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Pikesville Rye and Rittenhouse Rye: Review and Tasting Notes

Pikesville Rye and Rittenhouse Rye: Review and Tasting Notes

 

Here’s the big news first – Heaven Hill has a new rye whiskey out that’s essentially an older, higher proof version of the beloved Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond. This new one is six years old (at least) and 110 proof, rather than four years old and 100 proof. Wow, what’s not to love about that? Heaven Hill has time and time again put their amazing bank of great, aged whiskey to excellent use, and there’s no reason to think this won’t be another home run along the lines of the their Elijah Craig barrel proof releases.

DSC_1129Where this gets a bit confusing, though, is with the label. This new rye is not a Rittenhouse – rather, it is called Pikesville. Pikesville is also the name used on a younger (three year), lower proof (80), regional rye brand from Heaven Hill. Both of these Pikesville whiskeys share roots going back to a Maryland brand that originated way back in the 1890’s and was acquired by Heaven Hill in 1982. Neither of these Pikesville whiskeys should have anything to do with Rittenhouse Rye. But they do. Got all that?

Heaven Hill is careful to make clear that they produce Pikesville in Kentucky. And remember how I said this was essentially an older, higher proof Rittenhouse? Sure enough, Heaven Hill has confirmed that Pikesville (a self-proclaimed Maryland-style rye) and Rittenhouse (a self-proclaimed Pennsylvania-style rye) are indeed the same mash bill (51% rye, 39% corn, 10% malted barley). So it goes… as long as they taste good, who am I to quibble with the distinctions between a Maryland-style and Pennsylvania-style when they’re both actually made in Kentucky and are essentially siblings of each other?

The new Pikesville rye has started rolling out in select markets, and will be seeing national distribution this fall. Rather than just taste it on its own, I decided to do a side by side with the Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond. While Rittenhouse doesn’t carry an age statement, word is that it’s basically four year old whiskey, so the Pikesville has roughly two years of extra time in the barrel on it. Heaven Hill has also said that Pikesville’s barrels have been carefully chosen from a more specific section of the rick houses than what Rittenhouse is pulling from. So here we go – a four year old, Pennsylvania-style rye and six year old Maryland-style rye, both made in Kentucky – head to head.

DSC_1136Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond Straight Rye Whiskey
100 Proof, Approx. $24 Retail
Tasting Dates: June 15 – July 17, 2015
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff 

First off, I want to point out that this is the Rittenhouse that was distilled by Heaven Hill (D.S.P. KY 1 for all you whiskey geeks) – not the older version that was distilled by Brown-Forman. Rittenhouse has long been a favorite for rye-based cocktails, especially when you can find one for $20 (it has crept up to the mid-$20s in most retailers).

On the nose, there’s some honey and butterscotch, but it’s buried beneath green wood, a cinnamon edge, a hint of vanilla. Neat, you get a rush of heat, then some dark brown sugar, a bit of rum raisin, dark cocoa powder, assertive rye spice, and a rich syrupy (but tingly) finish. This is no minty/super-herbal rye – it wears it’s hefty corn presence prominently and wears it well. A cube of ice rounds out the Rittenhouse nicely and helps balance the spicy edge and the dark, sweet core. But really, this rye is on the beast-end of the spectrum – it’s a bit too powerful for its own good when drinking neat, but works wonders when paired with lighter ingredients in cocktails like a Manhattan.

DSC_1131Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey
110 Proof, Approx. $50 Retail
Tasting Dates: June 15 – July 17, 2015
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent 

The color here vs. the Rittenhouse is quite similar, maybe a bit darker for the Pikesville, but both a pleasing copper hue. Dang, right away on the nose, you get a lot more nuance, a lot more character, a lot more… intrigue. Despite the higher proof, the nose comes across more integrated, less heat. There are waves of honey and brown sugar and vanilla – typical bourbon notes – but the rye presence keeps the sweetness in check, weaving in and out with subdued floral notes, warm cedar wood, dark cocoa-coated almonds (funny enough, I’ve gotten a similar note from the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof – is there something going on in those Heaven Hill barrels?).

Sipped neat, the Pikesville continues to show the benefits of those two years in the barrel. The spice level perks up – sharp jabs of nutmeg and clove and cinnamon, again the warm wood, and those cocoa-coated almonds playing out over a long warm finish. Over ice, even nicer, still sharp. A touch of water also helps bring out the depths of flavor. You do get the commonalities with the Rittenhouse (Maryland vs. Pennsylvania, be damned) – and, again, this is clearly not a rye of the heavy-mint/dill variety.

Verdict: So the extra few years and 10 points of proof on the Pikesville are indeed beneficial. I’m still more likely to use Pikesville for a Manhattan than to sip neat, which makes it a pricey option to amp up a drink, but whether in a cocktail or sipping over ice, Pikesville offers a solid upgrade over the already-very-solid Rittenhouse Rye. The Maryland vs. Pennsylvania semantics don’t bother me at all – they’re both good drinks, made by a good distiller, and competitively priced. I’m betting the Pikesville will not be an easy one to track down, so if you do see a bottle and you’re a rye fan, do give it a shot.

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Tasting sample of Pikesville provided by Heaven Hill.

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Piehole Whiskey: Review of Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, & Pecan Pie Whiskey

Piehole Whiskey: Review of Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, & Pecan Pie Whiskey

Piehole Whiskey

Mmmmmmm, pie. Mmmmmmmm, whiskey. Umm, pie whiskey? Yes, pie whiskey.

floorpieWhen I first heard about Piehole Whiskey (in apple pie, pecan pie, and cherry pie flavors!), I couldn’t help but think about Homer Simpson. Humans like Homer are simply drawn to pie, in any flavor, shape, or level of quality. Remember the episode when Bart lays a trap for Homer by placing a piece of pie on the floor, and Homer emits a primordial, “Mmmmm, floor pie!” when he sees it? That is the human response to pie at its most basic. Whenever Homer’s in the mood for something stronger than Duff Beer, I have no doubt this would be his go-to drink.

Yes, people love pie. So why wouldn’t there be a pie that comes in the form of a whiskey bottle? I’m not saying that it would be my first choice of how to consume either pie or whiskey (nor my second choice, nor my third, nor my thirty two thousand five hundred seventy eighth), but I can see how lots of folks out there might think that pie whiskey is a good idea. After all, there’s plenty of whiskey flavored pie to be found.

piehole whiskeySo what is this Piehole stuff? It’s actually Canadian whiskey (aged between four and eight years) mixed with “pie-flavored liqueur.” 70 proof. All of $15 for a bottle. Thankfully, it requires that the buyer be of legal drinking age. And it comes to us from the innovation group at Diageo (owner of Crown Royal), where they are surely on the lookout for all sorts of intriguing ways to make Canadian whiskey as popular as bourbon is today. I have a feeling the Canadians will respect this export about as much as they do Justin Beiber. Just guessing.

The branding (PIEHOLE!) features retro pinup girls on each label, with names that match up with their respective pies – Sweet Cheri for Cherry Pie, Sweet Ashley for Apple Pie, you get the idea. They are all unapologetically sweet. Each of the pie ladies sits atop her very own slice of steaming, oozing pie. Subtle it is not. And neither are the aromas or flavors that each bottle emits. This is hit-you-over-the-head flavor, no mistaking what each one is supposed to be.

Instead of giving these whiskies formal reviews, I decided to text my (completely fabricated) 22 year old cousin, who might be more of the target market for such sexy pie-flavored products. What follows is our (also completely fabricated) exchange over a recent weekend:

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So I dropped the bottles off on Saturday morning and checked in later that afternoon to make sure he had received them and cracked them open…

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So, it was 3pm, and my cousin and his friends had already finished all three bottles of pie-flavored whiskey. They clearly liked it, but I had to push him for more of an assessment.

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So there you have it. If you like pie, like whiskey, and can imaging marrying the two with a trip inside a Bath & Body Works, Piehole Whiskey may be just the thing for you.

Full Disclosure: Tasting samples provided by Diageo. Colin is recuperating just fine.

Bottles I didn’t buy: Willett XCF Rye

Bottles I didn’t buy: Willett XCF Rye

Willett XCFI was in a liquor store today, and it happened to be at the same time that a distributor was bringing some things in. On the shelf, he had just placed a nice display of Willett XCF Rye, which I had heard of but never seen. The packaging is lovely – the stark white label and hand drawn illustrations are a nice change of pace amidst the typical text-heavy labels of other American whiskeys.

As for what’s inside – XCF stands for Exploratory Cask Finish, but it could just as well stand for “Extra Costs For (you).” Is that too harsh? I’m sorry. I just can’t see spending well north of $150+ on seven year old rye that was bought from MGP in Indiana and finished all of 90 days extra in a fancy used bourbon barrels that were also used in the making of Grand Marnier (or, as the label states, “finished in Curacao casks sourced from France”). The price at this store was actually quite a bit less than what I’ve read that others have paid – $130 vs. a more common $150-$200 elsewhere. Bargain? Not for me. I’ll happily pass on this and pick up 4 or 5 bottles of Rittenhouse Rye instead.

This particular Willett XCF is called out as version 1.0, meaning more are likely on the way. Is it delicious? I don’t doubt it. Orange (from the Grand Marnier casks) and rye go quite nicely together. (Read Sku’s review here.) Will it sell? Maybe so. The market has an apparently unquenchable thirst for anything rare and limited, so this fits the bill. Speaking of which… they had one bottle of Jefferson’s Ocean behind the counter. I didn’t even ask the price. I have better ways to spend my whiskey dollars than on gimmicks and hype.

Dickel Hand Selected Single Barrel, 9 Year: Review and Tasting Notes

Dickel Hand Selected Single Barrel, 9 Year: Review and Tasting Notes

Dickel Barrel Select Whisky

So the folks at Dickel have been sending me stuff. First there was a video. Then came a box delivered via Fedex. And inside that cardboard box was a wooden box. And inside that wooden box was a glass bottle. And inside that bottle was whisky. “Hand selected,” single-barrel, 9 year old George Dickel Tennessee whisky. In fact, this bottle was selected by the chap in the aforementioned video, one Doug Kragel, Dickel brand ambassador

It’s important to point out that this Dickel is different than the “Barrel Select” version (which I’ve previously reviewed). Both come from the single Dickel mash bill. Both are charcoal and chill filtered. The differences are the proof, the age, and the fact that one is small-batch bottled and the other single-barrel bottled.

The Barrel Select comes in at 86 proof. The Hand Selected rocks a 103. Barrel Select is 10 to 12 years old, though no age statement. Hand Selected is stated 9 years old (there is also a 14 year old offering, which ups the proof to 106 to boot). Barrel Select is a small batch of approximately 10-12 barrels. Hand Selected is a true single barrel.  And, while Barrel Select can be found pretty widely, Hand Selected is only available at stores that choose to purchase a whole single barrel (bottled at 103 proof) for their customers.

Dickel started this program last year to a good bit of fanfare, and it seems they’re giving the hand selected barrel program another push now. It’s good to see parent company Diageo investing some time and effort in bringing Dickel back into the limelight, at least a little bit, since it’s been somewhat of a neglected brand amidst the whiskey boom. Anything else you need to know? Oh yeah, how does it taste?

Dickel Barrel Select WhiskyGeorge Dickel Hand Selected Barrel Sour Mash Whisky, Aged 9 Years
Barrel #137
103 Proof
Approx. $45 Retail
Tasting Dates: November 1-9, 2014

Lovely deep copper color. I’ve got to admit that I was turned off by the nose at first – neat, in a Glencairn glass (the little tulip shaped glasses that lots of whiskey drinkers prefer for sipping neat), I got a lot of toasty sawdust, and the alcohol seemed on the aggressive, petrol side. It came across as anything but Dickel’s trademark “mellow.” I switched to a rocks glass, still neat, and the extra air worked some wonders. Ahhh, there’s the brown sugar, there’s the caramel buttered popcorn , there’s the ripe fruit, there’s a roasted walnut note. The toasted oak is still there, but very much in the background now. So much better. And you thought the glass didn’t matter…. (or if you thought the glass mattered, you probably would have assumed that the Glencairn would be the better glass – I know I did).

Dickel GlencairnSipping neat, the 103 proof comes through well – plenty of vanilla and cinnamon (though not overly so), a firm backbone of dark wood with candied walnuts, and a long warm finish with a touch of astringency weaving in and out. I’m not wowed, especially with that blemish on the finish.

A bit of water though mellows out the nose, and mellows out the wood on the palate as well. I actually prefer this with the water, as the dilution delivers a bit more balance, more peachy fruit, more easy drinking in a good way (easy drinking is not often my preferred descriptor, but here it plays well).  Ditto with a cube of ice – which adds a more lush mouthful and brings out the butterscotch notes. I’m thinking ice is the way to go. Very nice.

Funny enough, I actually prefer the Barrel Select to this particular Hand Selected Barrel, despite the lower proof on the Barrel Select. Here, at the higher proof, I think it needs a bit of ice or water to fully coax out the flavors. Of course, with a single barrel offering, every barrel will differ somewhat. Talk to your local bottle shop and ask them what they were going for in their hand selected barrel. If it sounds good, take a shot – this is nice whisky at a nice price. My verdict? *Good Stuff.

With that, I’ll leave you with some pretty pictures of Dickel in (and next to) a box – handmade the hard way:

Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:
Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck
Full Disclosure: Tasting sample provided by Dickel.
Whiskey, Stories, and the Truth: Review of Tin Cup and Clyde May’s

Whiskey, Stories, and the Truth: Review of Tin Cup and Clyde May’s

IMG_9351Whiskey drinkers today are interested in lots of things – good whiskey, of course, but also good stories. And also the truth. Finding good whiskey is actually pretty easy, despite certain labels being practically impossible to procure. Finding good stories? That’s easy too – historical figures, prohibition-era recipes, tales of lost this and discovered that, promises of the most locally-sourced ingredients – the stories take many forms. What seems to be in somewhat short supply though is the truth.

A lot of this comes from the fact that there are so many labels that don’t actually distill anything trying to make you think they do. Go google what’s been going on with Templeton Rye, for instance, and you’ll see that a story that was once a good one (small town! Al Capone! secret recipe!) has been found to be lacking in the truth (mistruths! manipulation! confusion!). And a whiskey that was once thought to be a good one is increasingly being dismissed as a fraud (and a flavored fraud at that). I wish we lived in a world where people didn’t have to make up stories to sell something, a world in which they could rely on a good product and the truth. And maybe we do live in that world, or at least one that’s moving in that direction – since as people get more into whiskey and start to learn about who’s making it and how and why, they get a greater appreciation for the authentic. And thanks to social media and whiskey blogs and our never-ending access to looking things up, those whiskey hawkers that blatantly make up stories are increasingly caught in the act (thank you, internet).

At Templeton, the truth seems to have caught up with the folks who have been spinning tales. They’re being sued, whiskey geeks are trouncing the brand, and I would bet that their sales are taking at least a small hit because of it. Which brings me to a few bottles of new-ish whiskey that have been sitting on my desk for a few months now.

One is an “Alabama style” whiskey, called Clyde May’s, and the other is an “American” whiskey, called Tin Cup, bottled in Denver and made with pure Rocky Mountain water. They both have stories to tell, that’s for sure. They’re both decent whiskeys, at least I think so. And they both walk the the line where insinuation and deception intermingle. Let me be clear, I don’t think either of them are telling falsehoods – but they both play with the truth in their own ways in an attempt to tell a compelling story.

Tin Cup Colorado Whiskey Let’s look at Tin Cup first. On the bottle, in big bold letters, you get “Tin Cup, Colorado” and “Made with Pure Rocky Mountain Water.” Smaller is the “bottled in Denver, CO by Tin Cup Whiskey.” Nowhere is a “distilled in…” or “distilled by…” message, which is your first indication that something shady could be going on. On the hang tag, “Colorado” is the biggest word and dramatic mountain scenery is the background. You also get a photo of Jess Graber, founder of Tin Cup, who “picked up his bags and moved to Colorado in hopes of finding himself and inspiration… fell in love with the mountains and discovered his passion for distilling… and Colorado’s Tin Cup whiskey was born.” Inside, Jess tells us he “made Tin Cup in honor of Colorado’s first whiskey drinkers,” and that, “Tin Cup is distilled from a blend of corn, rye and malt barley, cut with pure Colorado Rocky Mountain water.”

Tin Cup Colorado Whiskey On the Tin Cup website, you get more. It says, “Hello, I’m Jess Graber. I make whiskey… I began distilling in 1972… distilling became my full time work… (and) Tin Cup is my newest whiskey.” It goes on to say, “Let me explain how whiskey gets made here.” Let me repeat that… “whiskey“… “gets made“… “here.” Clearly they want you to know that Jess Graber is distilling this whiskey himself, right there in the gorgeous mountains of Colorado, right? Of course, they do. But he doesn’t, and they don’t.

There’s a “what’s in Tin Cup” section on the site that never says a thing to lead you to believe the whiskey is distilled anywhere other than Colorado. There’s a “Can I visit the distillery” section that does the same – leading one to believe that even though you can’t visit their distillery, there IS a distillery churning out Tin Cup whiskey somewhere in Denver. After all, Jess Graber helped found Stranahan’s, which DOES actually distill there.

Now, I must say that while the bottle and the website are clearly trying to pull the wool over your eyes and have you believe that this is whiskey fully distilled and made by Jess Graber in Colorado, Graber has been completely up front in interviews that they source the whiskey from MGPI (formerly known as LDI), which is the source for what seems like half the bottles of bourbon and rye on the shelves these days. So while I applaud Graber for being honest when asked, I sure wish their bottle and website were honest, period. Oh, and the bottle comes topped with a nifty tin cup you can drink from. Wouldn’t you know… it leaks!

Clyde May's Alabama Whiskey Now, on to Clyde May’s. This is an unusual beast for sure. Alabama Style Whiskey. On the bottle, there’s a very clear “distilled in Kentucky” line on the side, and a “bottled by Conecuh Ridge Distillery, Auburndale, FL” as well. So we have an Alabama-inspired product, distilled in Kentucky, bottled in Florida. There’s a “since 1946” on the label, which is clearly a bit murky given that the whiskey has gone through many iterations of actual makeup, owner, and legality over the past many decades. There’s also a note that, “hints of green apple and cinnamon not only make it smoother than others – they’re what make it Alabama Style.” Which could lead you to believe that it just tastes like apples and cinnamon, or that they put actual apples and cinnamon in with the whiskey, or that they flavor the whiskey to give it hints of green apple and cinnamon. What do you think is the truth? The website helps a little, stating that “Clyde added oven-dried apples to his barrels. The resulting hints of green apple and cinnamon not only made it smoother than other whiskeys—they’re what made it Alabama Style. Today, we honor Clyde’s legacy with a blend of 5 & 6 year old bourbon, handcrafted in small batches and finished in that Alabama Style.” Based on that, I was thinking that maybe they use oven-dried apples today as Clyde May once did – but their representative tells me, when I ask, that it’s just flavoring.

I like Clyde’s story, I like the relative transparency on the fact that this is distilled in Kentucky (likely by KBD) and bottled in Florida, and that they are at least mentioning the age of the bourbon on the website. I do wish they’d clear up the flavoring thing, though, and be more upfront about what’s really in that bottle that makes it “Alabama style.”

On to the (very quick) reviews:

Tin Cup Colorado Whiskey Tin Cup American Whiskey
84 Proof, Approx. $35 retail
Rating: Good Stuff*
Smooth, nicely balanced with a good dose of rye in the mix. High rye fans out there will enjoy this for sure. Very nice sipping neat. Simply put, I dig the whiskey, but not the marketing. Maybe Jess Graber can get his folks to do something about the messaging on the bottle and on the website (and keep on bottling the good honest whiskey, but in a more honest way).

Clyde May's Alabama WhiskeyClyde May’s Conecuh Ridge
Alabama Style Whiskey

85 Proof, Approx. $30 retail
Rating: Fair*
You get green apple right off the bat on the nose, quite prominently. Sipping neat, though, this stings a bit for 85 proof and feels a bit off. I actually wouldn’t mind if the apple were more up front here (like it is on the nose). If you’re gonna do apple flavored whiskey, you may as well go big and DO APPLE FLAVORED WHISKEY! This should work just fine in cocktails or, heck, with some apple juice over ice.

In fact, here’s a simple cider and whiskey recipe shared by Clyde May’s, to let you dial up the cinnamon spice and apples on your own:

Alabama Whiskey Cider
1.5 oz. Clyde May’s Whiskey
3 oz. apple cider
1 orange, sliced
Allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg to taste
Combine apple cider, sliced orange and the spices of your choice (we suggest allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon) in a medium-sized pot. Gently simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Pour into mugs and add in Clyde May’s Whiskey. Stir well and serve warm.

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:
Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck
Full Disclosure: Tasting samples provided.

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