Pikesville was a small neighbourhood in Maryland USA. It is now consumed into Baltimore County and happens to be where some of my in-laws live.
Despite visiting last year – I never did get the chance to try the locally named brand.
Pikesville – as well as Maryland in general – had a thriving rye whiskey business before prohibition. Only now is there a bit of a resurgence of that proud history with new distilleries entering the market.
This bottle in the meantime is made in Kentucky at the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown – and when I spotted it on the shelves in Garavan’s – I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.
Now ‘straight’ in American terms means aged for at least 2 years. ‘Rye’ means at least 51% rye is used in the all important mash bill – the other 49% can be commonly made up of corn, wheat or barley. Added caramel is not permitted.
Rye is a style of whiskey I love.
I like the hit of spicy cinnamon & nutmeg followed through by a rich peppery dryness combined with some softer warming vanilla & caramel notes.
Pikesville Supreme only just had that rye kick. I found it very much muted by the other ingredients – which I suspected as being corn. This resulted in a warm vanilla led nose & taste with only a tingling of rye at the end.
An easy drinking approachable rye yes – but not what I’m craving.
My suspicions on the corn content were confirmed later by an internet search. The mash bill makes all the difference to the taste. In this instance Pikesville appears to have a mix of rye 51%, corn 37%, and barley 12% – which explains why it didn’t light up my life.
That’s not to say it’s a bad rye. In fact many are lamenting the loss of this particular bottling which has been replaced by a 6 year old 110 proof – 55% ABV – expression that might be more up my street. The Washington Post even covered the story here!
So if you’re missing a taste of Maryland – head for Garavan’s in Galway!
Flying in from a town whose tallest building is the 12 story Sheraton Hotel – staying in a 9th floor hotel room held a certain appeal.
Sadly the views I expected were obscured by even larger skyscrapers that we couldn’t see the tops of despite craning our necks through the permanently closed bedroom window.
Welcome to New York!
I still harboured high hopes for the hotel’s 14th floor roof top bar – Vu Bar – quietly enjoying a few drinks with a panoramic view of downtown NY below.
A cold blustery windswept veranda overlooked by even taller buildings was the reality. Well – it was March – and the building that dominated all – including our bedroom window vista – was in fact the Empire State Building!
The bar had a lovely collection of whiskey to sample however & a friendly bartender in Emilio.
I started with Maker’s Mark 46. It’s a mainly corn based bourbon with some wheat & barley in the mash bill which imparts a relatively soft, smooth & sweet overall experience to the taste despite it’s 47% strength. It goes down very easily – but didn’t really do anything for me & my penchant for bolder flavours. It definitely is a better dram than the standard Maker’s Mark which I tasted earlier on in the day though.
The darker colouring & slight dry spice on the nose indicated a high rye content in this 50% bourbon which was much more agreeable to my tastes.
Emilio mentioned a sister bar on the opposite side of the street – so the next evening after a busy day sightseeing & an enjoyable tasty meal washed down by the amusingly named Kloud lager – which had a lovely malty flavour – in a local Korean restaurant – we headed up to the 17th floor Cloud Social bar.
The views were far more impressive from up here. It would certainly make for a cool place to hang out on a warm summers day – but with temperatures below zero & a light dusting of snow it was back into the bar area for some warming whiskeys after a few snaps.
Again I was pleasantly surprised by the array of whiskeys before me. One that took my eye was Lot 40.
Now I’d heard great things about this Canadian Rye so on spotting a bottle I just had to try it.
Soft ,sweet, hardly any spice. A very smooth easy drinking bourbon style of whiskey.
Not what I was expecting at all from this 43% rye. What I experienced bore no resemblance to the reviews I read before or after – so I just don’t know.
To counteract my disappointment I went for a Knob Creek Rye.
The full on rich dry peppery spice bowled me over after my previous drink. In fact it was almost overwhelming after the soft sweetness of Lot 40 as my palate struggled to come to terms with that lovely rye punch I crave in this full on 50% whiskey.
If anything – I think the Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon – with it’s initial rich vanilla & caramel notes flowing through to a lovely balanced rye spice – came out tops for the 4 whiskeys I tried out up in the clouds of New York’s rooftop bars!
Arriving in New York City after a 7 hour flight, the first thing on my mind was a taste of American whiskey – and what better place to satisfy that desire than the eponymously named American Whiskey bar at 247 W 30th St.
Now I have to admit we had to push our way through the heavy throng of very loud & cheery office workers who were enjoying a post work drink before we managed to find an empty table at the rear of the bar. Even here we had to almost shout to make ourselves heard above the din – but were attended to very quickly.
Not being sure what to taste from a very comprehensive whiskey list – and being unable to view the bar (which I normally like to do) because of the crowds – I chose the Rye: Winter 2017 flight.
The presentation of the 4 rye whiskeys in Glencairn glasses set in a thick wooden tray complete with a tasting note card with room to leave you’re own notes on impressed me very much.
As did the very tasty burger & brussels when it arrived too.
Something whiskey bars in Ireland should emulate.
On my flight – which changes with the seasons – were 4 different ryes. In American terms this means they all contained a minimum of 51% rye grain in their mashbills to be legally allowed to be called a rye.
Kicking off the evening was Sagamore Rye from Baltimore at 83 proof.
This is a sourced rye for a new distillery that is currently being built in downtown Baltimore. It’s a blend of a ‘high’ and ‘low’ rye cut with water from the owners farm in Maryland and aged for around 2 years.
I found it had a very welcome strong rye kick with that dry spice making itself felt prominently. It’s youthful exuberance was refreshing – though lacked finesse.
Despite being softer & sweeter – it did morph into a rich dry rye on tasting & had a wonderfully long lasting rye finish. Part of the Wild Turkey range.
The final tasting was Whistle Pig 10 Year Old Rye at 100 proof.
Again I was expecting more – but what I got was soft, smooth & sweet. There was a slight rye kick but it faded far to quickly for me.
For my initial foray into rye I found the full on youthful kick of rye from Sagamore won out over the more refined & balanced age statement offerings.
Russell’s came in 2nd closely followed by Whistle Pig & High West at the rear.
Meantime the burger was going down well & the crowds were beginning to thin a little so another drink was ordered.
What else could I finish on other than Hudson Manhattan Rye? As I was happily sat in a bar in Manhattan near the banks of the Hudson River itself.
This too proved to be a heavy youthful rye hitter which was refreshing – but a bit of me preferred the surprising spice from their Baby Bourbon expression mixed with that rich bourbon mouthfeel. Something I’ll have to explore in more detail later.
Thankfully it was only a short walk a few blocks away to our hotel on W 32nd St.
American Whiskey was certainly loud – but the whiskey & food inside definitely made it an enjoyable experience.
I wish I could say ‘I’ll be back.’ – but as it’s about 25 years from my last US visit – somehow I doubt it.
Walking into the downstairs bar of The Dead Rabbit in New York was like stepping back across the Atlantic and entering a well stocked Irish whiskey bar on the Emerald Isle itself.
In fact there was so much Irish whiskey lining the shelves it would put many a respectable bar in Ireland to shame!
The wall hangings, drinks mirrors & assorted jumble of paraphernalia together with the dark wood finish were also a very familiar attribute in many an Irish bar – along with no food!
As Mrs Whiskey & myself had come in for a spot of grub we were directed up stairs to the middle bar which does serve food – only to find it temporarily closed being midway between the lunchtime menu & evening service – and so ended up on the top floor via a narrow staircase.
The bar here was a slightly smaller affair – yet still well stocked – with a comfortable bench along the back wall complete with high tables & chairs for casual diners & imbibers to sit back and enjoy the fair.
Being an Irish bar – I had to go for an Irish whiskey. Now Dead Rabbit do a selection of whiskey flights – but not including the specific whiskeys I was looking for – so I settled for a glass of Kinahan’s 10 year old single malt along with a burger & chips.
Kinahan’s are one of those sourced brands that are generally not available in Ireland. Mainly found in the American market – they were on my radar to try out. Coming in a blend and a 10 year old single malt they have a back story which you may choose to believe – or not – I found it entertaining.
The soft, smooth, charred ex-bourbon cask maturation taste sat well with my previous drinks yet developed into a clearer, more finely tuned fruity note together with a faint spice on the finish. A pretty fine example of an Irish barley single malt in contrast to the mixed corn, wheat, barley & rye american bourbon mash bills. It perfectly accompanied my rather large burger.
For afters I decided to go native.
A very attractively designed bottle of Angels Envy took my eye.
Hailing from Louisville Distilling in Kentucky with a corn, barley & rye mash bill – the expression I had is aged for up to 6 years & unusually – for American bourbon anyway – finished in ruby port casks.
The rye spice I love was very subdued by both the rich port influence as well as the high corn with added barley mixed mash. It did have depth & a complex nuance – but not that instant POW I was looking for. One to savour over I think.
Suitably sated – we ventured out for the South Ferry subway. Dead Rabbit is only a short walk from the very attractive Battery Park area where clear views of The Statue Of Liberty & Ellis Island can be enjoyed – along with the obligatory boat trips. As the temperatures were plummeting below zero we left the chance to embrace ourselves in the cultural & historic tales of Irish emigration for another day.
Dead Rabbit may not have been around when those early immigrants first arrived in America – but it’s a very welcome bolthole for the modern day traveller. Just be sure to get there early. We easily got a table when we arrived around 4ish – but later patrons had to wait for a while as the venue was packed out by the time we left.
At Brooklyn I booked myself into one of Kings County Distillery tours in the grand old Paymaster Building inside the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. Located only a short walk from either the York St subway or the iconic Brooklyn Bridge itself – it’s easily accessible for anyone staying in New York.
Dave – our tour guide on the day – entertainingly took us through a potted history of whiskey distillation in Brooklyn taking in topics such as civil war, taxes, legal & illegal production, alcohol consumption, Irish immigration, prohibition as well as many other related – or not – subjects & then tied the whole lot up together with the founding of Kings County Distilling itself in 2010.
I’ll repeat that year again.
Because that makes Kings County Distillery the 1st legal whiskey distillery in New York City since prohibition.
History has long tentacles.
We were shown the whole whiskey making process from the mashing of the grains in open fermenters,
To the distillation in copper pot stills,
To the maturation of the spirit in virgin american oak casks in the upstairs warehouse.
Kings County Distillery have chosen to go down a a fairly traditional route in that they produce a predominately high corn mash bill bourbon with only a small amount of barely from Scotland.
The use of small casks allows a shorter maturation period – generally less than 2 years – before it is deemed suitable for release. Some larger casks have also been laid down for future expressions & I couldn’t help noticing the ‘rye’ mark on some casks indicating a welcome addition to the current range at some date.
Tasting the actual product of all this hard work and silent development in the wood is obviously the highlight of any tour.
Kings County Distillery treated us to 4 expressions from their current range.
Starting with the Moonshine release at 40%.
The nose was the classic oily & slightly rotten fruit smell I associate with an unaged spirit. The taste followed through as expected with no real surprises. A perfectly fine & smooth example of this style of spirit which is often released by new distilleries as a showcase and money maker whilst the real bourbon or whiskey slowly matures.
The Bourbon release came next.
At 45% ABV this high corn bourbon with added barely, aged for 2 summers, gave a classic caramel sweet bourbon nose & taste together with a little bite. Another perfectly fine example of it’s style which hasn’t gone unnoticed by discerning drinkers as well as whiskey judges by the the amount of awards won.
The Winter Spice Whiskey at 40% had me a little confused. It’s basically the standard bourbon release above infused with a mix of baking spices normally associated with Xmas – cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves along with others – but yet it doesn’t have that sweet honey mix of many a liqueur nor can it be a whiskey with the non conventional additives. There is a market for this type of flavoured whiskey however. I couldn’t say it would be my cup of tea though.
A choice of Chocolate Whiskey or Peated Bourbon was offered for the last sample.
It should be obvious which one I went for.
I found the Peated Bourbon the most interesting and satisfying expression at Kings County Distilling.
At 45% the addition of peated barley from Scotland gave a welcome waft of smoke to the sweet bourbon caramel which raised the resultant spirit to a more entertaining yet vaguely familiar flavour profile.
Of the 3 Brooklyn distilleries I visited, Kings County Distilling seem to be the most established outfit producing a fairly traditional style of bourbon which is gaining many admirers. They also do a cracking distillery tour which certainly engages you with the whole whiskey making process.
I can’t say they set my palate alight – but I do wish them future success – they are a welcome addition to the whiskey distilling world.
One thing is for sure – I eagerly await any future rye expression they intend to produce from the casks I spotted on the maturation floor!
The former army barracks & parade ground are now a growing tourist attraction building on the new found harmony in Northern Ireland after years of conflict.
Building 70, a former Pay Office, is now home to Walled City Brewery, combining a craft brewery with a restaurant & bar – this was our destination for the evening.
Opened in May 2015 by master brewer James Huey and his wife Louise, James brought his years of experience working with Guinness to branch out on his own – and he also runs a Homebrew Academy too!
Very attractively furnished with a bottled motif wall, historical beer map, beer bottle chandeliers & a comfy dining area along with a well stocked bar – Walled City Brewery certainly made us feel at home.
A large hanging chalk board proudly proclaims about 10 beers available on tap. Some are Walled City’s own – with others from White Hag in Sligo & Kinnegar in nearby Donegal.
I went for ‘Kicks’ a Walled City pilsner named after Derry’s finest group – The Undertones.
This flavoursome tipple perfectly accompanied a trio of Pintxos for starters followed by a juicy lamb burger for mains.
There were plenty of other beers to try. Walled City offer a tasting tray to sample a few which is always a great way to familiarise yourself with a range of styles and flavours.
The whiskey menu also impressed.
Covering all 4 styles of Irish whiskey – Blended, Single Grain, Single Malt & Single Pot Still – from Glendalough, Teeling, Derry’s own Quiet Man – who are planning to build a distillery on Ebrington Square – Echlinville and a couple of Spot whiskeys – they certainly tempted me. But a trio of American bourbons – not all of which I’d tried before – caught my eye.
Sadly a tasting flight of whiskey wasn’t on the menu – as yet – so I chose the Hudson Baby Bourbon for afters.
At 46% this 100% corn bourbon from a craft distillery in upstate New York gave a rich sweet nose with a full bodied mouthfeel. It packed a lovely heat on the palate finishing with a gentle spice & warm finish. If only all bourbons were as good as this!
Feeling fully sated & gently merry we recrossed the Peace Bridge in the growing winds admiring the starry lights of Derry which is attractively built on gently rolling hills.
I’m certainly looking forward to the growth of Walled City Brewery & the nearby Quiet Man Distillery.
My first impressions of Hudson Whiskey were also positive – I will definitely check them out on my next encounter.
A collaborative team from the 11 venues of The Galway Whiskey Trail selected this Gold Medal winning 10 year old single malt made at West Cork Distillers to be sold on the trail. I thoroughly enjoyed my day on the trail during an otherwise dull January day.
The launch night itself in May aboard the Aran Islands ferry on the stunning Galway Bay with wonderful company & beautiful scenery certainly deserves a Whiskey Nut Award for the best new whiskey launch of the year!
I’m definitely looking forward to a growing list of whiskey trails around Ireland. Especially as the Irish Whiskey Association aims to be a world leader in whiskey tourism.
And perhaps some new whiskeys specific to each trail?
Brian Nation’s speech at the Irish Whiskey Awards in Tullamore highlighted innovation within the industry.
I had tears of joy when he mentioned Irish Distillers are currently growing 140ha of rye near Enniscorthy for potential use in recreating old John Jameson recipes uncovered by the archive department that included rye in the mix.
Later in the evening some whiskey friends from America were sharing a bottle of Emerald American Whiskey.
Well I say American Whiskey as that’s where it was produced and matured.
But the recipe is based on an 1865 Irish Whiskey recorded for posterity by a British excise agent and includes both malted and unmalted barley along with some oats & rye.
It tasted divine.
Not long after that I came across Prize Fight Irish Whiskey at Whiskey Live Dublin.
Another West Cork Distillers produced whiskey that has been finished in ex-rye barrels from Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the dry mouthfeel and rich spicy punch associated with a rye whiskey came through in this delightful blend. Wonderful!
To top it off Fionnan O’Connor wrote an excellent piece in the inaugural Irish Whiskey Magazine which delved in to the history of mash bills commonly used in Irish whisky production in the 1800’s and what do you know? Rye featured quite a bit to the extent that a certain Andrew Jameson went to the trouble of importing the grain as Irish sources were hard to come by .
My mouth is already watering in anticipation of future Irish rye releases.
My Australian adventure was ostensibly for a wedding but I used it to sample & taste as much Aussie whisky as I could come across on my travels.
The variety of styles, tastes & flavours had me enthralled.
Tasmania was undoubtedly the jewel in the crown. It’s home to a growing number of whiskey distilleries including Lark, Overeem, Hellyers Road and the wonderful Belgrove Distillery which produces some astounding rye whisky – well – what else would you expect? – combined with fabulous scenery, wildlife & fine dining.
The trend of countries not normally associated with whiskey production will continue as witnessed by Italy’s highly praised Puni Whisky.
My future holiday plans will always try and seek out new and exciting whiskey in whatever destination I end up in.
Brian Nation‘s speech at the recently held Irish Whiskey Awards 2016 held in the fabulous surroundings of the Old Bonded Warehouse in Tullamore certainly piqued my interest.
A number of points were raised that particularly caught my attention.
The first was the spectacular rise of Irish Whiskey in the global market and how everyone associated with ‘BRAND’ Irish Whiskey – from producers to publicans, distributors to bloggers – had a duty of care to promote and protect the integrity of that brand.
Was my first thought.
I’ve just been branded myself!
But what is Brand Irish Whiskey and who defines it?
Before I could process those thoughts another key word leapt out at me.
There certainly has been some wonderful innovation in the Irish Whiskey scene lately.
The new entrants into the market have been at the forefront of this in my opinion.
The multi award winning Teeling Whiskey Company use rum casks to finish their Small Batch blend and Californian wine casks to add flavour to their Single Grain. Neither casks being commonly used. Single Grain is also unusual. Before Teeling Single Grain was released Greenore – now renamed Kilbeggan Single Grain – was the sole representative in this category.
Both these Teeling expressions won Best in class awards on the evening with Kilbeggan Single Grain winning Gold.
West Cork Distillers are also new entrants and have been making spirits often under the radar of the mainstream.
The bold design of their Pogues bottle together with the brand association attached to the famous/infamous group – depending on your preference – was certainly innovative.
Criticism has often been attached to the quality of the liquid inside West Cork produced offerings yet winning a Gold Award for the Galway Bay Irish Whiskey release certainly raises their game and puts them in the spotlight.
Midleton themselves -the brand owners of Irish Whiskey during the years they were the only players in the field – haven’t been caught napping.
Using whiskey casks that have previously held beer for the growing Irish Craft Beer scene to mature Jameson Caskmates has certainly been a hit that is now being expanded into other markets.
The new Makers Series offer some innovative stories to the spirit although I did find the liquid rather ‘safe’. Nonetheless 2 of the releases won Gold Awards.
The most exciting innovation of the evening however almost made me re-enact that famous scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’
MIDDLETON ARE GROWING RYE IN IRELAND!
Now it won’t be harvested until early spring 2017 and a further minimum of 3 years at least before any spirit can be released – but as a confirmed lover of rye – I can’t wait!
Luckily for me I didn’t have to.
A couple of kind gentlemen from across the pond had informed me beforehand they had brought over something special.
Whilst the Corsair Triple Smoke blew me over it could be categorised as an ‘extreme’ whiskey. I did love it however.
The Emerald release from Ransom Spirits of Oregon was far more approachable however and much more pertinent to the Irish Whiskey brand.
Made using barley, oats and rye to an 1865 Irish Whiskey recipe uncovered by some research this stunning whiskey is satisfyingly smooth yet rich in mouthfeel coupled with a delightfully long rye spice finish.
Emerald to me have captured the PAST of Irish Whiskey in a bottle of the PRESENT.
When you know Brian Nation and his colleagues are poring over old Jameson recipes from the early 1800’s that included rye and oats – as well as currently growing rye in the fields around Enniscorthy – then couldn’t this be a representation of the FUTURE of Irish Whiskey?