Outside of the ultra expensive, impossible-to-obtain world of limited release bourbon, the concept of “vintage years” isn’t often seen in American whiskey these days. It’s a rather impractical notion for most distilleries, given that they create a flagship product with batches consistently created and blended throughout the year. “Vintage years,” on the other hand, implies a greater degree of variation and novelty from year to year and batch to batch, which isn’t what most distilleries are after in their flagship offerings. But Pinhook Bourbon isn’t quite like other distilleries.
This non-distiller producer has made vintage years an integral part of their business plan, with both flagship bourbon and rye releases that are tied to each individual year. All of 2021’s releases, for instance, match the profile of that year’s flagship bourbon or flagship rye, but 2022 is a different animal for both brands. As the brand puts it: “Each year, Pinhook releases a new vintage of bourbons and ryes. Each expression is the best representation of our barrels at that moment in time, and dedicated to a promising young thoroughbred. Through a combination of careful barrel selection, blending in small abtches, and meticulous proofing, each Pinhook vintage has a personality as unique as the horse on the label.”
That brings us to the brand’s 2022 flagship rye whiskey, which fittingly bears the likeness of a horse named Rye Munny. This rye was “developed, distilled and aged over 2 years” at Castle & Key Distillery in Frankfort, KY, but it’s not the same mash bill as one would see in Castle & Key’s Restoration Rye, as Pinhook has its own, unique proprietary mash bill of 60% rye, 20% corn and 20% malted barley. After aging, the whiskey was then blended and proofed by Pinhook Master Blender Sean Josephs.
What we have here, then, is a young rye whiskey, at a sturdy 99 proof, with a fairly unique mash bill and an MSRP of roughly $35. That’s perhaps a bit high based on the specs alone, but considering this is the product of a less established distillery such as Castle & Key, in a vintage year format, it’s pretty reasonable.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, Pinhook Straight Rye plays up the honey and caramel, slathered across buttered rye toast. There are hints of fresh apple and florals, and the suggestion of more than a little sweetness. This definitely reads more like classic Kentucky rye than the ultra spicy, drier style made popular by the likes of MGP of Indiana, with less pepper and hot cinnamon and more sweetness and toastiness, along with a floral quality that may hail from the larger percentage of malted barley in the grist.
On the palate, I’m getting apple and pear, along with toffee, pepper and lots of vanilla. Over time, chocolate caramel candies are emerging. There’s a very pleasant, moderate residual sweetness, with notes of toasted rye bread and moderate black pepper, along with candied citrus and fairly heavy toffee. The ethanol heat, meanwhile, has an odd way of seeming to fluctuate substantially between sips, with some seeming notably hotter than others. Oak is minimal, as one might expect for the young age.
All in all, it’s a slightly malty, fairly sweet young rye, but one that captures most of the best aspects of young rye whiskeys, without many of the typical downsides. You could ding it, perhaps, for lacking a more complex wood and spice profile, but its really well-integrated sweetness makes it very pleasant for neat, uncomplicated drinking. At $35, it’s a pleasing rye from a smaller distillery, and I’d love to see how Pinhook’s rye mash bill will be tasting when it’s 4, 5 or 6 years old. That might be something really wonderful.
Distillery: Pinhook Bourbon
City: Frankfort, KY
Style: Kentucky straight rye whiskey
ABV: 49.5% (99 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $35 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.