View Full Version : Pikesville Straight Rye

10-18-2006, 04:25
I recently acquired a bottle from Baltimore. The bottle looks very recent. Stamped on the base is a 2001 by which I infer it was filled with Bernheim whiskey. This is 4 year old rye and it doesn't taste older.

This rye tastes quite different than Rittenhouse. Assuming it is the same mashbill, the differences must result from maturation alone which means different locations in the warehouse. But I wonder if in fact the recipes are different since the whiskeys have always tasted quite different to me.

In the past, Pikesville (from HH - not the Maryland original) was aggressive in taste. It had a huge raw rye hit and needed taming with ginger ale or in a cocktail mix.

This current one is far more drinkable on its own. The rye is quite evident but does not obtrude overly, and the background is medium-age "bourbon" wood (probably the corn element and char) with some pleasant appley notes in the background. There is also a pleasing, "creamy" quality, it reminded me of the aromatic sweetness of cream soda pop.

It would be interesting to try this at 100 proof but at 80 it is very approachable and very well balanced for neat sampling.

Like Rittenhouse, I find Pikesville has gotten better. In Rittenhouse's case, I thought perhaps for the current BIB it might have something to do with the still it was made in (Early Time's) but because this current Pikesville is so good I think the reason in both cases is simply a renewed focus on these whiskeys. I think HH realises the market is aware of and wants quality rye and it is ensuring that its batches are better than ever, I think it is giving more attention in other words to the category.

Whatever the reasons, Rittenhouse BIB and Pikesville are excellent whiskeys and they come to boot at a bargain price.


10-18-2006, 12:00

I will purchase a new bottle and do a comparison with other Pikesville whiskey I have opened. I hope your right as improvement in the brand would be well received in Maryland and surrounding states.

10-18-2006, 19:08
Dave, I think you will be surprised.

The base of my bottle reads at top: JG ........BM. Then one inch down: 42.............05. At very bottom, a 17.

Delphic, but I take it the '05 means the bottle was made in that year, and the label dress is very fresh. (When I said in my earlier note the base said '01, I meant '05, I was writing from memory. What I meant was, a bottling in '05 of 4 year old whiskey would mean the whiskey was made in 2001 - at Bernheim. Even at 5 years old this would be so).

This is really good whiskey. Try it.


10-19-2006, 10:20
I just finished my second bottle of Pikesville. I have no idea when they were bottled, but probably no earlier than 2005. When I first tried it, I didn't like it very much. I started to really like it when I tried it next to WT Rye. I could REALLY get the fruity flavors that way. Now I like it a lot. It's pretty different from the other ryes I've tried including Rittenhouse BIB (thanks Howie!) which is superb, Old Overholt which I don't really care for, and WT Rye which I like.

Anyway, I'll be getting a third bottle soon. I find Pikeville to be a good pour when I want something less complex. Not an "everyday", but often, especially for under $10.


10-19-2006, 11:23
Well put and I fully agree. Pikesville now is better than it was 5 years ago, though, it had a harsh edge then (which I think Dave was adverting to) that is gone in favor of good integrated flavor with a fruity/creamy background.


11-08-2006, 12:03
I attended the Rye Whiskey seminar presented by Parker Beam and Larry Kass at WhiskeyFest on Monday.

The 3 whiskeys tasted were Pikesville, Rittenhouse, and Rittenhouse 21.

The Pikesville and Rittenhouse are currently being distilled by HH and use the same mashbill. The Rittenhouse has a fruitier nose and taste and is 1 yr older than the Pikesville. Both are very good ryes.

The Rittenhouse 21 is an excellent aged rye, fruitier, spicier and with more wood.
They discovered this rye aging in one of their warehouses and they believe that the whiskey was probably distilled for the Pikesville brand.

11-08-2006, 14:44
This shows how much aging makes a difference to the palate.

I think the kind of warehouse, or location therein, matters too.

Interesting that Rittenhouse shows as the more fruitier since the label of Pikesville refers to a fruity quality as being characteristic of Maryland rye. It was Rittenhouse that was more the Pennsylvania, drier style. I recall Joe's Dougherty's Overholt at the last KBF and that struck me as a typical Monongahela palate - dry, austere, with a wood varnish-like taste. This was an acquired taste to be sure but I like it. In today's rye I find Pikesville more in that style than Rittenhouse. I'll take em both.


05-23-2007, 12:41
Last night I opened a bottle of Pikesville that was distilled in Pennsylvania and bottled at four years old. I will post more extensive tasting notes later, but I wanted to give my preliminary impressions.

I had expected the whiskey to bear some resemblance to 80's era bottles of Old Overholt I've sampled. Unless my memory of those OO bottles is faulty, this was not the case. Nor was the Pennsylvania Pikesville at all similar to the Heaven Hill Pikesville that I recently posted as Virtual Bourbon #56. It lacked the rushing rye finish of the newer whiskey, but featured a much more complicated taste that involved dark fruit and must and wood. One taster described it as "cherrywood". I noted hay or straw, but nothing new-mown, something left in a dark barn for a while.

I am going to pick up a bottle of the Saz Jr. to compare as the last bottle I had of that carried an earthy taste that I found overpowering. The musty flavor in the Pikesville is well matched by the fruitiness, and I find this more to my liking.

Despite the four year label, I wonder if older whiskey is in the mix since there is some wet wood in the flavor. The finish is balanced and moderate. For an 80 proof whiskey, I think it is outstanding.

The bottle is bottom stamped 88, and I am very pleased to have two 86 proof bottles in reserve. I find this whiskey to be sui generis and an altogether pleasant surprise.


05-23-2007, 12:55
Does it state on the label it was distilled in PA? I would have thought it might be pre-HH Majestic Distillers rye (i.e., made by the company in Baltimore which made it since the 1940's until it stopped distilling rye and continued as an importer, distributor and bottler). Your taste notes remind me of some of these I tasted with Dave Gonano, and I think it is true that at the end of the, um, pike for the rye when made in Baltimore, Majestic was bottling stock older than 4 years, upwards of 10 I think (because probably it hadn't distilled in the last years, simply bottled the aging stock). One of the other bourbon websites has a detailed history of the manufacture of this brand with photos of the plant where it was made.

A possibility is that once its own whiskey ran out, to continue bottling, Majestic sourced the whiskey from other distillers (i.e., before the brand was sold and assigned to Heaven Hill). It might have purchased some from Schaefferstown, this is certainly possible, for this purpose.


05-23-2007, 13:20
Yes, Gary. The bottle reads "Distilled in Pennsylvania". It is bottled by Standard Distillers Products Co. Bardstown. Heaven Hill, I assume. I had posted about the bottle elsewhere and was told that it was old Michter's whiskey. That's what led me to think it would resemble the Old Overholt which I understood was produced at Michter's at least for a while. But it doesn't really remind me of the OO which I enjoy but find to be much less complex. Since I have 86 proof bottles of both Overholt and now this Pikesville from the 80's, I'll hold them til I can attend one of the SB gatherings and share them with some more experienced tasters so I can get some expert opinions. It'd be great if you could make one of the group.


05-23-2007, 13:50
Many thanks, and for your suggestion, I'd love to participate. I think what must have happened was, when the brand was sold to HH, either HH also acquired existing inventory for the brand which Majestic had sourced from Schaefferstown or another PA distiller, or HH obtained whiskey from that State until it could ramp up its own production. I wonder if either this Pikesville or the Overholt you mentioned might have been from PA but not Michter's, e.g., Continental Distilling in Philadelphia. I do not recall when Continental stopped making whiskey but it might have been distilling around 1980. There may have been other plants still operating in PA at that time, and if so, if one of the brands was from a non-Michter's source in the State that might explain the taste difference. Or, they might be from the same distillery but of different ages or of course mingled to produce a different profile. I have tasted some National Distillers PA Overholt that seemed different from Michter's even accounting for the difference in the mashbills. Only a comprehensive table tasting should be able to develop some firmer conclusions!


05-23-2007, 17:23
I, too, was under the impression that Pikesville was made by Majestic until HH obtained the brand, but it's possible that in the waning years, Pikesville was just sold by Majestic using whiskey sourced from Pennsylvania, and Heaven Hill obtained both the brand and the Pennsylvania source of supply.

I know that when I visited Heaven Hill in 1991, they were making rye for their brands. The Rittenhouse 21, which they say they made in Bardstown, had to have been made in 1985. It's possible that they sourced whiskey from Pennsylvania as long as it was available. It's also possible they were doing the bottling at a certain point but someone else, Majestic presumably, was still sourcing and marketing the product.

That was the normal trajectory of the Pennsylvania and Maryland rye distilleries. When sales of your own brands started to decline, you either started selling bulk whiskey to other people or shuttered your own distillery and started buying bulk whiskey from other people. Maryland shut down first so for a time the Maryland producers bought Pennsylvania rye. Then the Pennsylvania producers started to shut down and for a time they bought Kentucky rye. Then eventually, in each case, the failing company sold its brands to the producing company. Then sales would drop below what the producing company could sustain and they would sell to the next company down the line.

Michters was the source of a lot of the straight rye produced in Pennsylvania and it is the one Pennsylvania distillery people know, so they might just be assuming this whiskey was distilled at Michters' (aka Bomberger, aka Pennco).

05-23-2007, 18:00
Majestic was only the contract distiller of Pikeville Rye and today continues to distill other alcoholic beverages. They did not bottle Pikesville. Pikesville was owned and bottled by Standard Distillers. Standard was owned by Andrew Merle, Jr whose relatives I have a fond association. I have one of the last production bottles of Pikesville Maryland Straight Rye. It was distilled of course in Maryland.

After Andrew Merles' death the company was sold to Heaven Hill. I assume during the interim period(from the time HH began distilling rye until the aged whiskey was 4 yrs old) HH was using rye distilled in PA .

Gary is correct that most of the old Maryland rye bottled near the end was 6 to 10yr whiskey.

05-23-2007, 18:07
Thanks Dave for that clarification, I was aware that Merle owned the brand, but I thought Majestic both distilled and bottled it for him (and his company, Standard Distillers).

Majestic today does not I believe distill any longer although they may still rectify, John Lipman's whiskey pages have some good information on this. See also www.majesticdistilling.com. Interestingly, Majestic under its own names sells a number of bourbons and blended whiskeys but not one straight rye. One of the bourbons (on the website) mentions a connection of some kind with Lexington, KY and Scott County but I can't figure out what is meant exactly.


05-23-2007, 18:09
We must remember that the source of the Rittenhouse 21 was Rye Whiskey HH was making for their newly acquired Pikesville brand ( it was the only rye they were making in 1985). From circa 1985 to 1989 HH must have purchased their stock from PA sources for the whiskies they were bottling . For awhile it may have been called Maryland "Style" Whiskey.

05-24-2007, 01:21
I think this is likely, Dave, and even Standard Distillers prior to the sale might have been sourcing whiskey from PA once the supply from Majestic ran out. But you are quite right, there was never a Majestic Distillers rye as such, Majestic made it for Mr. Merle's Standard Distillers but I assume bottled it as well. Lipman states that Majestic stopped distilling rye in 1972. If 6-10 year old rye was bottled at the end, that would take the last stocks of Majestic-sourced product to about 1982. From '82-'85 PA product might have been used if the sale to HH was in '85 or so.

Anyway, I find the current Pikesville very nice and improved from three of four years ago. It has a softer palate and less obvious rye congener. It may be close now to the best of the Maryland Pikesville rye although younger I think (i.e., the 1960's Pikesville seemed older than 4 years with all that toasty depth). Maybe too the Bernheim taste of the rye differs somewhat from the DSP 31 taste.

I wonder, if the product made now at Bernhiem was aged in Maryland, if it would approach more the flavor of that 1960's beverage.


05-24-2007, 12:56
I wonder, if the product made now at Bernhiem...

Is the product now made at Bernheim, or is it from Brown-Forman (DSP 354) along with its label-mate, Rittenhouse? I don't know, but would guess BF.


05-24-2007, 16:48
Good point Roger, possibly the HH ryes, or those on the market currently, are or were distilled at B-F (and certainly the two brands come from the one mashbill).


05-25-2007, 17:52
On a practical note: to my taste, the Pikesville makes a great mint julep, but is too soft to make a good Manhattan; while a spicier rye doesn't make a great julep but is just the ticket for a Manhattan.

05-25-2007, 18:04
Very good point, my own experience validates that completely - and it may explain why the mint julep became associated mainly with bourbon. The Manhattan, closely allied of course to bourbon, never quite lost its associations (now revived) with straight rye whiskey. Possibly the good match vermouth makes with a good blend (as Chuck noted recently) provided a kind of bridge to the current revivalist interest in rye Manhattans. True, not all ryes as you noted are spicy, but most are.


06-04-2007, 09:44
OK, here's some more info from a former employee ( also a relative of the owner of Standard ). Majestic was not related to Standard, no common ownership connection. All rye whiskey made by Majestic was barrelled and warehoused at Majestic's site. Only the Bottled-In-Bond was bottled there. All barrels for non-BIB (most of the whiskey) were shipped to the Standard's Lombard St facility in Baltimore for bottling . Standard had a 5-story building complete with a bottling line.

For a short period before the sale to Heaven Hill, Standard contracted with Michters for a supply of rye whiskey. We can assume HH continued using Michters and maybe other PA ryes until their own in-house rye became of age.

06-04-2007, 15:25
Thanks for that, Dave, most interesting.


06-04-2007, 18:39
Another bit of trivia: I was speaking with Colby at LeNell's and he said most of the high-end bars in Manhattan are now using Rittenhouse Rye BIB as their well whiskey.

06-04-2007, 23:19
I suppose it's not beyond the realm of possibility that people just know their history, but it almost seems like some kind of genetic memory, that people in New York know they always liked straight rye, even though it hasn't been popular there for 40 years or so.

06-06-2007, 21:36
I suppose it's not beyond the realm of possibility that people just know their history, but it almost seems like some kind of genetic memory, that people in New York know they always liked straight rye, even though it hasn't been popular there for 40 years or so.

I would say that it's more likely that people in New York are more aware of what has become trendy, and the restaurants being aware of this and making sure they are "trendy" in that regard. Not that that is a bad thing...if a large percentage of bars in NY are carrying rye as their well, then production increases, awareness increases, availability increases. Win Win situation for everyone (well except whoever was the well before...but that might have been HH, too, so no biggie)

06-08-2007, 12:51
It can't be a coincidence that the place where rye was most popular before is the place where it has become popular again.

03-04-2008, 13:21
I have a vague and unprovable opinion that more emphatic tastes are preferred near the ocean. I believe that the (bluntly) maritime odors encourage strong flavors and tastes as contrast and concealment.

I think as well, to some degree, industrial pollution tends to favor extreme (strength) tastes and flavors in a particular city or region.

I think in areas where you've got the wood pulp and turpentine smells (areas of georgia) you'ld have HECK selling any gin, they'd be comparitively flavorless in that ambiance.. that is btw where i discovered SLOE gin..

I just notice that rye and seaports, overproof rum and pirates, monongahela and riverboats, the islay scotches..

it do seem that high intensity liquors are most appreciated and most prevalent near water of some sort.. and i can't help but think ambient stink is part of the reason why..

03-04-2008, 18:21
Interesting theory. German pils beers from the far north bear out what you say, Jever is the classic type, very well-hopped and firm, whereas the "interior" beers of Bavaria are more malty and soft.

In England, Adnams bitter on the southeast coast is quite bitter and has been said to have a "seaweed" taste: beers in central England tend perhaps to be sweeter and softer again (Holts and Hyde in Manchester being an exception, but I am thinking e.g., of the great beers of the centre and west of Yorkshire, or London beers, or the Scotch ales).

In northern Holland near the water, very flavorful, sharp, herbal genevers are traditional.

This could be true as a general rule although there will always be exceptions.


03-04-2008, 18:33
Just continuing to think on this, Beck's is a Bremen or Hamburg beer (made near the North Sea I know) but is notably mild and round. However Beck's is I think an early example of a beer made with an eye to the international market.

Anchor Steam beer and its derivatives on the west coast was famously flavorful especially in the pre-microbrewery era (which it helped inspire), so more proof of the theory.

Yet in L.A., beers such as Acme ruled, blandish and mild. Yet I am not sure I would style L.A., then or now, a coastal city...

The Milwaukee and other interior U.S. beers would have followed Bavarian lines until blandified to appeal to a mass market.

New England as you say had rum, as do the Canadian Maritimes, and a rum (ot least today) of no great distinction, but as you say too in the old days the taste must have been weaned on strong earthy overproofs.

Here's more proof of the theory: pastis and its variants are legion all around the Mediteranian rim. That drink has a strong smack of anise, ouzo on the Greek Islands is an example.

Strong dill and caraway liquors ruled and still do in Scandinavia with its endless rocky coasts.

Strong Baltic stouts appealed along the Baltic sea and inland to a point, yes.

I think you have something there.