Pikesville Rye has been discontinued

Pikesville Rye has been discontinued
(J.M. Giordano)

On a bottom shelf in the Wine Source, below the good whiskeys and the merely tolerable ones, is a small card with a tombstone on it.

Beneath the RIP is a picture of the Pikesville Rye white label and to the side of this tombstone is a message that reads: "Pikesville 3-year 80 proof Rye has been discontinued. This is the last of our stock. The 6-year 110 proof is still available."


Yes, it's true. The "aristocrat of straight whiskeys" that has been a go-to cheap bottle for Baltimoreans for decades has been discontinued.

Josh Hafer, a communications manager for Heaven Hill Brands, the privately held Kentucky-based distiller that has produced Pikesville since the '80s and counts popular brands Evan Williams and Rittenhouse in its portfolio, confirmed the news last week.

Since word began to spread, "everyone came in and grabbed it," said Lauren Loeffler, a manager at the Wine Source in Hampden. As of this writing, all they have left are the 750 milliliter bottles on that shelf, which will run you $17.99 a piece.

Production on the three-year version has already ceased. Hafer said there's still plenty of finished product in the warehouse of distributor Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits.

"They'll roll through those orders," said Hafer. "At some point in time they'll run out. But it's a reasonably large amount."

After that, it's gone forever.

In a lot of ways, Pikesville is the whiskey version of Natty Boh: a beverage with deep ties to Baltimore that survived as a staple despite production being shipped out of town decades ago. They're both affordable, making them perfect partners for a distinctly Baltimore shot and a beer.

But it's far less pervasive. There's no mascot whose visage is endlessly used on T-shirts or constantly sits high atop the building where it was once made, lit bright with neon, always winking at you. There hasn't been the marketing push to reinforce the whiskey's Baltimore bona fides.

It was just there, as it always had been, and it was understood that it was the official-unofficial rail whiskey of Baltimore.

"You know how Baltimore is," said Patty Haller, a bartender at Long Johns Pub. "Once you adopt something, it stays family."

In other words, there's a fierce loyalty in this town to things we've come to embrace as our own, as second-hand for Baltimore's character and culture.

But even that felt a little overblown when a Thursday afternoon tour of Baltimore corner bars—and the best Baltimore corner bars are the ones that decide to open during weekday afternoons—revealed that several didn't have it in stock, and hadn't carried it in ages.

"I haven't seen that in a hundred years," joked the woman working behind the bar at Mr. Joe's Bar on the corner of East Baltimore Street and South Highland Avenue.

"Since we were kids," chimed in one of the patrons.


In South Baltimore, such entrenched corner bars as the Southside Saloon, Locust Point Tavern, and Muir's Tavern didn't have a bottle of Pikesville on the rail. The new owner at Brewers Hill watering hole Knotty Pine didn't really know anything about it.

Plenty of others still do, of course, and the bar keeps, managers, and owners said their customers will be sad to see it go.

"A lot of people are all upset about that," said Haller. "People I know are talking about how they want to get extra bottles and all that stuff."

"You need to be here on Monday when everybody's going to be crying," said Shannon Cassidy, the owner of the Laughing Pint in Highlandtown. It is the drink of choice for the trivia group that comes in on that night. One trivia-goer in particular is so fond of Pikesville that the group has taken to calling it Shavonne Water.

"It's a favorite around here," said Dawn Johnson, a bartender at Venice Tavern, a basement bar just down the street from the Laughing Pint. She said Pikesville was the bar's primary whiskey for Old Fashioneds.

Pinpointing the reason for its popularity was a bit difficult.

"I don't know," said Haller. "People just liked the taste of it."

"They like it more," she continued, "than any of that other cheap shit."

"It's inexpensive and it's good," said John Corun, a manager at the fabled Mount Royal Tavern (When Esquire named MRT one of the best bars in America earlier this year, they instructed readers, "What you're having: A Natty Boh, a shot of Pikesville, and religious thoughts.") "It's pretty simple."

According to Hafer, the rep for Heaven Hill, that popularity waned in recent years. As orders for the six-year, 110-proof Pikesville have gone up, numbers have declined for the three-year. The higher proof of the six-year makes it better for cocktails, Hafer says, and it gained a considerable amount of notoriety when noted whiskey writer Jim Murray ranked it the number two whiskey in the world in the 2016 version of his annual Whisky Bible.

"Frankly, the popularity of one puts strains on the other," Hafer said.

On top of that, over the last decade, Heaven Hill only sold three-year Pikesville in Kentucky, Maryland, and parts of Delaware, whereas the six-year is available throughout most of the U.S.

According to Heaven Hill's site, Pikesville was first produced in Maryland in the 1890s and re-emerged in 1936, after Prohibition, to be one of the last standard bearers of Maryland-style rye whiskey.

"We get to maintain the lineage of Pikesville with the six-year, 110-proof," Hafer said, "but unfortunately the white label goes away."

Mount Royal Tavern is sitting on two cases of the stuff. But, Corun said, "I'm gonna try to buy as much as I can on Monday."