Independent Bottler

Review: Hochstadter's Vatted Straight Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Photo courtesy of Hochstadter’s Whiskey.

Photo courtesy of Hochstadter’s Whiskey.

ABV
50%
Aging
4-15 Yrs; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
Various
Distiller Various

Now here is something rather interesting! This is a mixture of 4-15 year old straight rye whiskies from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana, and Alberta. It’s quite rare to see mixtures of vatted straight ryes from different distilleries - this is the only one that comes to mind. Moreover, this is another Canadian-American blend which is rare, but present in some premium examples like Little Book. I love the Hochstadter’s 16 year old, and the Lock,Stock and Barrel whiskies all from Cooper Spirits - so I have high expectations here.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

A gorgeous nose, with a lot of depth. Oak, caramel, a farmy grain character, dried fruit, a light medicinal characteristic, orange, baking spice, and dark potting soil. Amazing! It really blends together well the traditional styles of American and Canadian rye. The palate is slightly sweet, but rich and juicy with loads of spices, oak, citrus, and dried fruit. There is a really nice tannic structures on the palate, and a slight touch of acidity – making this very drinkable. The finish has some pomegranate, oak, clove, and cherry. Oak dominates at the end, with rich woody and vanilla notes.

The empty glass is glorious. Loads of spices, dried fruit, but it’s still slightly yeasty and farmy in a good way.

This is terrific! If I lived in a place where I could buy this, it would be my everyday rye.

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high. It’s not often that you can find something this good for prices like this.


Review: Hochstadter's Family Reserve 16 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Hochstadter+2.jpg
ABV
61.9%
Aging
16 Years; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky was released at the same time as (my revered) lock, stock, and barrel 16 year old - it is from the same cache of barrels from Alberta Distillers which Cooper Spirits acquired - a cask strength, intense rye whisky. Alberta rye at over 60% - I must try this! It costs a pretty penny, though, sadly.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Now there is a nose! Quite candied, with loads of arugula, some spinach, light medicinal overtones, candied orange, prunes, plums, loads of clove, dried blueberry, dried cherry, dusty asphalt, oak, sundried tomatoes, loads of cedar – it just gets better with time. It reminds me a bit of the heavy caroni rums with some of the spice and medicinal notes. We have some dustiness too!

The palate is very herbal, lightly medicinal, dried spices – very Alberta. It ends in a rich flourish of arugula. Lavender,  throughout – it is quite sweet, with notes of icing sugar – moreso than other Alberta whiskies I’ve tried. This whisky is so huge, and so deep! The finish is oaky, rich, and still very fruity – lots of dried fruit, berry notes, clove, icing sugar, nutmeg, sweet oak, and the slightest bracing of tannin.

It is a very different whisky than Masterson’s, when compared side by side. The masterson’s isn’t as sharp or deep, and has a lot less vibrancy (if you can believe such a thing). Unbelievably, it puts masterson’s to shame – and masterson’s is one of the best Canadian rye whiskies, which rarely gets outdone. That says something.

I still like this a tad less than the Lock, Stock, and Barrel, which I feel isn’t quite as sweet and is a touch more balanced. Compared to the Lock, Stock, and Barrel 18 – this is less oaky, and more muscular, with deeper fruity and spicy notes.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Average. Amazing whisky (some of the best), but 200 USD is a price, for sure!


Review: Ardbeg 23 Year Old 1991 Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Master of Malt) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
50.6%
Aging
23 yrs Ex-Bourbon
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Ardbeg (Port Ellen, Scotland)

Master of Malt, the online whisky behemoth, takes their hand at blending and sourcing casks as well - generally doing a terrific job. Here is an old Ardbeg - a highly sought after commodity.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Distilled Feb. 1991, bourbon cask.

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

It’s amazing the smoke that’s still so centrally here after 23 years. I love Ardbeg smoke. Quite maritime – salty, seashells, damp earth, rich caramel, custard, smoke, vanilla, dark soy sauce, some peat funk – what a nose! It has a bit of a salty element to it as well, quite medicinal, fresh almonds.

The palate is quite full, with roasted dried chickpeas, smoke, vanilla, oysters, earthy very dark chocolate, and some underlying sweetness. Quite savory, in fact, with quite a full body of earthiness and citrus supplementing the rest of the whisky. The palate hits you in different waves of flavor that all fit together.

A full dry finish with spice, smoke, medicinal character, tarry peat, dried apricot, and lemon zest. A brilliant whisky. It shows you why Ardbeg is a cult whisky.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. You don’t buy this for value…


Review: Glen Grant 1965 48 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Celebration of the Cask) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
49.6%
Aging
48 Years Ex-Sherry
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Glen Grant (Rothes, Scotland)

What an old beast! These old Glen Grants can be found, some of which are spectacular, at the hand of independent bottlers - often relatively cheaper than other monstrously aged single malts. Very very few single malts make it to 48 years...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Cask 2137 (112 bottles)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2012

Cask 2137; single hogshead (112 bottles)

Candle wax, leather, rancio, fresh apple, apple sauce, plum, cinnamon, prune, freshly struck match, and lots of oak. The nose is thick. The palate continues with oak, apple, plum, dried ginger, and a layering of vanilla and tingly spices. Brilliant. Finishes with light sherry, freshly struck match, stewed apricot, clove, brown sugar, wax, and honeysuckle. A terrific strength. Complex and fascinating.

On a side note, there are some absolutely terrific old Glen Grants – certainly better than this one.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very low, at $964.


Review: Glen Grant 15 Years Old 1997 Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Wm Cadenhead) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
15 Years Ex-Bourbon
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Glen Grant (Rothes, Scotland)

A distillery that may not be as well, but one of the largest single malt distilleries in Scotland. Here, not a distillery bottling but an independent bottling from Cadenhead.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A (924 Bottles)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Light and fruity, with lots of grape, vanilla, red wine must, almonds, and clove too. Prunes, sticky toffee pudding. The palate is light, with a solid grassy, spicy backbone and maintaining a light fruity character – grape, vanilla, pecans, Asian pear, and gooseberries. Ends in cinnamon and brown sugar and some mulled white wine. Light enough that even at 46% the alcohol content seems high. Not my favorite style of whisky – if you like clean, light, and fruity drams this one may be more to your liking than mine.

Value: Low, at $75.


Review: North British 53 Year Old 1961 Single Grain Scotch Whisky (Douglas Laing XOP) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
51.8%
Aging
53 Years; Refill Sherry Cask
Recipe
N/A
Distiller North British (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Scottish Grain whiskies are broadly similar to Canadian corn whiskies (I suppose that is my reference point!). They represent a portion of the Scotch whisky segment which is quite different from Single Malts - the distilleries can use column stills and any grain they wish - usually corn (the cheapest) or wheat. The segment has grown, but most of the whisky goes straight to supplying blends and is not released in the same way that single malts would be. The easiest access to them is through independent bottlers, like this one. Also, because they are not in high demand, you can get very old whisky at a fraction of the cost of a similarly aged single malt.

North British was founded in 1885, and is the only remaining distillery in Edinburgh. As a single grain whisky distillery for Scottish blends, it is massive distillery which distills 180,000 tonnes of cereal (traditionally corn) each year in their coffey continous still. It is jointly owned by Diageo and Edrington group.

This is old! It is not often you find a whisky more than 50 years old. This was matured in a refill sherry butt.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Cask 10708 (186 bottles)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Classic aged grain whisky on the nose – buttery, rich and oily grain, vanilla, and lots of oak. The oak breaches upon bitterness here – no surprise after 53 years! Dried elderflower, roasted stem tea, earthiness from all the wood, and there’s still a bit of white grape in this – but semi-dried. Quite a magnificent nose. A bit of rubber, too. Lots of beeswax.

The taste is quite cereal-led, with a good dose of earthiness (cacao!) and a slowly unfolding finish full of spices and held firm with tannin and a bit of bitterness. The bitterness isn’t strong enough that it is negative, but I also wouldn’t say it is positive here – I would say over-oaked. The lightest touch of edgy sherry too.

The finish has lots of vanilla and oak. Relatively clean – cloves and corn still on the end though as well. It is complex, and the cacao in the middle significantly elevates this one. The bitterness doesn’t help – a terrific whisky, sitting somewhere between my reference points of Ninety 20 Year old and Canadian Rockies 21 Year old for whiskies in a similar camp. However, terrific to be able to taste.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very low, based on $670.


Review: Lock, Stock, & Barrel 18 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Image copyright,  Cooper Spirits Company .

Image copyright, Cooper Spirits Company.

ABV
54.5%
Aging
18 Years; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

I love Alberta rye. Pot distilled rye is my favorite style of whisky, I won’t deny it, and it can be an acquired style with all of the sharp spiciness and rich character. Alberta Distillers is widely acknowledged as likely the best rye distillery in the world, and it certainly distills a massive amount of it – perhaps the most in the world, but that is a conjecture without evidence.

Cooper spirits hand selected a number of barrels of 100% unmalted rye matured in new oak from Alberta years ago, releasing first a 13 year old, then a 16, and now this 18 – all favorites of mine, and right up my wheelhouse in terms of style.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

These Alberta ryes get a bit more restrained with age, but incredible spirit lies unfolds as you continue to nose. They start off sharp, spicy, and vegetal and soften, growing in fruit and oak integration with age. This has terrific, creamy fruit that sits on top – and underneath – black tea, arugula, iodine, rubber, pear, dense oak, cola, black licorice, ginger, dried peach, dark chocolate.

The palate is huge, with a load of arugula, tannic oak, cedar, and clove. It’s amazing how much the rubbery and medicinal notes carry through. Amazing aged notes – the oak both holds the grip in terms of flavor but also in terms of both maturity and reining in the powerful rye. The tannins are just about to the edge – but they are not quite too much. Huge finish, about as full of big, spicy rye as you can imagine, alongside tea. It has more creaminess and caramel than the 16 year old, but it’s not quite as vibrant, playful, and unique – and doesn’t have the incredible light fruit which makes it not only a good rye, but one of the best and most unique ryes I’ve tasted. Also, this is much oakier. So, now I’ve compared it to perhaps my favorite whisky of all time – this is still an unbelievable rye, indeed, an 18 year old new oak rye from the best rye producer in the world. It is pricy, but it is something....

Remarkable.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Low. It’s a terrific whisky, but comes at a big price (about 230 USD).


Review: Ensign Red Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Ensign Red 2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Distiller N/A (Canada)

A bottling for Total wines, expertly blended by one of the „most lauded” Master Blenders in North America, though how lauded we don’t know, since they don’t give a name (therefore, can’t be too lauded?). Or maybe contract blended by someone else and they can’t for the sake of industry secrets...it looks like it comes in a Barton 1792 bottle, so I wonder if it is coming from Sazerac (and therefore perhaps Drew Mayville blended it?).


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: B1603508407

  • Bottling Date: 2016

The nose is full of pine, and is slightly bitter, with some orange peel, clove, apple juice (unfiltered), and prune. Ever so slightly sour and nutty, too. The palate is lightly sweet and rich – rich grain notes I didn’t expect from the nose. Still lots of pine, orange peel, and there’s some white grape. We have a finish that is slightly bitter, still with a bit of pine, cacao nibs, and spice. Too bitter on the finish.

A bit of an unimaginative Canadian...

Value: Low. You can do better for the price.


Review: Miltonduff 1995 18 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Signatory) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
18 Years Ex-Bourbon
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Miltonduff (Elgin, Scotland)

Miltonduff was the second distillery bought by Hiram Walker in 1936 after acquiring Ballantine's, who changed their style from a light, triple-distilled spirit to something akin to what is produced now. It is a major player in Ballantine’s blends. Like Hiram Walker distillery, this is all owned by Pernod Ricard now.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Casks 4112, 4113, 4114 (all ex-bourbon)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Some really nice sherry here – or so I thought at first -  having a bit of an aged character (i.e., it is more like a well-aged sherry than a lightly aged one). But that fades – it isn’t quite a rancio character but almost – that oak must have done some interesting work. It’s quite fresh, with lots of rich dried fruit – and some nice white grape I often find in Canadian but not often in Scotch. Some pear, hay, and dust too – porridge, custard which grows with time.

The palate is quite grassy, and fairly rich, with a good kick of malt coming in and finishing gradually as the grassy malt unfolds with light vanilla, beeswax, dried peaches, roasted black pepper, and cinnamon. Lightly tannic on the end – I was expecting something a bit different! Less sherry on the palate than the nose. Pleasing barley and earthiness on the finish, and some dried peach and dried pineapple. The malt, throughout, is actually quite brilliant and dense – I am quite enjoying this.

Intriguing, too, particularly with how all the earthy notes fit in to the fruit and the malt. Not detracting, for sure. 

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $93.


Review: Mortlach 23 Year Old 1991 Single Malt Scotch Whisky (MacKillop's Choice) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
56.6%
Aging
23 Years; Sherry Cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Mortlach (Keith, Scotland)

Often the best whiskies from a distilllery come not as part of official bottlings from the distillery but rather from independent bottlers who buy distillate or barrels, and then age and release them. This is true often particularly for distilleries which often produce for blends, and Mortlach is one of those distilleries with magnificent independent bottlings (even, at one time, a 70 year old released by Gordon & MacPhail!).


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Cask 5887, distilled 1991

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Terrific woody nose, as one might expect after 23 years. Lots of brilliant spice – clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and very nice clean sherry with all the wonderful nuttiness and dried fruit that comes in. Absolutely phenomenal complexity - candied fruit (orange and cherry), apple seeds, vanilla bean, shortcake dough, custard, and some apple lifts it all up to as it plays about above all the deeper notes on the nose. And, amidst all of this, the barley comes through and isn’t lost. I could keep going…all of that comes out more easily with some water. At full strength the oiliness of the whisky comes through, and everything is presented in more of a dense fashion, particularly the spice and the oak.

The palate reveals a lot more earthiness coming from the grain than seen on the nose, and the tongue is massaged with the feel of the whisky and the gentle vanilla (perhaps a bit too poetic…but this is sensational in the mouth). Very light peat is present, and it blends in brilliantly. In drinking at 46%, it is much of a lighter dram – at cask strength it is quite a bit heavier, but not overpowering by any means. The earthiness, the sherry, dark chocolate, and the peat all find a different balance – but the malt is still terrific in a different sort of way. It shows the quality of the dram.

Apple, oak, spices, and raisin hold the finish. Tannins build and pleasantly find their place as well.

Rare old doesn’t hold up a finger to this…

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, based on $327.