The age statement on a bottle of whiskey can be a little confusing for drinkers getting interested in brown spirits, for the following reason: Not all age statements are created equal, even if the numbers are the same. An objective number such as “10 years” implies a vastly different product, depending largely upon what kind of spirit is inside the bottle. To whit:
— A 10-year-old scotch is likely a fairly inexpensive, “gateway” product that represents the beginning of a line of progressively older expressions from the same distillery. Age statements on scotch are typically higher numbers for a simple reason, because most scotch is aged in used American whiskey barrels, as opposed to the freshly charred barrels that hold American bourbon and rye. Scotch needs to spend a longer amount of time in wood in order to draw the same intensity of flavors, and even then it still doesn’t draw nearly as much color from the used barrels.
— A 10-year-old bourbon is typically going to be considered significantly more matured than a corresponding 10-year-old scotch, thanks to those freshly charred barrels. After this amount of time in the barrel, an American bourbon is going to be able to pull quite a lot of woody intensity, caramelization, vanillans, spice and color—all of which are complementary flavors to the profile of American bourbon, which is defined by having at least 51% corn in the mash. The sweet and mellow character of corn merges beautifully with the flavors that a charred barrel provides—it’s the reason why bourbon tastes as it does.
— A 10-year straight rye whiskey, on the other hand, is much more rare. They certainly exist, but there are far fewer of them on the market, because rye tends to have a lower median age statement than bourbon. Often thinner of body and drier than bourbon, the profile of rye whiskey is often thought to present better (or more “maturely”) at a younger age—or it might be more economically accurate to say that “You can get away with selling young rye whiskey to consumers.”
That’s one of the things that makes the Lock Stock and Barrel releases from Cooper Spirits so unusual. If 10 year rye is fairly rare, 18 year-old rye is more or less unheard of—a significant outlier in this market.
This brand new release of Lock Stock and Barrel 18 follows the two previous, slightly younger releases: LS&B 16 and 13. As with the two previous versions, this is 100% rye whiskey, sourced from Canada’s Alberta Distillers Ltd., and bottled at a robust 109 proof. One wonders, given the 100% rye makeup and distillery, if this is some of the same juice used by WhistlePig for their own 100% rye, Canadian-sourced whiskey, but even if it is, it’s clearly a much older version. The price tag reflects this, at a eye-popping $230 MSRP. Clearly, this isn’t the kind of stuff you’re going to mix with some Martini & Rossi vermouth for a weeknight Manhattan.
So, let’s get tasting—with the acknowledgement here that it’s pretty much impossible to gauge the “value” of such an expensive rye whiskey.
On the nose, LS&B 18 demonstrates huge rye spice—one of the most intensely “rye grain” whiskeys I’ve had in quite a while. There’s also big citrus—tangerine-like notes, and some stone fruit, followed by pepper, baking spices, dill and wood that is almost “piney” in nature.
On the palate, LS&B 18 is big, sweet and spicy. It’s honestly one of the richer, more decadent ryes I’ve ever tasted—all that time in the wood has given it so much barrel character and sucked so much flavor out of the char that it transcends the expected “drier” rye whiskey profile and may remind you more of an overproof bourbon, albeit one with tons of spicy rye. The actual flavor of oak isn’t particularly omnipresent, but the fruit and spice certainly are. This stuff coats the palate and bursts with notes of citrus, stone fruit and baking spice—imagine sweet mandarin orange slices, rolled in cinnamon sugar. The finish is a long, drawn-out kiss of spices.
Considering the 109 proof, LS&B 18 is actually fairly easy to consume neat—I never felt the need to add a splash, and I doubt I’ll do so in the future. That’s more than I can say for most overproof ryes, but the heat here is expressive without being dominant. If you like your rye sweet, strong and spice-heavy, this is certainly a dram that will catch your interest. Just be prepared to drop some serious coin for it.
Distillery: The Cooper Spirits Co. (sourced from Alberta Distillers Ltd.)
City: New York City
Style: Straight rye whiskey
ABV: 109 proof, 54.5% ABV
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $230 SRP