By Father John Rayls
Released earlier this year, Pikesville Straight Rye is from Heaven Hill Distilleries. That is good news for all rye lovers, because the distillery has been putting out some very good products, such as my current favorite bourbon.
Pikesville Rye was originally a Maryland product named after the suburb of Baltimore in which it was produced. The recipe was considered a part of the Maryland style (sometimes referred to as Potomac or even Baltimore style). Unfortunately, we don’t have an adequate or even accurate picture of what that really means. The label is used to differentiate this rye from other regional labels such as Pennsylvania style (which can be eastern or western) and even a Kentucky style.
Many rye drinkers argue over whether the labels mean anything or are simply marketing vehicles trying to separate us from our cash. The people using the Maryland style label believe it means a rye that is big, bold, and something to sink your teeth into. Still, it’s a little ironic that it’s marketed as a Maryland, pre-Prohibition style rye because it’s produced and aged in Kentucky as a “sister” to Rittenhouse (a Pennsylvania style also produced by Heaven Hill), sharing the same mashbill of 51% rye, 39% corn and 10% malted barley.
So what is the difference between Pikesville and Rittenhouse? The Marylander is a couple of years older and bottled stronger.
The bottle and the label contribute to the “old style” theme. The bottle is substantial and gives a subtle, first clue that you’re actually getting something for your money. The rye looks very dark in the clear bottle, and appears as a dark brown whiskey with tints of red evenly mixed throughout in the glass. The legs are long and attractive while the color remains the same in the glass. The rye doesn’t appear to be syrupy in the glass and yet, there’s an expectation created that your mouth will be coated with the first sip.
The Heaven Hill marketing notes state that on the nose you will find “dusty cocoa notes with oaky smoke underneath.” If that is there, it is very subtle and nuanced. There is almost no alcohol burn in the aromas which is surprising considering it’s 110 proof. Even the spicy aroma normally associated with ryes is understated. It’s there, but mixed with a subtle and enticing sweet honey aroma wafting up from the glass.
The taste is a most interesting experience. There is a slight coating of the mouth, but almost all of the flavor action takes place at mid-mouth. The middle part of the tongue is activated first with flavors of honey influenced rye, spice, cloves along with some quiet vanilla. It immediately jumps to the roof of the mouth before migrating reluctantly to the front of the tongue. There is an overall dryness to the flavor in the presence of a lot of activity going on in the mouth and even on the lips (a slight buzzing or tingling). The finish is very long and very satisfying with notes of warm cedar, vanilla and lots of gentle spice and honey. This may be the longest finish I’ve ever experienced.
One confusing part of trying to buy this rye whiskey is that you might run across another rye whiskey called Pikesville Supreme Rye Whiskey that is bottled at 80 proof. These are two different whiskeys, so don’t be fooled.
You can find this 110 proof, averaging 6 years old rye whiskey online for anywhere from $55.00 to approaching $100.00. Obviously, some patient shopping will be in order. Daniel got it for me locally in San Antonio for $59.99. This is against the recommended price of about $50. Pikesville is a very good rye and is well worth your time and money.