At 123.8-Proof, Hochstadter's Brilliant New Cask Strength Rye Needs a Bit of Water

The name, Hochstadter Family Reserve 16 Year Straight Rye Whiskey, is a mouthful, and at over 123.8 proof, the label isn’t the only monstrous thing about it. But don't dismiss this bottle just yet — it could very well be the best rye whiskey to come out in 2017, so long as you’re willing to add a little water.

Cooper Spirits Co., the company behind this rye, has produced incredible bottles in the past. Last year, Lock Stock & Barrel came out with a 16-year-old that was among the better rated rye bottlings of 2016. Hochstadter’s is a second bullseye.

Sourced from Canadian company Alberta Distillers Limited, Family Reserve 16 is part of a notable trend from recent years in rye whiskey: American brands bringing Canadian rye in for American bottlings. It’s a necessity, given that American distilleries just don’t have a lot of rye aging at the moment.

There are advantages to going north for whiskey: Canada has large, untapped reserves of well-aged whiskey to offer. And if you’re good at finding the best barrels like Cooper Spirits Co. is, you can release amazing bottles. The Canada connection also explains why this particular bottling is made from 100 percent rye grain — something nearly nonexistent in the United States.

Lock Stock & Barrel 16 was 100 percent rye, and priced similarly. Hochstadter’s Family Reserve is, at least, in the same league. It’s an immensely spicy dram, with every last ounce of flavor rye can pack into a whiskey.

The company made one grave mistake: They bottled this at 123.8 proof to preserve cask strength, and then recommended sipping neat or with a cube. 

We have to disagree. While this is heresy in many circles, by adding a little water to bring down the strength, the bold flavors make room for the rich caramel you’d expect from something aged 16 years in charred American oak, and a sinus-clearing dram makes way for something more complex. 

Only 7,500 bottles will be on the market (it’s shipping now). If you get one, we suggest you try it their way, but then add water or ice to your tastes in short order; drinking this one at cask strength doesn’t do it justice.