Rye look at Baltimore's hometown whiskey

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iol travel may 8 Baltimore AP The shoreline of the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River in Baltimore.

Although I've long been a fan of rye whiskey and its intense, spicy bite, until this week I'd never heard of softer Maryland-style rye. And now, my Manhattan may never be the same.

“Baltimore historically was a rye whiskey producing city,” explains Corey Polyoka, bar director at Woodberry Kitchen (http://www.woodberrykitchen.com/).

“Before Prohibition, New York was a martini town and Baltimore was a Manhattan town. We loved, and still love, rye whiskey.”

This makes perfect sense. Americans began distilling rye whiskey, made with a mash bill of at least 51 percent rye grain, from the abundantly growing rye after the American Revolution brought the rum trade to a halt.

Maryland-style ryes were typically sweet and light, Polyoka recounts, while Maryland's sister state to the north, Pennsylvania, produced a more robust style, closer to most rye whiskeys available on the market today.

These days, very little (if any) rye is made in either state - Kentucky firmly dominates America's whiskey trade. But one brand, Pikesville, is still made using a Maryland recipe, and in Baltimore the brand is downright beloved for its hometown provenance.

Pikesville whiskey is consumed straight up as a shot, or in cocktails such as the Manhampden, Woodberry's riff on the classic Manhattan (recipe below). Pikesville Supreme was purchased by Heaven Hill in 1982 (the same brand that makes Rittenhouse Rye), but it's still made in the softer, fruitier Potomac style.

In addition to his own establishment, Polyoka also recommends B&O Brasserie (http://www.bandorestaurant.com/), located downtown in Hotel Monaco, as well as Grand Cru (http://www.grandcrubaltimore.com/) in Belevedere Square as a great after-work watering hole, with a “busy happy hour” and strong cocktail, beer and wine list.

In general, he describes Baltimore's drinking culture as “in its infancy, but starting to get real traction.” Most places in town now have a cocktail menu, though it may be of varying quality, he notes.

But ask around. You still should be able to get a shot of Pikesville rye in your glass, a Kentucky cousin with local Maryland roots. - Reuters

* Kara Newman is the author of The Secret Financial Life Of Food, Columbia University Press

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