Pinhook seems to be everywhere these days. As a non-distiller-producer of American whiskies, they appear to be following the lead of some of the industry’s success stories. First, they flew mostly under the radar after founding in 2010, bottling MGP-sourced whisky. Next, they partnered with an upstart distillery in Kentucky: Castle & Key, formerly known as the Old Taylor distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, which was shuttered in 1972 and resurrected in 2016. The first distillate from their newly-contracted source was bottled in 2020 (Bohemian Bourbon).
Pinhook has already brought some interesting innovations to the somewhat stodgy world of bourbon and rye. For example, they have a “Vertical Series” which releases bottles from the same batch of aging barrels every year. This allows devotees to progressively taste how the bourbon matures in cask… an experience that was previously only available to distillery warehouse workers and perhaps the most regular of distillery visitors.
My first time tasting a Pinhook product was this “Inaugural” release of Straight Rye Whiskey distilled at the Castle & Key facility. Each Pinhook seasonal batch is named after a Kentucky Derby racehorse, and this one (Inaugural 2020) has an illustration of “Rye’d On”. The rye is distilled from a mash bill of 60% rye, 20% corn, and 20% malted barley. It’s non chill-filtered straight rye aged for “at least 2 years” and bottled at a potent 48.5% ABV. I picked up my bottle for the very reasonable price of $33.
Another Pinhook innovation: they have a mobile app that allows you to scan your bottle to access more details. When I tried it, the “more details” were limited to information about the eponymous racehorse, but it also revealed the exact age of the whiskey: 33 months (2.75 years). Cool. Hopefully this will be expanded in the future.
Nose: Fruity, with peach, apricot, mango, blanched almond, and a faint suggestion of applewood smoke. A brief rest in the glass reveals a tutti frutti note, somewhere between fruit punch and bubblegum. Pie crust. Complex, but shy.
Palate: Thin bodied. Moderate tongue burn. The fruit remains in the foreground, with undercurrents of cinnamon, red apple skins, heavily toasted bread, lavender, and black licorice candies.
Finish: Of medium length. Inconsistent and vague. A little barrel char, not quite bitter, some marzipan and walnut skins. Fades without clearing up. At the very tail end (minutes later), that red apple skin (tannic) note persists.
With Water: A few drops of water wake up a different array of fruits that I can’t put a finger on. Lychee? Try this without and then with water.
Overall: A very different rye. There is only a hint of the usual rye spices (cinnamon), and no trace of the common rye detractors (grassiness, pine sap, etc.). This is almost malt whisky-like, in its subtlety and fruit-forward character. That said, it’s also very vague and muddy in its delivery, so you aren’t able to appreciate any single facet, instead it forces you to dig for clarity.
This is a hard one to score. If it were a high-end new brand trying to make a name for itself at $60 a bottle I would be appalled and repulsed. At $30, I am somewhere between impressed and perplexed. It’s of high quality and without any markers of under-maturity, but it also doesn’t have one single dominant flavor or aroma. At this price, you won’t dislike it… but I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it either.
I will say that I am now more interested in Pinhook as a brand, and I want to see what else they can produce at a higher price point, or with a bit more age on it.