View Full Version : Is there more than one style of straight rye??

01-04-2004, 16:22
After asking Bettye Jo about the styles of blended whiskey produced by Heaven Hill, I realised I could glean some information from HH's (new) website. I did find a number of blendeds mentioned including the well-known Philadelphia brand.

But what struck me was the descriptions of the two straight ryes made by HH, Rittenhouse and Pikesville. And in particular the statement that Pikesville represents by its "fruity nose" and spicy character the "Maryland/Potomac" style of rye whiskey as opposed to the "Pennsylvania/Monongahela" style represented by Rittenhouse. (Rittenhouse Square is a tony district of Philadelphia, PA while Pikesville is a locality near Baltimore, MY. Both brands were old labels in their respective areas and are now owned by HH).

This is the first I read that Maryland rye whiskey had a "fruity nose". I must say Pikesville rye is very nice and has the spicy nose and taste advertised on HH's website but I can detect no fruity nose or flavour in this whiskey. No odour or taste of soft or any other fruit, just a rye/grainy-type smell and palate.

I wonder how it is known that Maryland rye whiskey (regardless of whether the current Pikesville attains the palate) has a fruity nose and constitutes a different style of rye from the Pennsylvania/Monongahela style? Perhaps this information came to HH when it bought the Pikesville label..

Can anyone shed light or offer an opinion on this suggested taxonomy of straight rye whiskey?


01-04-2004, 16:39
Well, in my tasting of rye, I have noticed two distinct types. One with a crisp, dry, cereal character and one with a fruity, sweet character. Old Overholt, Jim Beam, Rittenhouse and Wild Turkey all have the dry, cereal character. Van Winkle, Hirsch and Sazerac all have the sweet, fruity character. I don't know if this has anything to do with your question.

Regards, jimbo

01-04-2004, 16:50
Thanks for this response. The ryes you classify as fruity are all much older than the crisp, dry ones mentioned.

I agree Van Winkle rye in particular has a cherry-like taste (especially the Family Reserve 13 year old).

Of course, all these ryes are now made in Kentucky but maybe Maryland-style rye was simply longer-aged than Pennsylvania/Monongahela.

Why would extra aging impart fruity tastes? Maybe through the further conversion (by continued oxidation) of congeners in the whiskey to estery fruit odours and tastes.

Or maybe, assuming HH is right about there being the two styles of rye whiskey, mashbill differences, the way the mash was fermented, or some other reason explains the fruity character of Maryland rye.

Someone was asking recently about regional differences in the Bourbon country; the rye whiskey lands may (at least) have furnished an example. The tastes are lost in their original homelands but survive vestigially in Kentucky where memories take long to extinguish, even in this fragmented age..


01-04-2004, 21:34
I had always thought the difference between the "fruity" and "spicy" ryes was a much larger rye component of the "spicy" and a barely 51% rye of the "fruity." I further assumed that the "fruity" ryes happened to age better--and so they were aged longer. Now that I see your post, I realize my assumptions could have been backwards.

01-05-2004, 07:47
I had always thought the difference between the "fruity" and "spicy" ryes was a much larger rye component of the "spicy" and a barely 51% rye of the "fruity." I further assumed that the "fruity" ryes happened to age better--and so they were aged longer. Now that I see your post, I realize my assumptions could have been backwards.

Why would extra aging impart fruity tastes? Maybe through the further conversion (by continued oxidation) of congeners in the whiskey to estery fruit odours and tastes.

Or maybe, assuming HH is right about there being the two styles of rye whiskey, mashbill differences, the way the mash was fermented, or some other reason explains the fruity character of Maryland rye.

I asked Malt Advocate Magazine via E-Mail about the difference between dry spicy rye such as Rittenhouse and sweet, fruity rye such as Van Winkle. They claim it is due to age. But, I don't know if that can really explain the difference. I had thought it was due to the mash bill. More rye in the Rittenhouse, less in the Van Winkle. I wonder if there is any one who really knows?

Regards, jimbo

01-05-2004, 10:47
I don't think using a larger amount of rye in the mashbill of itself would make the whiskey fruity-tasting. The current Old Overholt uses about 64% rye in the mashbill. This is the highest percentage in the currently available ryes except for Old Potrero. The Overholt's does not have a fruity taste, nor did it under the aegis of National Distillers. Pikesville rye itself, despite the HH claim of a fruity character, shows spicy, herbal and resinous notes (all hallmarks of rye character) but little of a soft fruit character. For example, it is not plum-like or fig-like like Birthday Bourbon or certain other bourbons (Rowan's Creek showed nice fruitiness but the latest bottlings not as much).

In my opinion, a high-congener rye whiskey will become more fruity with longer aging.

Another possibility is that the beers from which Maryland rye was distilled may have been intensely fruity-tasting and this carried over into the spirit. Many beers are very fruity in taste, some English ales (e.g. Ruddles, Theakston's) have in particular a strong character of soft fruit. This derives from esters produced by top (warm) fermentation. So perhaps the Maryland distillers' beers were these old-fashioned top-fermented beers (formerly very popular for beverage beer in New England and down the seaboard in the English-settled areas). Whereas in Western Pennsylvania and Kentucky perhaps the beers were fermented at cooler temperatures (this is lager brewing) for whisky no less than for beer in general. Cool fermentation results in a much less estery ferment than top-fermentation. For example, Budweiser is round and smooth, Sierra Nevada is fruity and piquant; the former is bottom-fermented, the latter is the top variety. If hard apple cider produces (as it does) fruity-tasting applejack (or the appley Calvados in Normandy, France) it stands to reason a fruity tasting cereal wort would likewise impart its estery character to the distillate.


01-05-2004, 16:58
It is unlikely that either Jim Beam or Heaven Hill is making more than one rye mashbill. Therefore, the only difference between products released by either of those houses would be age. However (and I know I'm like a broken record on this subject), don't forget that distillers can and do manipulate the taste of a finished product in order to match the product's established taste profile. They do this by mixing (we dare not say "blending") whiskies of different ages and whiskies from different parts of the warehouse that have aged differently. They can even, though I don't know that they do, obtain straight rye stock from another distiller if they need a certain characteristic they can't get from their own inventory.

I don't mean to overcomplicate this because, for the most part, these taste profiles are not difficult to achieve.

My personal assessment of the available ryes is that none of them are much good except the Van Winkle Family Reserve, which is wonderful. I find the rest to be on the bland side with an unpleasant "muddy" flavor. Old Grand-Dad BIB has more rye character than Beam Rye, Overholt, Pikesville, Rittenhouse or WT Rye.

I don't know the Sazerac Rye well enough to comment on it and Old Potrero is unlike any other whiskey made, while all of the rest are at least in the main of the American Straight Whiskey style.

I have heard expressed the opinion that, historically, Western Pennsylvania "Monongahela" rye was of a significantly different style than the ryes made in Eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland, and that all of the current ryes are more of the "Monogehela" type, which was closer to bourbon, while the Eastern type was lighter, more like a Canadian or American Blended Whiskey.

It would be nice to think that Heaven Hill and Jim Beam, each selling at least two different rye brands, are doing so in order to express two different historic styles. The truth is more merchantile. Those brands were preserved because they had sufficient sales to justify their continuation.

01-05-2004, 17:11
Thanks for these thoughts. The acknowledgement of historic, and differing (if they are) styles, by extant distilleries does not have to be conscious to have the kind of value I indicated. In fact, an unconscious offering of these whiskeys - one prompted by mercantile considerations -
may be more a clue to the authenticity of the tradition than if it was all too neatly packaged and presented. My point was in the South, people have longer memories of what may sell.. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif

I tend to agree most current ryes aren't that good, and I'll tell you why. All (save the idiosyncratic Old Potrero) are made from a mashbill combining rye and corn. Straight rye whiskey before the Second War wasn't made like that. I think the melange of corn and rye leads to that muddy palate in most cases (ORVW rye, and one or two others, are exceptions). Byrn in 1875 in his Complete Practical Distiller gave the classic recipe for true rye whiskey: 80% unmalted rye, 20% barley malt. I believe that recipe informed the great ryes which were made until the 1950's (Emerson's XXXX, Large, Mount Vernon, Guckenheimer, Melrose, etc. etc.). After the war though, I think those tasting young rye in the distillery and with an eye (increasingly) to perceived consumer taste felt rye whiskey needed to be tempered with corn to sell, and the traditional formulation was forever changed. But the classic 80/20 recipe at, say, 8-12 years of age was (I believe) a champion drink, one forever lost to contemporary taste..


01-07-2004, 17:51
To be legally called straight rye, the mashbill must be at least 51% rye. It's my understanding that today's cheaper ryes are about 60% rye, 25-30% corn and 10-15% barley malt. The better products contain a higher percentage of rye, but still some corn. I have no idea what the mashbills were of those Pennsylvania and Maryland distilleries that came back after Prohibition. Were they the 80/20 recipe you suggest? I just don't know. I suspect that the products of the distilleries west of the Appalachians always contained some corn for cost reasons, but I'm just guessing.

My dad maintains that the rye whiskey he remembers drinking as a young man in the 30s and 40s tasted like rye bread. I have bought him virtually every rye on the market today and the only one he really enjoys, naturally, is ORVW.

01-07-2004, 18:02
I have never tried straight rye whiskey because I was afraid it would taste like rye bread. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif


01-07-2004, 18:45
Chuck, according to this webpage (http://www.asterius.com/cocktails/rye.html), Old Potrero has a 100% rye mashbill. Does it have the rye bread flavor you're talking about?

01-07-2004, 18:55
I love how in the review of the "Classic Cask" rye, someone used the term "Acetone" to describe it. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/skep.gif

01-07-2004, 18:59

What blatant plagiarism!! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif

01-08-2004, 17:08
Byrn in 1875 in his Complete Practical Distiller gave the classic recipe for true rye whiskey: 80% unmalted rye, 20% barley malt. I believe that recipe informed the great ryes which were made until the 1950's

Well, Fritz Maytag claims that the rye whiskey George Washington drank was made from 100 % malted rye. And that is how Old Potrero is made.

And to another question, no, Old Potrero doesn't taste like rye bread. But what I have tried is too young. It will be interesting to see how it ages.

Regards, jimbo

01-08-2004, 18:13
It is my belief that straight rye whiskey was often made from 80% or so unmalted rye and 20% barley malt. Certainly some recipes, also depending on what was available, would have employed some corn, in an obverse to the typical Bourbon recipe of today, this is how most rye is made today at any rate. With respect to evidence, this is fragmentary but I have seen in bottle collections 1930's bottles of Baltimore Pure Rye subtitled the "rye-e" rye with a statement that the product was made from 98% rye. The remainder may have been barley malt. I have seen other early 20th century rye labels in books, and I believe one bottle at the Getz, which referred to the contents being made from "the purest rye and barley malt". This ties into Byrn's recipe, in my view, so that until rye died out in Maryland and Baltimore I believe some of it always was made to Byrn's recipe if not using even more rye as BPR rye did. So Maytag was right that there was a tradition of all-rye whiskey - even Byrn admits that one could make rye from an all-rye grist, but he favoured the mix indicated for its greater efficiency (conversion in modern parlance). I believe that unlike Bourbon where corn is leavened with a measure of rye small grains and benefits from it, the mix of corn and rye in the proportions currently used for rye whiskey results in an unusual palate, a kind of "muddy" taste that I now like (I have acquired the taste) but would, I think, benefit from less or no corn. The reason I say this is the Maytag ryes offer much promise. Their only begative is their youth. I think at 8-12 years old they would be extremely good. Lot 40 from Canada is an all-rye, pot still whisky (a combo of malted and unmalted rye was used) and is very good, it has the perfumy taste of Maytag but (at about 8 years old) much more maturity and depth. Unfortunately it is not aged exclusively if at all in new charred casks. If it was, an extra dimension would be added which would likely approximate to the old Byrn-type Monongahela rye. Another reason I think an 80% rye-content whiskey would be good is my tasting of all or high-rye genever gins. One of these, Filliers of Belgium (actually made from corn, wheat, rye and barley malt but mostly the rye I understand) is very good and if enveloped in U.S.-style vanilla and barrel char would be extremely good and again I am thinking would get close to what Maryland rye whiskey was in, say, 1900. I do agree that ORVW rye is superb but in this case I believe the high corn content makes it almost a bourbon (ditto for the Michter's "original sour mash" whiskey until it closed in the early 80's. So the one thing missing from the current product ranges of the Bourbon makers is a very high rye content whiskey that is long aged in charred new oak. I am speculating but based on the historical evidence I would think the revival of this recipe would be well received. This may well offer the "rye bread" palate that has been spoken of. The Lot 40 is quite close to that taste with a perfumy overlay that may either be a house characteristic or something that aging in new charred barrels would have rubbed out, leaving the spicy rye bread palate untramelled.

Too bad that Fritz Maytag sells his products so young, it is a mystery I cannot fathom.


01-08-2004, 18:54
Fortune magazine in November 1933 carried a series of articles on the impending end of Prohibition. It states in a sidebar entitled "A Whiskey Primer":

"All whiskey making begins with some sort of grain. Pure rye whiskey, as you might suppose, begins with rye: usually about 85%".

The need to use barley malt to aid in conversion would have left little if any room for corn. This provides, two generations after Byrn's statements, evidence that quality rye whiskey used almost all rye in its spec. I feel a "rye bread" palate (caraway, herbal, floral, "cereal") would have been the hallmark of such whiskey. Indeed Lot 40 tastes like that albeit it is overly (to my taste) perfumy and not sufficiently smoky from barrel char. Of the ryes currently available, Pikesville Supreme Straight Rye Whiskey comes close to a rye bread taste. I like it a lot and would enjoy tasting it at about double its current age.

Here is an amusing and telling quote from the Fortune article:

"Suppose we glance hastily at the pre-prohibition whiskey business. Most of the whiskey that was drunk was blended and rectified (mixed with other whiskey and alcohol and water and some kind of flavoring - sherry, brandy, rum, prune juice, anthing). [In Chuck's lexicon, "ADT"]. Maybe one-fourth of it was whiskey, maybe less. It was this technique of the pre-prohibition whiskey men that the bootleggers borrowed, and, more precise in their diction, termed "cutting". And so the post-prohibition whiskey men can stretch their supply. One part whiskey to four parts alcohol and water will make a drink that might not satisfy a Kentucky Colonel but will be plenty good enough for you".

As Jackie Gleason used to say, "now that's FUNNY". http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif


01-08-2004, 23:45
No, it doesn't. Maybe it will with some decent age, but I doubt it. I find the taste of Old Potrero interesting but not otherwise enjoyable. I also consider the whiskey and just about everything he says about it products of an active imagination, bearing no actual relationship to any whiskey-making tradition.

01-09-2004, 10:03
> I also consider the whiskey and just about everything he says about it products
> of an active imagination, bearing no actual relationship to any whiskey-making
> tradition.

Do you happen to have a written rebuttal addressing Maytag's claims? (I'll
confess that I don't have a subscription to the Bourbon Country Reader,
which would probably be your main outlet for more formal writing.)

It's my feeling that Maytag has some fanciful ideas, but that American
whiskeymaking in the early days showed a fair amount of variation in
style and technique. Add poor documentation into the mix, and we
could honestly justify just about anything... including Maytag's

Tim Dellinger

01-09-2004, 11:56
Maytag says his purpose is to recreate pioneer whiskey and he casts his year-old "toasted" barrel product as "18th century whiskey" and his 3-year-old, charred barrel product as "19th century whiskey." He offers no historical support for these claims and from my reading of the history that is known, I know of no sources that support his claims.

His other, equally unsupported and even more far-fetched claim is that 18th and early 19th century distillers were distilling from 100 percent malted rye. In other words, not malting rye and using it as 10 to 15 percent of the mashbill as bourbon distillers do now with malted barley, but using a mash of 100 percent malted rye, a parallel to the 100 percent malted barley distilling of the Scottish highlands.

I suppose one could take the position that since so little is known definitively, one theory is as good as another, but what little evidence there is seems to lean in the opposite direction. A Kentucky recipe from about 1800 shows proportions of corn, rye and barley malt similar to modern bourbon mashbills. George Washington's distillery in Virginia is being extensively researched and we know his distillery included a malt kiln. We also know the mash bill he used was 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn, and 5 percent malted barley. We also know that this malt kiln was built in December of 1798, more than a year after the distillery began operations, so prior to that he was acquiring malt from an outside source. Malted barley would have been readily available from maltsters serving the brewing industry. I know of no reason anyone would have been producing malted rye.

With Maytag, it appears as if he decided to do something (i.e., make a whiskey from 100 percent malted rye), then devised a corresponding historical theory. The fact that he offers zero evidence to support his theory is more telling than any evidence I might offer to refute it.

01-09-2004, 13:38
It is hard to imagine that anyone used 100% malted rye to make whiskey. Or any malted rye for that matter, when there was readily available malted barley from the brewing industry. The 80% unmalted rye and 20% malted barley seems more likely. And it seems that I have read somewhere that about 15% malted barley is needed to provide the starch to sugar conversion for the other 85% of unmalted grain, so that also fits the 80-20 recipe.

I think corn comes into the picture as a low cost source of starch. I imagine early brewers and distillers experimented with the addition of corn to the mash bill as a cost cutting step. Probably the same thing is true of the use of wheat in beer and bourbon.

Anyway, it all led to a wonderful variety of taste and style.

I also wonder why Maytag sells Old Potrero so young. My best guess is that he wants the cash flow to sustain operations until he accumulates an older inventory.

Regards, jimbo

01-09-2004, 16:42
I also wonder why Maytag sells Old Potrero so young. My best guess is that he wants the cash flow to sustain operations until he accumulates an older inventory.

That's more-or-less what he says, and that since the whole project is an experiment he wants to share the results with the public.

01-09-2004, 16:54
Okay but it has been a good dozen years or so since Maytag first made rye whiskey. He could easily have released his whiskey at 6, 8, 10 or even 12 years old, but has not done so.

Mr. Maytag is wealthy through the (well-deserved) success of his brewery but also by being a scion of the Maytag washing machine family, and fortune.

I cannot believe that cost considerations have prevented him from releasing a whiskey older than 3 years.

I think that rightly or wrongly he is fixed on the idea of selling whisky which is young because that supposedly is how it was sold in the 19th and 18th centuries.

That may be true for the 1700's but by the mid-1800's well-aged rye and other whiskey was prized. He is presumably sitting on well-aged stocks that could fetch a pretty penny. The fact he won't sell it in this form leads me to think cost issues have nothing to do with it. At the very least one has to admire his "ideological" committment..


01-09-2004, 20:05
Then what does he plan to do with that older stock? If he has the older inventory, what will he do with it if his strategy is to market young whiskey for ideologic reasons?

Regards, jimbo

01-09-2004, 21:54
Trying to figure out and explain Fritz Maytag is an excercise that will get you only so far. It's better to stop before you hurt yourself.

01-10-2004, 04:25
I agree one possibility is he does not have any older stock, having ensured that everything went out at 1-3 years old. This seems unlikely, however. All distilleries should be so lucky to sell everything they make, especially start-ups! On the other hand, maybe he intentionally only made enough to sell in this fashion. If this is true, it seems an opportunity lost because early on in both America and Canada the long aging of rye whiskey (whether in charred or other barrels) took hold. And this was due to the beneficial results of the aging on the spirit.

I do commend Fritz Maytag for making any kind of rye whiskey, however. This has created interest in the category and may stimulate the efforts of others.


01-10-2004, 11:09
I do commend Fritz Maytag for making any kind of rye whiskey, however. This has created interest in the category and may stimulate the efforts of others.

Lest my criticisms be interpreted as insufficient appreciation, let me say I agree wholeheartedly with your statement above.

03-14-2004, 18:21
Just some info I found on Pikesville Rye.

Pikesville was a product of Standard Distillers,
a Maryland company, located in the Baltimore area.
Standard was a rectifier who bought their distilled
rye from the Majestic Distillery in Lansdowne, Md.
The last batch of Maryland rye was probably distilled in the mid 1970's as Pikesville was last bottled in 1980.
I was told that although a four year old rye, most of
the later bottlings were more likely to be 7 year old whiskeys. This was due
to the inability to move the product.
After purchasing the rye, Standard aged all the
whiskey in their own warehouses and while I am not sure of the proofs I know some was bonded 100 proof.Standard in
the early 80's had Heaven Hill distill their whiskey and it was sold as Maryland Style Rye.Eventually Standard sold the label,recipe, and distillery name to Heaven Hill.

It is now an 80 proof version known as Pikesville Supreme.
As for the mashbill, it may now not be same as the original,
but back in the early 80's it surely was, as HH
distilled the product for Standard.

There probably is some old Maryland rye still around.
I seem to remember somebody on SB.com saying they had a bottle. I am also attempting to get one of those last bottlings of old Maryland Straight Rye.

03-15-2004, 07:34
A group of us this weekend at a gathering near Cincinnati discussed this subject at some length. I will try to recount what I remember from that discussion.

Most of the Maryland/Potomac distillers seem to have ceased production around the time of the Bottled-in-Bond and Pure Food and Drug Acts, leading to the conclusion that they were not, for the most part, genuine straight whiskies but what they would have called rectified or compound whiskey and what we would call American blends. They probably resembled Canadian whiskies.

In contrast, the Monongahela tradition was a straight whiskey tradition. It would have been the first rye whiskey to use a significant amount of maize and may have been where regular aging in new charred oak barrels originated. This theory (and it is little more than a theory) says that Monongahela rye was a precursor to bourbon, the only real difference being the proportion of rye to corn. Since Monongahela whiskey was being sold to people who were accustomed to rye whiskey, they wanted the rye flavor to dominate. Since bourbon's customers were accustomed to cognac, something sweeter and less spicy was desired, plus the fact that corn simply grew better than rye in Kentucky, so a predominantly corn whiskey was the natual product.

03-15-2004, 09:05
Recently my wife and I were visiting a friend in Baltimore. We drove with him in a 60 mile radius east of the city because he had to visit some business accounts and I went for the ride. The accounts were in strip malls or small towns and if I saw a liquor store nearby I dropped in. I talked to the owners to see what rye consciousness they had and what brands they carried. Most carried no straight rye. The ones that did carried one or two brands, not Pikesville but rather Jim Beam or Wild Turkey's rye. I did this in Baltimore, too. I found Pikesville only once, at the large market downtown in one of the two liquor stores on-site, it was Heaven Hill's of course.

I found with one or two exceptions that no one knew what straight rye really was much less that Maryland was once a centre of production and not just that but famed for fine whiskeys in the U.S. and beyond. The history is just too far back, society is too fast moving and changing, people forget... A nice lady at Burke's, a downtown Baltimore bar and restaurant operating since the 1930's, recalled vending some of the Maryland rye brands when still made, especially Pikesville. She said few people ask for rye whiskey today, and the people who drank it in the old days switched to Canadian whisky or bourbon with few complaints. She looked at me bemusedly, as if thinking, "interesting that he knows about all this, it really is a shame we don't make rye in Maryland any more, wish I could help him more..". http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif

Some liquor stores in the rural areas (maybe parts of Eastern Shore) may still have have a bottle or two of 1970's-era Maryland rye, maybe in the basement somewhere covered in dust, but finding such artifacts is another story!

Pikesville as produced by Heaven Hill is good and I'm sure is close to the original formula - the label promises as much anyway. I believe some of the old Maryland names (if not Pikesville) would have been aged longer than 4 years, however. Recently I tried HH's Rittenhouse which is excellent too, grainy like Pikesville but a little different and with more barrel character. It seems somewhat older but carries no age statement. Both make fine Manhattans, I should add. I heard there is a 10 year old version of Rittenhouse available. It may approach the taste of some of the old, well-aged Pennsylvania or Maryland whiskeys. Probably Sazerac 18 year old rye does, too.

I have inferred from various sources that there were 3 styles of rye: a fruity Maryland/Potomac version; the Monongahela version, which may be represented today by Clermont's Old Overholt; and a separate Kentucky version because rye whiskey always was distilled in Kentucky. Jim Beam's and Wild Turkey's ryes would I think represent the Kentucky tradition. HH's Pikesville and Rittenhouse probably represent what some whiskey was like in Maryland and Pennsylvania, respectively (except Pikesville does not taste fruity: Mike Veach has reported citrus-like flavors in some bourbon of 60 years ago and maybe that was true also for some (but not all?) Maryland rye of that era). And of course there are the 10 or so other ryes that can be bought, each of which likely represents an original type or variant.

The story of rye in the mid-Atlantic region is no different unfortunately from so many products now departed from their original area of production due to changing times and tastes.

That is why it is especially noteworthy bourbon survived and prospered in Kentucky. To be sure there has been signficant consolidation and closure but enough bourbon distillation survives to constitute a vibrant industry. Other States made good, certainly distinctive, whiskeys but a confluence of circumstances resulted in their seemingly final disappearance. This did not happen in Kentucky and it is a welcome exception. How many other areas have well-established industries (in liquor or anything) still going strong after 100 years and more? Not too many!


03-15-2004, 11:36
According to Jackson's World Guide to Whiskey (1987), who cites in turn no less an authority than H.L. Mencken, many of the "widely advertised" brands of whiskey in Maryland were blends. But it is no less true that many distilleries survived into the 1950's-1970's (when the survivors all closed) making straight rye whiskey. The Jackson book or pictures of miniature collections posted on the Internet show or discuss for example brands such as K&L Maryland Straight Rye (1960's), Green Spring Valley Club Straight Rye (somewhat earlier), Baltimore Pure Rye (the 'rye-e' rye, to mid-1950's), Mount Vernon Straight Rye (ditto to mid-1950's and then became a blend), Ruxton Rye, Cockeysville Rye, Sherbrook Straight Rye and others. Some makers seemed to specialise in all straight whiskey combinations, Records & Goldsborough, a large concern in Maryland until the 1950's, was one such. So while many of the big names were blends (e.g. Hunter, Pride of Baltimore, Calvert - blends popularity occurred in other whiskey regions too), straight whiskey was a continuing tradition in Maryland until Pikesville closed in the 1970's. See also www.pre-pro.com (http://www.pre-pro.com) which contains lovely pictures of old glasses at least a hundred of which advertise straight or pure rye whiskey. Many of these houses (written descriptions of which are given in many cases) lasted to 1920 and some opened after Volstead ended. The names I mentioned above (just a sampling from my reading over the years) all date from about 1930's- circa 1970.


03-15-2004, 12:36
Most of the Maryland/Potomac distillers seem to have ceased production around the time of the Bottled-in-Bond and Pure Food and Drug Acts, leading to the conclusion that they were not, for the most part, genuine straight whiskies but what they would have called rectified or compound whiskey and what we would call American blends. They probably resembled Canadian whiskies.

Most Maryland whiskies were blends in 1940's and 1950's.
Four Roses had a distillery in Relay,Md. Lord Calvert was another popular brand.

However my reference to Pikesville Rye should not be taken lightly.It was Maryland Straight Rye Whiskey. My source is
the family that owned and operated Standard Distillers.
They were rectifiers, but in this case it just meant they bought their whiskey and added water upon bottling.

I also have a bottle of Sherwood Rye in my possession.
It was distilled by Frank L. Wight Distilling Co.
Lorely,Md. The bottle states "Maryland Straight Rye Whiskey"
It is a ten year old "Rare Old Sipping Whiskey". I believe
the bottling was from the early to mid 1970's. So that
makes two distillers of Maryland Rye in the 1960's and 70's.

03-15-2004, 14:58
They were rectifiers, but in this case it just meant they bought their whiskey and added water upon bottling.

That's not a rectifier. "To rectify" means "to fix, to correct, to make right." Rectification meant some or all of the following: redistillation, charcoal filtration, mixing with coloring and flavoring.

I'm not saying there were no makers of straight whiskey in Maryland, just that the evidence suggests most of the so-called rye produced there was compound or rectified whiskey and not straight whiskey, and when makers were required to label their products accurately, the industry there collapsed. Obviously, what remained were the few producers of straight whiskey.

It has been reliably estimated that in the U.S. as a whole around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, 80 percent of the whiskey sold was compound or rectified whiskey.

03-15-2004, 22:34

I agree with your comment about rectifiers. I was told
that Standard was a rectifier. I assume they produced other
whiskeys(blended ryes) which were compounds with color and flavour enhancements.
But with Pikesville, I was told they
only bought their whiskey from one source,Majestic.Standard
aged the whiskey,some of which was bonded.I don't believe
this whiskey was rectified.I just wanted to clarify that
Standard,a rectifier, only added water to Pikesville,
nothing else.

03-16-2004, 00:08
Pikesville Supreme Maryland Straight Rye Whisky was a genuine straight rye whiskey as produced in Maryland until the 1970's. It still is a genuine straight whiskey but is made now by Heaven Hill in Kentucky who acquired the label. Photos of Pikesville bottles from the 1930's and late 1950's can be found in a miniature bottle collection posted on the Internet, see www.ne.jp/asahi/miniature/smallworld/BourbonP.htm (http://www.ne.jp/asahi/miniature/smallworld/BourbonP.htm) Heaven Hill simply took over the brand as was explained previously but the labelling hardly changed except for the deletion of "Maryland". Majestic Distillers still exists but no longer distills rye whiskey. No doubt as you say Standard Distillers produced blended whiskeys too. Most distillers sell blends of different kinds.

For an example of a Maryland blend, Pride of Baltimore is shown on the same page as Pikesville in the site mentioned above. Under "S" in the index one finds Sherwood Straight Rye and Sherbrook Straight Rye dating from the 1950's and 1960's. A look through the other parts of the collection reveals other examples of Maryland straights. It is interesting to see these photos and examine the color of the spirits and other such details. A number of Kentucky brands still going strong are shown as they looked (in miniature of course!) 30 or 60 years ago, most interesting.


Edit: Corrected link so it works.

03-16-2004, 12:10
That makes sense and is consistent with the common practice of the day.

03-16-2004, 12:16
I wonder why Heaven Hill is identifying their Pikesville as a Monongahela, since its heritage is clearly not that at all?

I do like it, though, whatever it is.

03-16-2004, 14:36
On the website of Heaven Hill Pikesville is identified not as Monongahela but rather Maryland/Potomac. It is Rittenhouse that is called a Monongahela. Rittenhouse was an old brand identified with Philadelphia (Rittenhouse Square) and I guess it is felt it partook enough of the Monongahela tradition of whiskey (from the other side of the State) to deserve that description..

To me Rittenhouse and Pikesville are similar in taste. I cannot detect a fruity taste in the current Pikesville. It is an open question whether original Pikesville, e.g., those pictured in that Japanese web site, had such a taste.

Whomever wrote the rye whiskey notes for the Heaven Hill website may have more information on the distinction between these two styles of straight rye.

A last point: I do not discount that perhaps 100 years ago, the Maryland process was really a blending process which imparted a vinous taste to the blend. Possibly from adding fruit extracts to the blends, which we know was done in blending in the late 1800's. Even though that would not have been "authentic", people might have gotten used to the taste so that in time even the distillers' straight whiskey was made to taste like that, what you might call an inversion. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif Or perhaps Maryland/Potomac straight rye - or some of it - always had such a winy taste, maybe from (as I speculated earlier) using very estery beers for distillation. Or maybe it was a method of combining all- straight whiskeys.


03-16-2004, 14:45
There seems to be a subtle difference. In tradition there certainly is. I appreciate HH continuing with the ryes.

03-16-2004, 14:58
I agree. The beer expert Michael Jackson used to say, speaking of the emerging microbreweries, "who knows what the market is for stout"? And in time many small breweries turned a nice dollar, maybe not only on stout but in part on stout and well-flavoured pale ales (Sierra Nevada), fruit beers (the fast-growing New Belgium), strong-tasting lagers (Sam Adams), etc. Who knows what the market is for rye whiskey? At least in that case it has tremendous heritage, it can claim it honestly. For a long time, as people are wont to do for many old-established products, they mostly forgot about real rye, but it never completely disappeared in Kentucky, where it was made from the beginning. And it is time for the rye renaissance. I see no reason a rye whiskey can't be positioned and promoted like, say, Woodford Reserve has, or Maker's Mark. It doesn't need to be toned down - that would be a big mistake - it needs to be explained properly so people can understand what it is and take a chance on it. Rye and ginger ale in the fancy bars can become the next big thing, I really believe that. Rittenhouse Rye would be ideal for this move. It has real heritage, elegant trappings (Rittenhouse Square was and is a tony part of Philly) and a good taste. I'd age it a couple of years more than at present and let it fly. But money and effort would have to be placed behind it, with no guarantee of success. But it would be worth the effort I think. Or maybe, and I would employ Pikesville here, rye can be pitched to joust with Jack Daniels, who knows what the possibilities are? From something that, as Larry Kass put it, was less than nothing and is now nothing (read the smilicons he intended) there is only one way to go and that's up! I wish HH well with whatever it does with these brands and it should be commended indeed for persisting with them.


03-16-2004, 14:59
Right, my mistake, and it is the Rittenhouse Bond that is now in my pantry, at your suggestion.

03-16-2004, 15:13
Chuck, with your spirits marketing background, do you think rye can be positioned to really take off, say the way coolers did, or Corona, etc.?


03-16-2004, 15:23
When Greg, Jo, BettyeJo , Amelia and Myself visited Heaven Hill in Late October or November,2003. Larry hosted us and among other things( 1994 EWSB Barrel One, unforgettable!) We had some Rittenhouse Bonded Rye that was 10 years old. It was a special order for a customer in Europe. To have access to that, truly it is what dreams are made of. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif

03-16-2004, 16:01
The best strategy seems to be what Jim Beam did with Small Batch. Their attitude from the beginning was to introduce and promote the group of four with no favoritism to any one, but if one or more of the four broke out on its own and started to look like a real brand, then they would support it as such. That is what happened with Knob Creek.

On the other hand, that strategy derived from some very traditional brand management thinking. Buffalo Trace seems to be going in a different direction and part of that is catering to the enthusiast market (i.e., us), which is very small but which can make a small but premium-priced and hence profitable brand like Stagg successful.

The next step for Heaven Hill probably would be to introduce a luxury rye, maybe a 10-year-old version of the Rittenhouse, to market alongside its other high end whiskies such as EWSBV, HMSB and ECSB.

Part of the problem is that Jim Beam and Heaven Hill, in particular, have invested so much in promoting bourbon as the be-all and end-all, as a way of competing with Jack Daniel's (for all the good it has done them) that it might be tough for them to switch gears and say, "Oh, by the way, here's this other type of American Straight Whiskey that is also quite good."

03-16-2004, 16:30
Hmm, interesting. I like that idea about a 10 year old Rittenhouse. 10 years has a feeling of solidity, certainly long enough for a prime American brand. Say they created a division called, Rittenhouse Square Brands with an address in Philadelphia, something like that. I'd redo the bottle too, introduce a 30's-style bottle, give it a retro high end tone. Maybe the Old-Fashioned would be a better cocktail than rye and ginger to support the brand. I think the high end approach, selling as you say less but with good margins, would make more sense than trying to create a counter to Jim Beam or Jack. They are well-established and their markets likely would not cotton to rye, not broadly anyway. Whereas rye still has associations to sophisticated urban living, these are attenuated but there is a folk memory I think about rye being "the" drink for cocktails on the Eastern Seaboard, and it is enough to allow it to come back, maybe.


03-16-2004, 16:40
just remember in the much repeated song...

"...them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye... singin' this will be the day that I die"

03-24-2004, 12:53
How did the 10yo bonded rye compare to VW13 or Saz18?

03-24-2004, 19:02
For some reason my VWFR 13 year rye is staying sealed at the moment but I do have 12 year VanWinkle and Sazerac to compare to. The Rittenhouse has a little bite but in a robust way rather than a drinking the dregs sort. To me it would be a welcome addition to have available and I would have it on hand , Always! The VanWinkle 12 year seems delicate compared to Rittenhouse. I didn't think to ask for the percentage of Rye in the Rittenhouse.

Certainly it would get to personal taste rather quickly,I think that the Rittenhouse would be a great contender, in the Rye Whiskey catagory. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

Perhaps "bite" Isn't the best word here. The Rittenhouse Rye has a presence and catches your attention and all available taste buds. It really smooths out at mid point and the finish is superb.

05-03-2004, 19:54
There probably is some old Maryland rye still around.
I seem to remember somebody on SB.com saying they had a bottle. I am also attempting to get one of those last bottlings of old Maryland Straight Rye.

Well, I found a few bottles of Pikesville Maryland Straight Rye Whiskey. One is an unopened 750 bottle, one of the last off the line. One is an opened liter bottle. Another is an opened quart bottle which probably dates to the early 1970's. Very little consumed in the opened bottles. I will post pictures and taste notes soon.