Spirit Of The Week: Pinhook Vertical Series 8-Year Rye Whiskey

Pinhook’s experiment in precise whiskey aging results in a truly remarkable bottle.


Thoroughbred racing-obsessed whiskey endeavor Pinhook’s ongoing quest to gauge the inexorable effects of aging continue with the latest release in their Vertical Series: Rye 8-Year. 

Across both bourbon and rye categories, Pinhook has released a limited number of barrels in that Vertical Series annually, allowing fans to compare Vertical Series 8 against the Vertical Series 5 against the Vertical Series 4—the very first in the collection—and taste precisely how the exact same mash bill, matured in the exact same casks, evolves over time. 

What a cool, simple and yet innovative concept. 

Using MGP’s beloved 95 percent rye/5 percent malted barley recipe, this fifth release in the Vertical Series sees founder and master blender Sean Josephs’ juice really rounding into form, if not reaching its peak. Pinhook Vertical Series 8-Year Rye definitely feels like it’s getting close. 

“It’s so hard to pick favorites in this Series, but that said, the 8 Year is definitely up there,” Josephs shares. “I thought the 7 Year would be hard to beat, and the 5 Year is certainly one of the benchmarks of the series for me so far in terms of overall quality,” he continues.  

“But the 8 Year is a standout because, on the one hand, it has some of the secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors that are earmarks of a more mature whiskey, but it is also very soft and possibly the easiest drinking release to date.”

Josephs credits the unique aging environment of Castle & Key, where Pinhook is now distilled, being both cool and humid. Rare in Kentucky, where the torrid summer heat can really accelerate aging, this climate causes whiskey in the barrel to lose proof over time. He notes how the 8-Year Rye was 125-proof when it entered the barrel, but was only 108-proof (54.2% ABV) at cask-strength bottling. 

“At this rate, some of the later vintages could potentially drop below 100-proof at cask strength, which I think could yield some very interesting results in the coming years.”

Blending 32 barrels, bottled unfiltered at cask strength, the cashmere soft Pinhook 8-Year Rye offers generous sweet and floral notes of brown sugar, ripe apricot and orange peel, with a touch of cinnamon and clove spice making things interesting. 

We’ll see how both of Pinhook’s Vertical Series improve over only the next four years, as Josephs previously vowed to end the series at a dozen years. Tasting this superb 8-Year, however, the mind wanders to festive heights as to where the rye could potentially roam if allowed to age further beyond the 12 years. 

Funny enough, it appears Josephs might have the same feelings. 

“When I conceived of the Vertical Series, the rationale for following the barrels from ages four to 12 was that four years is typically a baseline for what is considered mature whiskey. And historically 12 years was viewed as the point after which American whiskey starts to go downhill because there is too much influence of new charred oak, especially given the warm aging environment in America compared to Europe,” Josephs explains. 

“That said, now that the Series is reaching the back half, it is very tempting to consider extending it by a couple of years, especially since there is nothing stopping us! If by ages 11 and 12 my perception is that the quality level is falling off, then there is no reason to keep going. But if it seems like the whiskey might have some life left in it, then why not keep the experiment going?” the master blender asks rhetorically. 


“Also, of all of the older whiskey I have tasted, say 15-plus years of age, I have really enjoyed some 21 Year, 23 Year and 25 Year ryes, but I can’t say the same for bourbon. So I can see the Vertical Series Rye as the one that can go past 12, whereas I have a bit more trepidation about the Vertical Series Bourbon.”

Pinhook Vertical Series 8-Year Rye comes packaged with silver wax at the top at an SRP of $85.

Follow Deputy Editor Nicolas Stecher on Instagram at @nickstecher and @boozeoftheday.