’s signature toasted DO34 maple wood bats (if you thought you missed hearing the crack of the bat every spring, wait until you taste it). It’s then bottled at 96.56 proof.
The nose starts with a sweet hint of crème brulee, candied orange peel, and goes into candied almonds before heading head-on into spicy, peppery rye. The nose is so complex and welcoming, my expectations were fairly high for the flavor. While not as flavorful as expected and a little muted, there are notes of toasted vanilla beans, almond butter, sticky toffee, butterscotch candy, and pleasing, warming, spicy cracked black pepper. The finish is a nice mix of pepper and sweetness.
You might assume that a gimmicky, limited-edition Whistle expression that was aged with the Red Sox legend’s bats would be more flash than substance. And while I can’t tell you what exactly the addition of the baseball bat wood actually did to the overall flavor, this is a decent sipping whiskey that’s worth the $49.99 price tag.
85/100. If you can get past the tie-in with baseball, or you’re not a Sawx fan, this is a flavorful, complex rye that has a nice mix of sweetness and spice. There are other, better whiskeys out there, but this one is overall pretty solid for the price.