BHAKTA Spirits 2013 Straight Rye Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


Have you heard of Raj Bhakta? It is okay if you haven’t. But I’m sure you’ve heard of WhistlePig, the brand he founded in 2008. WhistlePig was known for taking sourced Canadian whisky and further aging it at WhistlePig’s former dairy farm-turned-distillery in Shoreham, Vermont.


Bhakta sold WhistlePig in 2018, and in 2019, he and Leo Gibson founded BHAKTA Spirits and subsequently procured a collection of spirits, including whiskeys and brandies, dating back to 1868 and every year through 2023.


I’ve previously reviewed two of BHAKTA Spirits’ releases: its 2013 Bourbon and the second, a blend of whiskey and brandies called 1928 Whiskey Perfected. These were both fascinating, very unusual spirits. Today, we will explore Bhakta’s return to Rye whiskey with its 2013 Straight Rye Whiskey.


“Rye was truly the spirit that started it all for me. Even after we exited WhistlePig, we knew we weren’t done with rye. And rye wasn’t done with us. Now we’re doing it again — but bigger, bolder, and better than we ever did it before. Single vintage, not an age statement. An entire college campus, not a decrepit farm. Same unstoppable belief in the barrels. And the same spirit of revolution.” - Founder Raj Bhakta


Here’s the nitty gritty of this release: It was distilled by MGP in 2013 using its 95% rye/5% malted barley mashbill. It aged 10 years and 8 months in new, charred oak barrels and, once matured, was transferred to former Ch√Ęteau BHAKTA’s Calvados casks for another 75 days. Once the finishing process was completed, it was packaged at 53.8% ABV (107.6°). There are 800 cases of 750ml bottles, each with a suggested price of $149.00.


Finishing American Rye in former Calvados casks isn’t unheard of. Using casks that once held Calvados for 50+ years is another story.


Now that we know the ins and outs of this whiskey, can we say it is a great one? On paper, sure. I, however, don’t rate a whiskey by how it looks on paper. Instead, we do the #DrinkCurious thing. First, I must thank BHAKTA Spirits for providing me with a sample of this American Rye in exchange for my no-strings-attached, honest review.


Appearance: I poured this whiskey into a Glencairn glass to sip neat. The mahogany-orangish liquid formed a fragile rim and wavy, watery tears.  


Nose: As I began to sniff the whiskey, I found maple, caramel, apples, plums, nutmeg, cinnamon, and rye spice. Inhaling the vapor into my mouth brought a note of baked apples.


Palate: I encountered a silky texture that coated the entirety of my mouth. I tasted caramel, cinnamon, and baked apples on the front of my palate. The midpoint included cherries, nutmeg, and more cinnamon. The back featured clove, rye spice, and smoky oak.


Finish: The finish was soft but lingered and included cherries, baked apples, caramel, rye spice, clove, and smoky oak. It had a medium duration.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: If you think all American Ryes are sharp and spicy, you’ve not experienced older Ryes. They’re often much milder. BHAKTA 2013 Straight Rye could easily be mistaken for a Bourbon despite its 95/5 mashbill. Is this 107°? If you served this to me blind, I’d guess 10 or so points lower. It went down too easily, throwing this whiskey into the dangerous category, meaning the proof will sneak up on you before you even know what’s happened. Did I mention this is delicious? It is.


Is it worth $150.00? If you would have asked me five years ago, I would have said no. But consider two things: five years ago, you would have never seen a whiskey aged in 50-year-old brandy barrels; then, consider what people are willing to pay for American higher-end whiskeys today. It is a limited-edition, one-of-a-kind American Rye that’s just that damned good. So, yeah, I’m giving it my Bottle rating. Cheers!   


My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you to do so responsibly.