July 27, 2018
Distillery: Heaven Hill
Region: Kentucky, USA
Type: Rye Whiskey
Composition: 51% rye, 39% corn, 10% barley
Aged: 6 years in virgin American white oak barrels
Price: $45 (750mL)
From the Heaven Hill website:
“Prohibition shuttered most of the once-booming Maryland Rye industry, but Pikesville, produced since the 1890’s, re-emerged in 1936 and became the lone brand to keep this style of Rye alive. Having stored away extra-aged barrels, Heaven Hill reclaims the past with Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey. Pikesville is a high-proof, super-premium straight rye whiskey, drawn from specially selected barrels aged at least 6 years. Rye Whiskey is enjoying a renaissance, led by mixologists and aficionados who enjoy its full flavor, its mixability and its long and storied history.”
Pikesville Straight Rye, a Heaven Hill product, is modeled off a Maryland brand that it purchased a few years ago. Pikesville rye is 6 years old, 2 years older than its cousin: Rittenhouse rye, and costs an extra $20-30. Before prohibition, Maryland, as well as Pennsylvania, was a hub for rye whiskey production. Maryland had been quiet since, until the recent rise of craft distilleries in the area. At 51% rye, this is the bare minimum amount a rye whiskey can have.
For a lack of a better word, this smells awesome. It’s incredibly floral and grassy, with moderate alcohol and an underlying caramel base. It’s like smelling a flower that’s only a little sweet so you mostly smell its leafy and earthy parts. There’s also the smell of freshly cut grass. Subsequent smells reveal a mix of caramel nougat and brown sugar, as well as the very clear scent of roasted peanuts right after you crack open the shell and smell the nuts and dust from the shell floating in the air. As the glass slowly empties, honey finally emerges, no longer hidden by the alcohol.
Strangely, Pikesville Rye doesn’t have as much rye spice as I would expect from 51% rye (usually pepper and mint), but once the glass is empty and I let it sit, I start to finally get the slightest minty and peppery smell of rye bread.
Just like the smell, the taste is intense, yet pleasant. The intensity isn’t from the alcohol, but the rich flavors. The first taste is full of nuts and brown sugar, making me think of peanut butter. It’s not too sweet, but savory. As I keep drinking, I taste more peanuts, and just a touch of chocolate and mint. There’s also a strong grassy, leafy, nutty, and malty taste, like when you’re eating pumpernickel bread and you bite into one of the grains and the husk is still there. Underneath all of that, there’s something reminiscent of vanilla, like frosting or bubble gum. Throughout, there’s only moderate alcohol burn. I don’t want to use the term “smooth”, but it’s more mellow than expected.
The aftertaste lingers and continues to build as I drink. After the alcohol burn subsides, there’s a slight citrus sweetness that’s very interesting. It might be orange, but it’s faint so it’s hard to say. There’s also a gentle bitterness from the wood tannins that leave my mouth dry.
Pikesville Rye is a delicious rye whiskey. I enjoyed the bountiful sweet, savory, and floral scents and flavors. It reminds me of eating chocolate nougat, or a Reese’s cup because of the peanut butter, caramel, and chocolate flavors. This is a strong rye whiskey with a lot of punch, but also a softer side underneath that’s worth exploring. If you like rye whiskey, this is definitely worth a purchase.