Lots one could say about this whiskey but I'll settle for saying that it has had the critics drooling since its release and, so it would seem, also the 'layperson'. I've liked all previous Heaven Hill products and have been really enjoying my forays into the rye world. It's also fairly hard to come by in the UK so I grabbed a bottle while I could. Expectations were a little high, it must be said . . . so how is it?
Bottle's been open almost two months with about 4/5's left. Pour is neat (and large!) and, for a change, from my Taylor D glass.
Nose - Big, sweet spices; lots of clove, some cinnamon, baker's ginger, pepper a little cardamom and a hint of anise. What's delightfully unusual here though is that it's as though the spices (which are mostly sweet in relation to spices in general, but not sweet per se) have been sugar coated. Spices on candy floss, if you will. It's delightful. There's a little chocolaty toffee in there, sour red apple and rye bread along with a slight gherkin note. The alcohol is present but it doesn't burn or sting, but rather warms the senses.
Taste - Oh man, you can chew on this for an age - great body and grip. More of the sour apple and spun-sugar on the arrival, which seems contrary to the nose's suggestion; but then the spices from the nose unfurl on the tongue. Would it be pretentious to say they dance? Yes. Moving on. Turns a little drier as it develops and the pepper sings loudly. I also get some vanilla and a slightly floral, bourbon like flavour.
Finish - Fairly long. More pepper and some oak tannins that balance nicely with the sweet, spicy nose and palate.
This isn't far of the bliss point in terms of whisk(e)y, it really isn't. I've never had a rye that offers such a sweet counter balance to all the spice the way this does, and it is immensely enjoyable. In fact, balanced is a great way to describe this along with cliches such as 'it's like a fireworks display in my mouth'. I am left a little sorrowful as each sip passes though as a) it's not a cheap bottle over here and b) it's not all that available. Still, this is a must for a repurchase - I'd buy a case if I could.
@RianC thank you for your excellently perceptive and lovingly executed review. I think that you have captured Pikesville Rye 6 yo 55% extremely well in words. 'Candied' is a perfect description of it.
It is true that most US ryes do not have strong sweet components and that Pikesville is sweeter in style than are almost all of them.
I hope that your supply of Pikesville remains available and affordable. In the US I was concerned that Pikesville might become scarce after Mr. Murray named it Second Finest Whisky in the World several years ago. That has not happened domestically, mostly I think because there is now a proliferation of rye whiskey products in the US that would be unimaginable 10 years ago. It is also true that in the USA rye whiskey has never after Prohibition had remotely the following that bourbon has had, mostly, I think because Americans still have a bit of sweet tooth with respect to whiskey. So I am guessing that UK availability for Pikesville will remain because the domestic market is not selling out.
I've seen people complain about the domestic price of Pikesville at $ 45 to $ 55, for a 6 yo near barrel strength, but Thomas Handy is a 6 yo too, and that one fetches $ 300 on the secondary market. Among US distilleries, Heaven Hill has always been just about the most competitive of the big distilleries.