Cooper Spirits is absolutely killing it. The Philadelphia-based company first made a name for themselves by bringing St-Germain and Crème Yvette to the forefront of the bartending scene just as craft cocktails were taking hold in the U.S. More recently, they’ve bottled and released a series of ridiculously good whiskies as well as bringing back “America’s original bottled cocktail,” Slow and Low. The latest release, Hochstadter’s Family Reserve, a straight rye that’s been aged 16 years, might just outshine them all.
Family Reserve is a limited release (just 7,500 bottles, retail price $199) that the company is marketing it as their first “ultra-premium Hochstadter’s offering.” Don’t confuse this with Lock Stock & Barrel, another limited release high end rye aged for 16 years under the Lock Stock & Barrel spirits brand. We had the chance to review that particular bottle last year. Brand marketing aside, Family Reserve is a different beast all together thanks largely to the alcohol content; this bottle of rye comes in at a whopping 123.8 proof.
In short, this hooch is boozy. You can smell it from across the room when you pour it. It has a deep, brown, almost rust-like color. It burns your nostrils if you get too close, but there’s also an enticing layer of caramel underneath all that heat. Some high proof booze has a way of disappearing on your tongue, so all you get is the heat before it vanishes in a disappearing act. That’s not the case here. Family Reserve is hot, yeah, but even drinking it neat you get all kinds of character from the barrel. There are elements of stone fruit, caramel, some leather…and it’s spicy as hell if you let it roll around on your tongue for a few seconds. The mouthfeel is actually kind of slick and silky, not dry like you find in other super high proof whiskies.
Yes, the alcohol is ever present. But dominating? Not really. But the proof is so high, drinking it neat can be a palate wrecker. There’s a “scorching” element if you take down a full pour by itself. Because as interesting as it is neat, Family Reserve was made to be had over ice, or at the very least, with the addition of a drop of water.
Immediately after adding a bit of water, the edges soften and the sweeter notes come into the forefront. The heat moves to the back of my throat giving me more time with the whiskey on my tongue. The fruit steps up, delivering delicious notes of cherry.
On ice, things just get better. The nose is reminiscent of a waffle cone surrounding a scoop of ice cream. The mouthfeel turns buttery and enticing as the sip overflows with caramel and a smoky element—not peat, but campfire. It’s almost ashy. And of course, the pepper still lingers on the backend, because this is a rye after all. It’s a booze that’s full of spice and vigor, playing counterpoint to all of that caramel on the front end of the experience. Eventually, as I work through the glass, the sweet caramel notes meld with the thick mouthfeel to give the illusion of honey, particularly as the ice melts and everything becomes more mellow and subdued.
Chalk another one up for Cooper Spirits: It’s not cheap, but Hochstadter’s Family Reserve delivers the goods that whiskey lovers crave in an intense package worthy of the splurge.
Producer: Cooper Spirits
City: Philadelphia, Pa
Style: Straight rye