Vatted whiskey, a term that seemed to have breathed its last in Scotland some eight years ago, has been revived on these shores. But this time it comes as a rye, not a Scotch. Hochstadter's Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey, from the Cooper Spirits Co., joins five types of North American straight rye whiskeys and applies the nomenclature "vatted" to that category for the first time.
The result is a whiskey that is complex, but holds a subtleness that bucks the trend in the revived rye category, a world that seems dominated by spice-forward spirits.
The designation "vatted" has had a noble history in Scotch whisky. It was used to describe marriages of single malts into highly complex spirits, which were often made to commemorate such events as coronations and royal weddings. Then in 2008 the Scotch Whisky Association eliminated the term and replaced it with "blended malt." Now Cooper Spirits brings the terminology out of retirement with Hochstadter's, which melds straight ryes from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Alberta, Canada, and is bottled in Philadelphia.
While Hochstadter's shows no age statement, company founder Robert Cooper indicates that it blends whiskeys from between four to 15 years of age, with a significant portion of eight-year-old rye. That would make the whiskey officially four years old, according to government regulations, which recognizes the youngest in a bottle as determining a whiskey's maturity.
Straight rye whiskey is a spirit made with a grain formula containing at least 51 percent rye, with corn and barley typically filling in the rest. However, making a 100 percent rye mashbill has become popular since the rye category was revived more than a decade ago. The designation "straight" indicates that, like corn-rich Bourbon, the spirit is matured in new charred oak barrels. Most straight ryes are the product of a single distillery. (Single-malt Scotches are pot-stilled in a single location from 100 percent barley and usually aged in used barrels.)
Cooper comes from a family steeped in the spirits industry. His grandfather Maurice Cooper led a cordial company, Charles Jacquin et Cie. His father, Norman, went on to introduce the liqueur Chambord to this country from France. The name Hochstadter's comes in recognition of a brand founded in 1884 that would later be merged into the company the family would run.
Robert Cooper started Cooper Spirits in 2006 to import St-Germain, an elderflower liqueur. Its products now include Slow & Low (a Rock and Rye bottled cocktail) and Lock, Stock & Barrel rye whiskey.
Hochstadter's Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey (100 proof, or 50 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $34.99 a 750 milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Sparkling amber color; slow to give up its medium-girth legs.
NOSE: Tantalizing mix of spicy and fruity aromas. Dark cherry and peach meet up with clove and a bit of pine.
PALATE: Again, the collision of spice and fruit is the dominant feature. This time, however, the spice comes in heartier versions with rye-bread notes and some tasty dough elements. The fruit is candied with a hint of molasses and rock candy. It achieves a wide panorama of flavors in a time many ryes aspire only to the stringent, spicy side.
FINISH: Quite a long, nuanced finish that weaves back and forth between sugar and spice, while attaining toasty notes.
CIGAR PAIRING: Enclave Churchill (Nicaragua; 7 inches by 52 ring gauge; $6.70; 92 points; November 3, 2015, Cigar Insider) A gorgeous Churchill with a reddish brown wrapper and an uncut foot. Each puff is full of earthy, bready notes punctuated by hints of carob chips, coffee and a charry finish. The shared bready notes suggested this pairing and ended up being the star. The cigar increased its earthiness with the addition of the whiskey's doughy elements and in doing so picked up some fruity notions. The bargain was a bit one-sided, however, as the Hochstadter's didn't get as much of a boost from the Enclave. The rye became slightly sweeter and exhibited its toasty charms very quickly, rather than waiting until the finish.