Whiskey is big. Bourbon has been having its day in the sun, and now rye is getting in on the act.

Since 2009, sales of rye whiskey have increased sixfold, according to a recent report from NBC News. Soon we'll be talking about the rye boom the way we've been talking about bourbon.

Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of sitting down with Raj Bhakta, founder of WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey, to taste his 100 percent rye spirit and learn about the sustainable initiatives on the 1,300-acre WhistlePig Farm in Shoreham, Vermont.

The creation of whiskey at WhistlePig is what Bhakta describes as "farm to bottle." He grows the rye on the farm. Eventually, everything WhistlePig creates will be grown, harvested, barreled and bottled on site. WhistlePig started with an aged whiskey the company sourced from North America while taking a patient approach to its own product.

Raj-Bhakta-Dave-WhistlepigWhistlePig founder Raj Bhakta (right) and master distiller Dave Pickerell enjoy their creation. (Photo: WhistlePig Whiskey)

WhistlePig Farm employs a variety of sustainable initiatives.

  • The rye grown for all whiskey is 100 percent non-GMO. Rye is a naturally sustainable crop. It grows densely so weeds can't get a foothold and the use of herbicides is kept to a minimum. Fertilization is also kept to a minimum due to rye's ability to draw nitrogen from the soil.
  • More than rye is grown on the WhistlePig farm. Oats, barley, alfalfa, honey and maple syrup all come from the farm and a vegetable garden is also on site.
  • Animals are raised on the farm, too, helping to create the polyculture that's necessary for a truly sustainable farm. Pigs are fed the spent rye grain so it doesn't end up as waste. Sheep, goats and horses also make their home on the farm.

pigs-at-whistlepigThe pigs on the farm eat the spent rye grain so it doesn't go to waste. (Photo: WhistlePig Whiskey)

The farm's sustainability is impressive, but what about the spirit itself? Bhakta says his whiskey has "a character and smoothness hard to find in both people and whiskey." That's a lot to live up to. Fortunately, WhistlePig Straight 10-Year Rye lives up to it. The whiskey is aged in American oak barrels and then finished in bourbon barrels, giving it all the flavor and spiciness of rye with a hint of caramel. It's the best whiskey I've ever tasted.

But, don't just take my word for it. WhistlePig has been given plenty of accolades by those with more experience. Wine Enthusiast gave the 10-Year Rye a rating of 96, the highest rating it’s ever given a rye. Earlier this summer, WhistlePig released its second offering, a 12-year-old Old World Straight Rye Whiskey that's aged in a combination of barrels that once held Madeira, sauternes and port. It earned a double gold in the 2015 San Francisco Spirits Competition.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.