Monday, February 15, 2016

The new Pikesville Rye, a Maryland Style Rye Whiskey?

There was a time when Maryland was synonymous with rye whiskey. For those who are viewers of the Deadwood series on HBO, you may have even notice Maryland Rye on the list in behind the bar at "The Gem."

Now before I go any further, I'm going to say that despite repeated requests from Heaven Hill Distillery for information, they failed to even respond to my requests, so what you will find below is what I have collected on my own. Why would I write about this without their support or reply? Because I love Rye Whiskey.

The last survivor of Maryland Rye Whiskey was Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey. It was first produced in 1895 by the L. Winand & Brothers Distillery in Scott’s Level, Maryland, just Northwest of Baltimore, Maryland. Closed during prohibition, businessman Andrew Merle acquired the Pikesville brand in 1936 and contracted Monumental Distillery, owned by Standard Distillers in Baltimore to resume production of the label.

With sales of Maryland Rye dwindling, production ceased in 1972, marking the end of Maryland Rye production. The brand survived on existing whiskey stocks until 1982 when it was sold to Heaven Hill of Kentucky where production resumed at the historic Bernheim Distillery. In one day, an entire years supply would be distilled, a statement about the decline of rye whiskey drinking in America.

In 2015 Heaven Hill rolled out a new Pikesville Rye Whiskey. They still produce the standard version, but this is a 110 proof . Is it really a Maryland Style Rye Whiskey? Well it has the same mash bill as Rittenhouse Rye, 51% rye, 39% corn, 10% malted barley. What is the mash bill for the traditional Pikesville? I don't know because Heaven Hill would not respond. Rittenhouse is aged for four years and is 100 proof and the new Pikesville is aged six years and is 110 proof, with the old version of Pikesville being aged three years and only 80 proof.

So is the new Pikesville even a Maryland Style Rye Whiskey? Hard to tell and Heaven Hill sure isn't talking to me. Will I drink it? It is a tasty bottle of rye, spicy notes with a buttery finish. It has a high proof which makes it not for the faint of heart, but not so strong as to make it inaccessible without the addition of ice or water.

Is this a marketing gimmick from Heaven Hill? I certainly hope not. I'd love for it to be a return to real Maryland Style Rye Whiskey. But with so many rye whiskys on the market today compared to 20 years ago, a distillery needs to wow me with more than just a nostalgic label. I've been drinking Pikesville for 25 years, and now have a bottle of the new Pikesville after spending 2 months trying to find one. I'll keep them on hand, but I can't fully support an unresponsive company like Heaven Hill. There is just simply too much good Rye Whiskey available for me not to find a brand with a heart and not just a marketing plan...

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Birds of J.J. Audubon...

Decorating your house is never an easy thing, especially when you are not the only decision maker in the process. Things you may have enjoyed in your single days, might not be the same sort of things your partner envisions as their preferred decorating style. Decorating then becomes a matter of compromise. Thankfully for me, that compromise landed me in the wonderful world of John James Audubon.

Audubon was born in Haiti, and sent to France where he was raised. In order to avoid conscription by Napoleon when he was a young man, Audubon was dispatched to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to oversee land owned by his father. There he met and married Lucy Bakewell, whose lifelong support was critical to Audubon's success.

After many years he finally attained fame as an artist and ornithologist with the publication of his first Birds of America double elephant folio edition in London. These prints were chiefly engraved and hand colored by Robert Havell Jr. They were printed on "double elephant" folio sized sheets of watermarked J. Whatman fine wove paper. From 1826-1838 these aquatint copper plate engraved sheets, measuring about 26" x 39", and beautifully hand colored, were issued in 87 parts of 5 prints each. The complete set totaled 435 prints. They were sold by subscription, and the owners/subscribers eventually bound them into 7 volumes. It is estimated that between 160-180 complete sets of the first Birds of America were issued.

Today about 110 complete sets survive, mainly in museums and other institutions. An unknown number of partially bound sets and individual prints survive. They are quite rare. The last complete bound set sold at auction for $8.8 million. Individual prints sell for thousands of dollars, with a few fetching $100,000.00 or more. These were a bit more than I was looking to spend in decorating our dining room.

The success of Audubon's first Birds of America brought Audubon Worldwide acclaim. Following that success, he returned to America and set out to issue a smaller version that would include more birds. He decided on a 1/8 or octavo sized sheet measuring about 6-1/2" x 10". He called this set The Royal Octavo Edition of Birds of America. The 1st Edition of 500 plates was completed under the direct supervision of Audubon and lithographed and hand colored by J.T. Bowen in Philadelphia and New York from 1840-44. They were again sold by subscription, and issued in order by species in 100 sets of 5 each. It is estimated that from 1000-1200 complete sets were issued. No one knows how many complete sets and individual prints survive today. They are very popular and highly collectable. Today, a complete set in good condition would sell for over $50,000.00 at auction. Individual 1st edition prints sell at dealer's galleries from $50-$100 each, on up to $2,000.00+, depending upon popularity.

It was here, with the 1st edition octavo that I began collecting Audubon, the first a Black Cap Titmouse perched upon Sweet Briar (a personal connection to our household). As a matter of fact, none of the birds I've since collected were selected at random, but each has a personal connection to us, either seen at our house or where we summer. I could just pick ones with attractive prices, or ones which are highly valued, or ones which have a look or color I am seeking. But I've enjoyed the hunt for the birds we know in life to decorate our house.

Could I buy reprints? Of course, but once you have seen the originals, you will only see the copies as poor imitations of the originals. There is something about a hand colored print which sets them apart from the copies. Give the choice between a copy and a blank wall, I'd take a blank wall.

Up to eight (8) editions, some text only without plates, were issued from 1856-1889. The most important of these editions were: the 2nd (1856), the 3rd (1859), the 5th (1861), and the 7th (1870 published by Lockwood). An 1860 letterpress or text edition was issued without plates to accompany the Bien Edition.
A beige or blue-green printed colored background generally identifies the 2nd and later editions on each plate, except those with landscapes scenes. The type on the credit lines at the bottom of the later edition prints is generally bold face, as opposed to the italics on most of the 1st edition prints. Today, dealer price lists often list prices for the 1st octavo edition, and then lump all the later editions into one price list category called "later editions", with no distinction among them. Dealers with a large inventory of a particular later edition will often sell them as later edition, but give the year they were published.

I'm glad I found Audubon's octavo editions. The questions isn't where to begin, but where to stop.

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