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Hochstadter's Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey

Posted on by Eric Burke

It was with no little amount of sadness that I learned that Robert J Cooper had passed away. It’s not like I knew him or even knew who he was. Though I probably should have since he was the creator of such spirits brands as St. Germain, Lock Stock & Barrel Rye, and Hochstadter's Low & Slow Rock and Rye. 

No I was sad for an entirely selfish reason. As I learned of his death, I also learned of his age, which happens to be the same as mine. 39 years old. That’s really young and any time you hear of someone your age dying, doesn’t matter how, you start to look at your own mortality. To question if you are where you want to be in life or if there is something else that you should be doing. To examine how you are going to get there. 

In the past when I’ve done this evaluation whether it was from the death of a friend or a stranger, I’ve found my life wanting. I was in a soul-sucking job or working without passion. This time however, I’m happy to say that I find I’m in a good place. Business is good, I’m happy with the work I’m doing as a designer and I have people who are interested in what I have to say as a writer. 

So here’s to Robert J. Cooper, a man I never even heard of, that has helped in some small way to remind me that life is pretty good.

Hochstadter's Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey

Purchase Info: Apple Valley Liquors, Apple Valley, MN $35.99 for a 750 mL

Details: 50% ABV. On bottle there is no age statement so assumed 4 years old. The website backs that up claiming it is “A complex blend of hand-selected straight rye whiskeys, aged 4-15 years and curated from distilleries across North America. Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Alberta.” The site also mentions that the whiskey is non-chill filtered.

Nose: Caramel, cloves and cedar.

Mouth: Soft in the mouth with cloves, cinnamon, mint and brown sugar. 

Finish: Starts hot and slowly fades to sweet with just a hint of pickle and bubble gum.

A heart because I love this.

Thoughts: I’m a big fan of the theory of the one. Take rye’s from all over, from many different distilleries in many different places and just blend them together to get something new. Very cool idea. It is also a very tasty whiskey and has become one of my favorite ryes in the two months I’ve had it in my house. Who knows what will happen to the brand now that the founder is gone, but for now, I’ll keep buying it as long as I can keep finding it.

My Wandering Eye: Chateau De Laubade VSOP

Posted on by Eric Burke

Tomorrow I am going to visit family in Wisconsin. And as such it is only fitting that I explore my father’s favorite drink. Yep, my eye is wandering again and once again I’m down the brandy aisle. 

Last year, I gave my father Chateau De Laubade VSOP Armagnac for Christmas. As I’ve stated before, he likes his brandy, but usually buys regular release Korbel. Because until recently, I’d yet to explore brandy most of the time he got presents that I had never tasted. And though he shares, it’s usually a pull from the bottle or an 80 proof drowned in ice. So I decided to give it a try. Chateau De Laubade is a Total Wine exclusive. As such, this one was available in a 200 mL bottle so I didn’t have to lay down too much cash to try it. In this case, it was $12 or so.  

Chateau De Laubade VSOP

Purchase Info: $11.99 for a 200 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 40% ABV

Nose: Floral with plump raisins, baked apple and sweet caramel.

Mouth: Trending toward dry with a full mouthfeel.

Finish: A long but delicate finish with caramel, raisins, spice and floral notes.

A smile because I like this.

Thoughts: This has a lovely nose and finish. I’d say most of the flavor hits you during the finish. During my initial tasting, I used a Glencairn as I normally do for these reviews and wasn’t impressed. Because when I’m not doing a tasting, I normally drink using different types of glassware, I tried this again using a small snifter style glass. It is amazing what a difference it made. I picked up much more on the nose and mouth and enjoyed it much more. At $40 for a 750, this isn’t a bargain, but it is easily as good as many of the bourbons that have recently entered it’s price point.


My wandering eye is a series reacting to the crazy rising prices in the bourbon world. We’ve reached a place where even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. If I’m going be asked to drop $40 to $70 on a mediocre bourbon, I might as well see what else I can get for that money. See if another spirits category offers something that is downright tasty in that price range. The goal isn’t to find cheap spirits, but to maximize the quality I’m getting at a particular price point.


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Rowan's Creek Bourbon

Posted on by Eric Burke

It’s been a few years (or more) since I last bought a bottle of Rowan’s Creek bourbon. I’d been a fan of bourbon for some time but I really didn’t have the most refined palate. I was just starting my expansion from enjoyer of bourbon to someone who thinks critically about what he’s drinking. I’d gone from just having Maker’s or Wild Turkey in the liquor cabinet to exploring enough to have an entire shelf in my office dedicated to bourbon. Can you believe I had an entire 12 bourbons on my shelf…(eye roll).

At the time, I wasn’t impressed. I found it weird, not like the other bourbons that I was enjoying. It wasn’t a caramel bomb that tasted like a hot piece of candy. And so, I never bought another. Recently I was inspired by my decision to make a trip through the Willett line-up to give it another go.

Rowan’s Creek

Purchase info: $35.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Viking Liquor Barrel, Prior Lake, MN

Details: 50.05% ABV, Batch QBC No.: 16-30. DSP-KY-78. Part of Willett’s Small Batch Boutique Bourbon Collection.

Nose: Grain forward with cloves, spearmint and a light fruitiness

Mouth: Sweet and not as hot as I’d have expected for over 100° proof. It’s lightly flavored showing cereal, mint and vanilla.

Finish: Decent length with cereal, spice, caramel and mint.

A smile since I like this.

Thoughts: This is a well constructed whiskey that is outside my normally preferred flavor profile. So I can see why I didn’t care for it back when I was starting my bourbon journey. I didn’t have a palate that was experienced enough to realize that different can be good. And though I don’t normally like grain-forward bourbons, this one has grown on me. And I am liking it more as I progress though the bottle. I’d recommend this to people who like bourbons that show more influence from the grain than the barrel and hold it up as an example of how such a bourbon can be a little more refined and show more than just hot and corn.


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My Wandering Eye: Copper & Kings American Brandy, Cask Strength

Posted on by Eric Burke

As we all know, bourbon prices are creeping up. So much so that even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. If I’m going be asked to drop $40 to $70 on a mediocre bourbon, I might as well see what else I can get for that money. See if another spirits category offers something that is downright tasty in that price range. The goal isn’t to find cheap spirits, but to maximize the quality I’m getting at a particular price point.

Today, I’m playing in the top end of the price range by purchasing a single cask brandy picked by a local retailer. I’ve run across Copper & Kings on numerous occasions while visiting Kentucky. They often have a spot in various BourbonFest events. So I’ve tried a few of their releases in the past. I’d never purchased one though. Until I tried a sample at a local liquor store. 

I was in there looking for inexpensive bourbons to include in Bottom-Shelf Brackets for March. I got to talking with my friendly neighborhood booze vendor about the things I was buying when he mentioned their barrel of Copper & Kings. I was intrigued and asked for a sample. Before I knew it there was a bottle in my hand and I was walking to the register before I found two in there. But a lot of things are good in the store so let’s see if this holds up to closer inspection.

Copper & Kings American Brandy for Ace Spirits

Purchase info: $64.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits

Details: 67% ABV. Single Cask. Per the bottle: Non-chill filtered. No added boisé, sugar or caramel colors.

Nose: Caramel and chocolate covered raisins, a slight smokiness and oak.

Mouth: As you might guess at 134° proof this is really hot. If you can push past the heat, you will find a sweet fruitiness. 

Finish: Long, warm and fruity.

With Water (about 100° proof): The fruit really comes to the forefront and is backed with caramel, oak a slight smokiness and a really nice level of warmth. The finish is still long warm and fruity but is sweeter too.

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Thoughts: This is really too hot to drink neat. Which even the producer admits on the side of the bottle when they tell you to enjoy it on the rocks, with a mixer or in a cocktail. With some water though, this is a delicious spirit and is highly recommended. It has a spot on my bourbon shelf for as long as it lasts.

Now speaking of cocktails, I think I might have to try this one I found on the Copper and Kings website


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Willett Family Estate Bottled Single Barrel Whiskies, Revisited

Posted on by Eric Burke

It’s no surprise that I like to try new things. Like today, I tried both acupuncture and massage therapy for the first time. One of them seems to have worked to ease a pain in my neck. But in either case it was an interesting experience. 

But we can’t just plow forward into the great unknown all the time. Sometimes we need to stop and take stock of where we’ve been. And since I’ve been exploring some of the Willett brands lately and I happen to have a bottle of both Willett Rye and Bourbon this seems like a nice time to look back at a couple bottles I haven’t evaluated in a while. 

Willett Family Estate Bottled Single Barrel Bourbon

Purchase Info: $118 for a 750 mL at Willett Distillery, Bardstown, KY

Details: 12 years old. Barrel# 1270. 59.2% ABV

Nose: Toffee, cocoa and oak. 

Mouth: Hot and spicy but sweet as well. Starts similar to the nose with nice sweet notes of cocoa and toffee playing with a spicy note that is similar to ginger on a solid foundation of oak.

Finish: Sweet and spicy. Numbs the mouth. Very long.

Willett Family Estate Bottled Single Barrel Rye

Purchase info: You know how when you are on vacation and having fun you don’t always think of keeping the paperwork? That happened this time. All I know is it was bought in September in Kentucky for some money.

Details: 7 years old. Barrel# 94. 57.8% ABV.

Nose: Mint, black pepper, oak and a slight fruitiness.

Mouth: Spicy, though not overly hot, with notes of mint, cloves and pickle juice.

Finish: Long and sweet. Numbs the mouth. Lingering warmth in the chest. 

Thoughts: Both of these are great examples of why you want someone with a great palate choosing your single barrel whiskies. A 12 year old bourbon could easily be over-oaked. Not this one. It’s got a solid oak presence but is sweet and rich instead of woody and tannic. Same with the rye. A 7 year old MGP is often nothing special. This one however is rich and delicious. 

A heart becasue I love these

It’s been a while since I evaluated a Willett Single Barrel instead of just enjoying them. My advice hasn’t changed though. Have a budget and stick to it. At the gift shop, have a budget and buy the oldest one inside of it. You won’t be disappointed at any level so don’t feel like you need to bust your budget to get the best. At a store, if you are lucky enough to have this in your local, have a budget and stick to it. If this is inside your budget, buy it. I’ve yet to find one of any age that wasn’t quite tasty.


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