Jump to content

Is there more than one style of straight rye??


This topic has been inactive for at least 365 days, and is now closed. Please feel free to start a new thread on the subject! 

Recommended Posts

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.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 months later...

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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

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..". 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!

Gary

Link to post
Share on other sites

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 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.

Gary

Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Chuck,

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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

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 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.

Gary

Edit: Corrected link so it works.

Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Link to post
Share on other sites

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. 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.

Gary

Link to post
Share on other sites

There seems to be a subtle difference. In tradition there certainly is. I appreciate HH continuing with the ryes.

Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Gary

Link to post
Share on other sites

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.?

Gary

Link to post
Share on other sites

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. laugh.gif

Link to post
Share on other sites

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."

Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Gary

Link to post
Share on other sites

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"

Link to post
Share on other sites

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. 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.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...

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.

Link to post
Share on other sites
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.