Hochstadter's Showdown

A few weeks ago I picked up a bottle of Hochstadter's Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey and a bottle of Hochstadter's Family Reserve in a store in New Jersey on my way home from a long weekend in Vermont. Together these bottles cost $200. The former cost $30 while the latter was $170. I was anxious to try them side-by-side. Could one of them really be worth more than 5x the other?

Coopers Spirits Company, based in Philadelphia, PA, blends and bottles Hochstadter's, a brand that dates back to 1884. The company was established in 2006 by Robert J. Cooper who died last year at the age of 39.

Hochstadter's doesn't distill and age their own whiskeys. Instead they source them from other distilleries. Both of these bottles are sourced whiskeys. 

The company says that the Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey (VSRW) is a complex blend of hand-selected straight rye whiskeys aged 4-15 years and curated from distilleries across North America: Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Alberta. They say that the whiskeys are blended in their distillery and allowed to marry in vats until the optimal level of harmonization, maximum intensity and robust flavor is achieved. They further say that this vatting process creates a smooth, rounded and full-flavored straight rye whiskey with notes of backstrap, nutmeg, mace, clove, German-style rye bread and sour cherry. It's bottled un-filtered at 100 proof. The bottle is tall, thin and clear with an attractive vintage label with blue and red lettering on cream colored paper and a black screw cap closure.

The company says that the Family Reserve (FR) is made from 100 percent rye grain and aged 16 years in newly charred American oak barrels. They acknowledge that it's sourced from Alberta Distillers Limited and bottled at cask strength (123.8 proof) in Philadelphia, PA and say that the end result is unfiltered, undiluted and full-flavored, delivering an intense explosion of robust rye flavor. The bottle is tall and clear with rounded shoulders and a curved neck. The real cork closure is quite classy with the words Cask Strength Straight Rye on a piece of tape sealing the cork to the neck of the bottle. Like the VSRW the FR label looks vintage with black and gold lettering on eggshell colored paper.

I did a blind tasting half hoping that I couldn't tell the difference. But I could. The nose on VSRW was very pleasant, bold and fiery. The FR was softer around the edges. I imagined that's what many, many years in a barrel smelled like. The palate of both mirrored the nose. Fiery and bold versus soft and mellow. There's something on the finish of the FR that's a little bit off-putting to me, a metallic taste perhaps. It reminded me of a similar finish on the Lock, Stock & Barrel 16 Year, which is also a sourced Canadian rye bottled by Cooper Spirits Company.

And the winner is...

If both of these bottles cost the same I would choose the Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey. To my senses, I enjoyed the smell and taste of it more, and for $30 a bottle I consider it one heck of a bargain.

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