Pikesville is a brand of American straight rye whiskey that is produced at the Heaven Hill distillery. Heaven Hill is located in Bardstown, which is in the famous whiskey producing state of Kentucky. The distillery was originally founded in 1890 but was forced to close during the Prohibition period between 1920-1933. It was re-opened in 1934 by five brothers from the Shapira family, whose decendents still run the distillery today.
Heaven Hill takes its name from the Heavenhill family, who were the former owners of the farmland on which the distillery stands. They produce a range of whiskies using different traditional recipes (well known ones include Elijah Craig, Evan Williams and Rittenhouse), as well as gin and brandy. This help to make Heaven Hill the largest independent family owned distillery in America and the seventh largest in America overall.
Heaven Hill is one of the few distilleries that still produce rye whisky. Rye is seen as one of the most traditional styles of American whiskey, but was killed off by Prohibition. Its roots lie in the north eastern states of Maryland and Pennsylvania, with the recipe for Pikesville originating from Maryland. By law rye whiskey must contain a minimum of 51% rye grains in the mash and to be labelled as 'straight rye', this percentage must be a minimum of 65%. The rest of the mash can contain any other type of grains (such as corn, maize, barley or wheat) in any combination, with each recipe having different traditional combinations that give different flavours.
The colour is a rich golden brown (think of caramel or burnt sugar) and the nose is interesting. It has an initial slightly bitter sharpness, which may not be to everyones taste, but then a lovely sweetness comes through. This is very grainy in quality and is accompanied by loads of vanilla, coconut and warm spices (imagine ginger and nutmeg). On the palate, this is full bodied and has a great creamy feeling in the mouth. The sweet vanilla, coconut and grains are present, as are the warm spices. These are joined by an enjoyable bitter peppery quality (think of peppercorns or maybe a hint of red chilli) and some fruitiness (imagine sultanas). The finish is long and smooth with the slightly bitter rye grains rounding off the overall sweetness well.
Pikesville has a small production run each year and is hard to find as a result. However, it is worth searching out as it is very good and should cost the bargain price of £15-20. It is also becoming more popular in bars, as it lends itself to mixing well in cocktails, so it is definately worth trying some that way if you cannot find a bottle to buy. A very good whiskey.