Now that Heaven Hill has reached a tentative deal with their workers, I think it’s a good time to start talking about their products again.
Rittenhouse is now something I don’t love as much as I used to, but this rye instantly takes me back as far back to 2012. That’s mainly because this is a whiskey that I first encountered at a memorable and important point in my life. Aside from video games, I hadn’t yet found anything in life to be very passionate about then. In passing, an older acquaintance recommended I try Manila’s budding craft cocktail scene. The Curator Coffee & Cocktails was the first proper cocktail bar I ended up going to. It was there I got my first taste of Rittenhouse neat, as well as Rittenhouse-based cocktails such as the Manhattans and the Old Fashioned.
Enjoying Rittenhouse eventually got me to really geek out on anything related to cocktails. Except for Jack and Jim, this was my first dive into American whiskey. I was already getting into single malt Scotch at this point, but the scene here was really still so young that the only easily found brands were Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and Glenmorangie. I had to scour random alcohol stores to find dusty stocks of unwanted single malts. The profile of rye whiskey was just so new to me – and so different from Scotch – that I ended up buying every bottle of Rittenhouse I found.
Safe to say, exploring cocktails is the reason why I become more interested in other spirits such as brandy, agave spirits, and rum. Much like feeling confident with a brand of whisky, being confident in a bar’s concept and its team made for easier exploring. Trying different rye-based cocktails eventually led me to trying cocktails made with other spirits, but having similar builds. The easiest example would be the Boulevardier and Negroni; the Boulevardier is a mix of American whiskey, Campari and sweet vermouth. The Negroni is a mix of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth.
I also remember the “rye is back” wave the cocktail movement brought in the early 2010s. American whiskey distilleries couldn’t immediately cope with the rye whiskey demand. If memory serves me right, rye whiskey was only produced once a month or week at certain distilleries before the demand brought up by the movement. The low supply meant a lot of brands were on allocation in the US.
One thing I couldn’t understand was a part of the online community putting rye whiskey and peated Islay whisky at the same pedestal. Sure, rye’s spice flavor can have a robust and different taste, but I never saw it to be as different as the profile peated Islay whisky had. Keep in mind that this was in the early 2010s, so non-Islay peated single malts weren’t famous then.
Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond 100 Proof
50% ABV. USD $23.99 from K&L Wines. USD $26.99 from Binny’s. £42.95 from The Whisky Exchange. USD $33 locally.
On the nose: There’s immediately an enveloping aroma of astringent and peppery rye spice. Behind it are brief and light aromas of peach jam, red cherries, honey, oranges, dill, adzuki beans, leather, diluted cinnamon syrup and tannins.
In the mouth: Initially tart and quick tastes of oranges, fresh peaches and adzuki beans that accompany the enveloping rye. Just as I was appreciating the tart notes, astringent notes suddenly came up. I get light and quick tastes of dill, cinnamon, leather and Japanese tsukemono (pickled veggies). At the end are just as brief and light tastes of tart berries, honey, rye, red cherries and adzuki beans.
Simple and solid, just as I remember, and as expected of something from Heaven Hill. In my opinion, it would be too much to expect this to be very complex. Because this is bottled-in-bond, it means that it can only have whiskey which was distilled in one season. Meaning, if four year old Rittenhouse was used in this, there’s only four year old whisky in this. So older whiskey can’t be blended in this to add some older rye complexity.
Much like Lagavulin 16 or Caol Ila 12 are recommended as great peated single malts to start with, this is also a rye whiskey that’s good to start with. Despite the mashbill being “only” 51% rye, I found that this had enough rye flavor to be on par with other rye whiskey with a higher proportion of rye in their mashbills.
As both a spirits and cocktail enthusiast, I love the price point of this. It’s good enough to be drunk neat. I also won’t feel guilty about using this as a frequent mixer. Being bottled at 50% abv means this won’t be drowned out by the other ingredients used in the cocktail.
(at the K&L and Binny’s prices. 5/10 at higher prices)
Pikesville just found its way into this review because it’s an extra aged and higher proof Rittenhouse. I can recall the hype this whiskey caught after Jim Murray ranked it his 2nd best whisky in his 2016 bible. That was when I started doubting his awards, since I didn’t find Pikesville worthy of the praise he gave it. Taylor previously reviewed Pikesville in its old and new incarnations.
Pikesville Straight Kentucky Rye – Review
55% ABV. USD $39.99 in K&L Wines. USD $49.99 from Binny’s.
On the nose: A greeting of enveloping heavy and round rye aromas at the front. Under the rye are subtle notes of adzuki beans, maple syrup, honey, cinnamon, peach liqueur and oranges. Like with the Rittenhouse, I still get herbal and astringent notes at the back. Dill, pickles, leather, tannins and lemon peel oil are some of what I get, but they’re not as sharp this time. It smells like they’ve been stretched and toned down.
In the mouth: Just as prickly as the Rittenhouse, which doesn’t really bother someone like me who is used to high abv spirits. Upfront are round and enveloping tastes of rye. Under it are adzuki beans, cinnamon, honey, bbq sauce, peach liqueur and orange peel oil. Ethanol bites harder after but only for a moment. It gives way to the herbal and astringent notes. The notes of dill, pickles, leather and oak are lighter and shorter here.
This is certainly a step up from Rittenhouse. The word online is this is basically Rittenhouse aged for an extra two years. For me, the additional two years did wonders for the whiskey. Everything here is made more pleasant. I think the best improvement here is that the pickled and herbal notes are barely noticeable.
I guess the big question is if the price jump is worth it? My answer would be yes. Using the prices I found above, paying for an additional USD $16 to $23 is worth it just for the experience. However, I’d only buy this once or once in a long while because I don’t find this that interesting, hence my comment above about Jim Murray’s bibles.
Also, the price makes me feel this isn’t as flexible as the Rittenhouse. In cocktails, the subtle herbal flavors of the Rittenhouse would also be drowned out by the ingredients. So, the improvement of Pikesville wouldn’t really matter. As a result, I’d buy Rittenhouse more often as it won’t make me feel guilty about using it for cocktails.
Lead photo author’s own. Bottle photos courtesy of Heaven Hill.
I have been secretively loving that Pikesville rye and hoping nobody talks about it.
Ha. Sorry about that. But don’t worry, few people pay attention to this.
Pykesville Rye occasionally pops up in Japan and I try to always have one bottle of it in my shelf. I really like it’s mouthfeel and balance between rye and oak spices and sweetness with just a nice little tinge or herbalness, very much like you describe! Thanks for this article!
Hi Alex, good to hear from you and thanks for the comment. It’s good to know you like the article and you agree with my description.