Where they’re from: Pinhook, which launched in 2010 with all sourced product and began releasing small batches in 2014. All Pinhook barrels are now aged, blended and bottled at Castle & Key in Frankfort, KY; since 2017, Pinhook has been distilling proprietary mashbills of bourbon and rye there.
“I have a background, among other things, as a sommelier,” says Sean Josephs, the co-founder and master blender at Pinhook (and founder of the late, great NYC whiskey venues Char No. 4 and Maysville in New York). “With Pinhook, I’m studying America whiskey through the lens of wine.”
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One issue? Josephs found that, early in the American whiskey boom, everything was coming up with a homogenous taste profile. “We had an opportunity to do something different,” he says. “Why are we working toward a flavor profile? Why not blend the best whiskey we could, in the same way as a winemaker makes the best wine that year with that particular harvest? Our vintage is being dictated by what we have to work with.”
To that end, Pinhook’s Vertical Series follows a single group of bourbon and rye barrels sourced from Midwest Grain Products (MGP) as they mature from four to 12 years of age. Made with a set mashbill (95% rye and 5% malted barley), barrels and similar fill dates, the only thing that is imparting new flavor to this liquid is the aging process itself.
“We’re isolating age,” says Josephs. “People will talk about mashbill, yeast, the distillery itself, but the barrel is the biggest factor over time. So we’re following barrels as they age and isolating that variable.”
Of note: While the company is now working with its own distillate at the Castle & Key distillery, this release is still early stock purchased from MGP at one-year old and moved to Kentucky to age. The series will end with the 12-Year release in 2028 (there’s also a concurrent Bourbon Vertical Series).
The 6-Year came out in 2022, and the 7-Year was just released. We did a side-by-side tasting to detect the differences.
How they taste:
The 6-Year Rye: At 108 proof and a blend of about 40 barrels, this one features a fair amount of eucalyptus on the nose, which gives way to sweeter notes of vanilla, brown sugar and honey, with some black pepper, cloves and cardamom rounding out the profile.
The 7-Year Rye: Proofed at 105.12, this is a very different animal. There are obvious tasting notes of cherry, root beer and chocolate, with a bit of mint lingering in the background along with some wood and herbal notes. It’s spicy, but not aggressively so.
One similarity between both releases? The lack of the “dill” flavor that MGP rye is usually accredited with. “I’m not trying to blend that herbal note out,” says Josephs. “And if I blended this in a more traditional way, it might get to a more expected result. But I’m trying to create something both aromatically complex and yet balanced on the nose and palate.”
Either way, both are excellent ryes that actually should appeal to bourbon drinkers and rye whiskey fans alike. And change and get better if you buy a new release every year.
Fun fact: Three’s always a horse on the label. For this Vertical Series, Pinhook is showcasing Tiz Rye Time, a thoroughbred colt that competed at Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Saratoga Springs racetracks. The same horse on each bottle represents this series; the different vintages can be identified by the geometric shapes on their labels, which change every year, as well as the age statement on the top label and its own dedicated color of dipped wax (for this rye series it’s grey).
Where to buy: With a retail price of $77.99, this limited edition is available through Breeze (Pinhook’s text-to-buy platform) as well as select retailers nationwide.
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