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Rising from the ashes of Prohibition and into the midst of the Great Depression in Bardstown, KY, Heaven Hill Distillery has grown to be the largest independent family-owned and operated producers of distilled spirits products in the US, and the second-largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. The distillery was set up in 1935 after a small group approached the Shapira family seeking capital investment to set up a distillery using their technical expertise. Following personal financial difficulties among the other members of the founding group, their interests in the “Old Heavenhill Springs” distillery was bought out by the Shapira family making the distillery a fully family-owned enterprise. With renewed purpose the family kept on one of the original investors, James L. Beam as Master Distiller, and hired the best bourbon producing talent they could find in their local Bardstown. Four years later in 1939 they released their first product, a 4 year old Bottled in Bond bourbon under the Old Heaven Hill brand. The brand quickly became one of the top selling bourbons in the State and cemented the distillery’s position as one of the top bourbon producers in Kentucky at the time. The name of the distillery originates from the family name of William Heavenhill who was an early pioneer farmer and owned the original property on which the distillery sat. When originally registering the company a clerical mistake resulted in the name becoming Heaven Hill as opposed to Heavenhill.

On November 7th 1996 a fire that started in one of the barrel ageing warehouses spread by strong winds, destroying almost the entire distillery and numerous ageing warehouses. Overall 90,000 barrels of whisky were lost and for the next 3 years the company was dependent on production capacity in neighbouring distilleries. In 1999 Heaven Hill completed the purchase of the Old Bernheim Distillery from Diageo in Louisville and once the distillery was adapted, the production and distillation end moved to Louisville whilst ageing, bottling, and shipping still occur on the original Bardstown site.

Today the modern iteration of the company, Heaven Hill Brands, has become a diversified supplier of whiskeys, liqueurs, vodkas, rums and other spirits. They own 57 rickhouses in Central KY and distribute over 48 brands including 17 bourbon labels such as Henry McKenna, Elijah Craig, Evan William, Larceny, Old Fitzgerald, and Rittenhouse rye to name a few. The distillery also has the largest number of Bottled in Bond whiskies on the market and is the only heritage distiller that features every major category of American whiskey in their 5 distinct mashbills producing traditional bourbon, wheated bourbon, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, and wheat whiskey. Under 7th Master Distiller (and fellow countryman) Conor O’Driscoll the distillery was on course to fill almost 400,000 barrels last year and with continued investment production capacity is growing every year to meet rising demand.

Dating back to 1895, Pikesville Rye holds the distinguished title as Maryland’s last standing rye brand. Originally distilled in Maryland by L. Winand & Brothers Distillery, the brand changed hands several times as Prohibition, an industrial accident, and the closure of the Majestic Distilling Co. in 1972 eventually saw the brand sold to Heaven Hill in 1982. In 2015 the brand was revived and released as a 6 y.o. 110 proof straight rye whiskey that was produced by Heaven Hill in their Bernheim Distillery. Featuring the same recipe as Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse Rye (4 y.o.) and Elijah Craig rye (8 y.o. +), the Pikesville website claims that the whiskey is produced using whiskey from from extra-aged barrels stored in prime warehouse locations. The whiskey itself is produced on Heaven Hill’s 70 ft tall stills and is entered into the barrel at 125 proof. A fun fact is that this whiskey was originally distilled using a three-chamber still (imagine 3 pot stills stacked one on top of the other), which was wildly inconsistent and inefficient before the brand was sold to Heaven Hill. Today I’ll be taking a look at a 2020 bottling of this whiskey which as you’ll see later is a very important point to consider when tasting this whiskey.

Vital Stats:

Name: Pikesville Straight Rye
Age: 6 y.o.
Proof: 110 Proof (55% ABV)
Type: Kentucky straight rye
Mashbill:  51% rye, 35% corn, 14% malted barley
Producer: Heaven Hill Distillery, KY
Website:  https://www.pikesvillerye.com/
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens subtle and complex with faintly herbaceous rye, deep brown sugar, white pepper, baking spices, and dark barrel spices with clove.

Palate: The palate opens with deep butterscotch, faint cinnamon, and red fruit, before peppery rye spice, earthy baking spices, and darker charred oak with notes of cacao emerge. As you continue to chew, these barrel notes become more prominent with notes of maple syrup, coffee, and cloves emerging and the rye gaining a dark herbaceous edge.

Finish: The finish opens with lingering spice and viscous butterscotch with hints of whitepepper before dark chocolate oak and herbaceous rye emerge and lead into the aftertaste alongside a warm Kentucky Hug.

Overall 

Wow, this is an incredible whiskey! As I sit here sipping it I feel like I’m drinking something from the 1980’s or 90’s that’s similarly packed full of creamy butterscotch, herbaceous rye, almost bitter charred oak, and that perfume-like experience on the nose and palate that I would never have thought would be possible in a whiskey that’s bottled in 2020 and isn’t a limited release. Although it is a Kentucky-style rye with the minimum legal minimum amount of rye in the recipe you don’t feel like you’ve been robbed of your rye drinking experience. Instead, it’s achieved the perfect balance between buttery corn notes, and white pepper herbaceous rye notes. It has a spicy bite; however, this presents itself as a consistent undercurrent of heat on the palate which makes the rest of the flavours drink with added vibrancy and depth. At 110 proof it also hits the perfect proof point for carrying those deliciously dark flavours all over your palate and cheeks without giving any alcohol burn.

It’s easy to see why almost every serious bourbon and rye drinker speaks of Pikesville in hushed tones. With its perfection at every point, it represents one of the final whiskies that is worth every hard penny. It’s so good that it’s a personal favourite of Heaven Hill Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll and it’s easy to see why it has the secret cult following that it does. For anyone who doesn’t want to fork out hundreds of dollars to own and taste a ‘dusty’ bourbon or rye whiskey this is your opportunity to have a proxy experience that ticks all the same boxes. I’ve written in previous reviews about standard release whiskies that have just about changed my life they were that good and this was the whiskey of 2020 that did just that.

Try or Buy?

Do yourself a favour, go out and buy yourself a bottle of this. Honestly, there are very few whiskies that I would aspire to buy by the case but this is one. If it turns out not to be to your taste it still makes a very good Manhattan or Old Fashioned. In the UK this is currently on allocation, meaning that it’s not as readily available as other Heaven Hill core whiskies, however, it’s definitely worth seeking out!

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Before you go…

Before you go…

Before you go…

Like you I’m a whiskey enthusiast. I don’t earn any money from distilleries, their parent companies, or their subsidiaries for my reviews. If you like what you’ve read and want to support this page then why not buy me a dram?

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