Pinhook Bourbon was founded in 2010 by three friends who found themselves with 20 barrels of whiskey and no prior experience in the industry. Drawing on their individual experiences from a variety of careers — from restaurateur to television producer — the partners have gone on to find success by combining their many talents.
In addition to being hailed for its unique approach to whiskey making, Pinhook is often touted as a bartender favorite. Whether you’re sampling the brand’s high-proof bourbon in a classic cocktail or looking for a new bourbon to stock in your home bar, keep reading to learn more about this relative newcomer to American whiskey.
Here are eight things you need to know about Pinhook
Pinhook Treats Its Whiskey More Like Fine Wine …
Rather than offering a consistent flavor profile year after year like many of its competitors, Pinhook releases annual vintages blended to represent the best of that particular year. Just like wine, once a particular vintage sells out, it’s gone forever. As Forbes details, most Pinhook bottles retail between $33 and $45, but the last remaining bottles of a particular year can cost up to $300.
… Which Isn’t Surprising Considering One of Its Co-Founders Previously Worked as a Sommelier
In addition to being a certified sommelier, Pinhook co-founder Sean Josephs worked at the award-winning New York restaurants Per Se and Chanterelle and was the proprietor of three whiskey bars in New York and New Orleans before making bourbon his full-time job. Today, he uses his refined palate to develop Pinhook’s unique blends as the company’s master blender and taster.
Two of Pinhook’s Partners Have Horse Racing in Their Blood
Before they became involved with Pinhook, both Jamie Hill and Mike McMahon shared a family tradition in the horse racing industry. As “third-generation horsemen,” the duo co-own the bloodstock agency McMahon & Hill Bloodstock LLC., along with Bourbon Lane Stables, a thoroughbred racing company based in Kentucky. For Hill and McMahon, the idea of combining horse racing and bourbon made perfect sense.
Pinhook’s Name Stems From a Historic Kentucky Tradition
Originally associated with the tobacco industry, pinhooking now refers to the practice of buying and raising a young horse based on pedigree. A year or two after its purchase the horse is sold for profit to a breeder or used for racing. Pinhook’s founders view their approach to whiskey making similarly, sourcing barrels of unaged bourbon and selling the product once it has matured.
Pinhook Pays Tribute to The Crème de la Crème of Thoroughbreds
Each year (or “crop”), Pinhook releases flagship bourbon and rye expressions named after different horses from Bourbon Lane Stables that they believe have the best chance of winning the illustrious Kentucky Derby. And since all the horses from Bourbon Lane have the words “bourbon” or “rye” in their names, it’s an easy task. In addition to drawings of the individual horses, the labels also detail the horse’s size, color, and sex. According to the Pinhook team, Bourbon Lane’s horse Bourbon War missed qualifying for the 2019 Kentucky Derby by just nine points. While Bourbon War did go on to race in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, he didn’t win, either.
Pinhook’s Barrels Are Aged, Blended, and Bottled at a Distillery With Its Own Castle
Prior to 2017, Pinhook exclusively sourced its distillate from Midwest Grain Products (MGP) of Indiana, but recently, the company’s operations have been housed in Castle & Key, a restored distillery in Frankfort, Ky. Once known as the Old Taylor Distillery, it was founded by Col. E.H. Taylor in 1887 and features European influences such as a castle, sunken garden, and springhouse. In 2020, Pinhook’s Bohemian Bourbon High Proof became the first bourbon to come out of the historic distillery since it was abandoned half a century ago, in 1972.
Pinhook’s Bourbon and Rye Continue to Come Up Big
After securing awards in the previous two years, Pinhook won big in the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, with gold awards for its Bourbon War Vertical Series 5 Year and 2021 flagship rye, and a double gold for its Tiz Rye Time Vertical Series 5 Year.
Pinhook’s Vertical Series Offers a Year by Year Taste of Aging Bourbon
In 2019, Pinhook released the first batch in a series that tracks how aging affects the evolution of a single lot of bourbon. A small percentage of barrels are apportioned from the original 1,350 barrels of MGP-sourced bourbon and are subsequently released annually over the course of nine years — allowing devotees to taste the changes that occur as the whiskey ages. Bourbon War Vertical Series 5 Year, the second release in the series, received high marks from VinePair for its “heady, ripe fruit,” which helped bring out notes of caramel and spice.