Pikesville Rye holds the title as the last standing Maryland rye brand. Originally produced in Maryland by L. Winand & Brothers Distillery starting in 1895, the brand went through several changes of ownership, and was last produced in Maryland in 1972 by the Majestic Distilling Corporation. After Majestic Distilling closed, there were still enough whiskey stocks available to keep the brand going until 1982 when it was sold to Heaven Hill. Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey was brought to market in 2015 and is currently produced at the Bernheim Distillery. Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey should not be confused with Heaven Hill’s Pikesville Supreme Rye Whiskey, which is currently marketed and sold as a three year old 80 proof rye whiskey in the Maryland market.
A nice mix of sweet and spicy. Cherry syrup, rye spice, red licorice and cinnamon apple float up from the glass. There’s a hint of ethanol present that reminds me this is 110 proof, however it doesn’t distract from the experience. Instead, all of the flavors co-mingle nicely and produce a very satisfying nose.
Cherry is the name of the game with this palate. Cherry cola is immediately present along with the cherry syrup from the nose. Layered beneath are hints of rye spice, vanilla, and summer fruits. This is a rye that’s easy to sip due to its sweeter flavor profile and due to the fact that it tends to drink at a lower proof than it actually is. It’s not the most complex rye out there, but it has a really enjoyable palate that had me going back for more and more.
Rye spice, vanilla, and cherry are immediately noticeable. Upfront the finish contains a nice amount of heat that slowly expands and creeps its way down my throat. As the finish lingers on, a subtle amount of oak makes its way forward along with that familiar cherry syrup taste that’s present in the nose and palate. While not very complex, it provides a nice pleasant endcap.
The fairest comparison to this rye is with its little brother, Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond. Many people theorize that Pikesville is Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye that has been aged an extra two years and bottled at an additional 10 proof points. This would explain the slight similarity in fruitiness experienced in both, but that’s where the similarities end. While they both may potentially share the same mash bill, Pikesville delivers a whole new unique flavor profile that to me, is more enjoyable than Rittenhouse. This isn’t to say that Rittenhouse is lacking, instead it speaks to the fact that Pikesville builds off of Rittenhouse’s foundation and takes it to the next level.
Pikesville’s true uniqueness comes into play by the fact that it fills in a hole in the marketplace. Bourbon drinkers have been spoiled over the last few years with the outstanding selection of options we have in the marketplace, especially when it comes to higher proof whiskeys. However, up until now there hasn’t been a greater than 100 proof rye that is easily accessible and available year round. The key word being accessible and available year round. While Redemption Rye produces a barrel proof version of their rye and Buffalo Trace produces Thomas Handy, neither is easily accessible throughout the year.
Pikesville comes in at double the price of Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond. While this is a steep price to pay for what is essentially two additional aging years and 10 additional proof points, Pikesville does deliver a more refined experience. This is not a knock against Pikesville, but more of a nod to Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond for being a fine rye in and of itself at a really affordable price point.
The thing about the rye marketplace is that it’s easy for a product to carve out its niche even in a price range where there’s competition. And Pikesville does face some competition in this price range from other quality ryes such as High West’s Rendezvous Rye, Double Rye barrel aged variants and even E.H. Taylor Rye. While these ryes might offer more complexity and depth, what Pikesville brings to the table is a really easy to drink, full-flavored rye with a less polarizing flavor profile than others in the category. Even in the oversaturated world of bourbons this is a hard quality to find, with a comparable example being Blanton’s Single Barrel bourbon. In fact, in a way, Pikesville does for ryes what Blanton’s Single Barrel does for bourbons; high quality, mass appeal, decent accessibility at a fair price.
Pikesville finally fills a gap in the marketplace by being a readily available, easy to drink high proof rye with mass appeal that deserves a spot on everyone’s must try list.
This is a fantastic addition to Heaven Hill’s rye lineup. While the proof is high, it serves to amplify the fantastic flavor profile rather than impose a lot of burn, making it very enjoyable neat. Additionally, while Pikesville contains a more fruit-forward flavor profile due to the fact that this is most likely a barely-legal rye, the high yet manageable proof helps add to the illusion that this is a spicier rye than it really is. This should allow both bourbon lovers and hardcore rye lovers alike to appreciate it. On paper this may seem simplistic in nature, but in execution, this is one of the best everyday ryes you can currently find on the shelf. Don’t hesitate to give this premium rye a try.