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Hochstadter’s 16 Year Old Cask Strength Rye vs Alberta Premium Rye Whiskey Comparison Review

Hochstadter’s 16 Year Old Cask Strength Rye vs Alberta Premium Rye Whiskey Comparison Review

Today’s review focuses on two brands that bottle rye whiskey from the same source, but with big differences in age. Cooper Spirits Company based out of Philadelphia, PA owns a range of spirits brands that include Lock Stock & Barrel and this bottle of Hochstadter’s Family Reserve 16 Year Old Rye Whiskey you see before you. Founder Robert J. Cooper sourced a large number of rye whiskey barrels from Alberta Distillery in 2015 prior to his passing. These barrels have served as the backbone of both brand’s aged rye whiskey labels ever since.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Alberta Distillery also has a collection of whiskies under their own house brand. This bottle of Alberta Premium Cask Strength is somewhat new in the grand scheme of things having only arrived to the market in 2020. For a new release, it achieved remarkable success both commercially and in regards to spirits awards. One of those awards happened to be Jim Murray’s annual “Whiskey of the Year.”

Every fall, Jim Murray’s “Whiskey Bible” is released. Back before there was a whiskey reviewer on every street corner shouting which whiskey you should buy (like me!), Jim Murray was considered one of the few reliable sources for knowing which whiskies were better than others. He claims to taste several thousand whiskies each year. This results in some speculation on his claims as the rough math would work out to him reviewing anywhere from 10 to 13 whiskies EVERY DAY.

In 2020, Murray released his updated Bible (which always carries the date of the upcoming year) where he crowned Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye Whisky as the top whiskey in the world. Whiskey enthusiasts nationwide scratched their heads and took to the internet to find out more details on this bottle. It turns out the reason that nobody seemed to have experienced it was that the first release (65.1% ABV) was available only in Canada. Enthusiasts scrambled to the secondary market to find bottles, but they were few and far between. They didn’t have to wait long because less than 2 months later, Alberta Premium hit the shelves in the United States. The bottles were grabbed up instantly. But wait a minute, the proof wasn’t the same. In fact, the bottles that were for sale in the US were slightly higher in proof; coming in at an eye-watering 66% ABV (132 proof).

It felt like all of the hype directed towards this Alberta Premium release completely disregarded the fact that we had all already been drinking rye whiskey from Alberta Distillery for a long time now. Just off the top of my head, common sources of Alberta include Whistlepig, Lock Stock and Barrel, Hochstadter’s, Masterson’s, Down Home (their new 17yr, 126 proof release) and even Jefferson’s (who once used a batch of 10 year old barrels). I’m sure I’m missing many more. But my point is that rye whiskey lovers should have already formed an opinion on if they liked this type of whiskey or not. If you are like me, sometimes you just can’t stop the FOMO once it’s started. So I ran out to buy a bottle just to see if it contained any of the magic that Jim Murray said it had.

This review has been a long time coming and by time I got done with it, 2 other Alberta Premium releases have come out. So even though this review is very tardy, I hope to find out is just how much we can expect from this Non-Age Stated (rumored to be around 5 years old), 100% rye mash bill whiskey from our friends up north. I decided to compare it directly against the Hochstadter’s 16 to see if a whiskey costing three times as much (and having three times as many years spent in the barrel) would soundly defeat the new guy in town. I got out my trusty glencairn to take a deeper look.

Tasting Notes

Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye Whiskey (2021, 66.0% ABV)

Nose: The nose can be summed up by using experiences rather than actual scents. It is bright, crisp and clean. But to give you a better sense of what it’s like in terms of scents you would actually know, it smells like what the commercials for laundry detergent suggest their products smell like. Namely, clothes drying on a clothesline on a spring day in the sunshine. This rye evokes all of the scents you’d associate with that; i.e. botanicals, wildflowers, lilacs and roses. Also another descriptor comes to mind: “perfume.” Additionally, scents like caramel, honey and savory herbal notes (but not as much mint as I would’ve thought) were also found.

Palate: Wow! At 132 proof, this lights a fire. The mouthfeel and flavors are still light and refreshing but the proof wants to punch a hole through my cheeks to escape. There are more botanical flavors to include potpourri. Sugary biscuits, after-dinner mints and mint jelly combine with flavors of orange peel, cinnamon and coriander. The whole sip is thick and satisfying and bursting with the tastes of springtime.

Finish: Lingering notes of orange and lemon peel, cinnamon, clove and coriander. Sweet grass, rose petals, peppermint. White and black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, honey and a touch of oak and leather. The finish is a very complex affair, and the high proof propels it to higher levels while lasting longer. What a fun ride this has been.

Score: 7.8/10

Hochstadter’s 16 Year Old Cask Strength Rye Whiskey

Nose: Holy Canadian Rye Batman! If there is one rye that smells the most like a Canadian Rye, this is it. The nose is like walking into a flower shop with freshly mopped floors that used Pine-sol. The floral blossoms give the essence of “sweetness” even though no particularly sweet trait sticks out to me. There’s roses, mums, and tulip blooms galore. I also get some fruity scents with raspberries, blackberries and orange zest. I don’t find as much aged wood notes (strange for being 16 years old) but the wood I’m picking up is more like freshly sawn oak instead of toasted or charred oak.

Palate: The sweetness on the tongue is almost on par with a brandy. There’s a tartness within that takes me back to my childhood of rhubarb pies, black cherry Capri Suns and white grape juice concentrate. It’s extremely odd, but I’m digging it. There’s also some ginger root rolling around to amp up the heat, which is still making itself known despite 16 years in the barrel to mellow out.

Finish: Loads of herbal notes stick around on the finish. There are waves of mint, pine and licorice. The cooling menthol effect reminds me of Ricola Cough Drops. Honey and white grape juice notes still remain from the palate and allow some sweetness to be present.

Score: 7.8/10

In the end, a tie score was the last thing I was thinking would happen between these two. I have many friends that absolutely love the Hochstadter’s unique profile and are eager to buy more if they could ever find them (only 7500 bottles were produced). But to me the Hoch failed to show the aged characteristics that the barrels could have brought… had it been aged in a climate like Kentucky. Ultimately, the Hoch is a lesson in “more is not always more” as far as the price goes. I found the same level of enjoyment in the Alberta Premium for a third of the price.

Speaking of Alberta Premium, I am almost certain that many of you will not have the same experience that I had with this bottle. For inexperienced enthusiasts, it’s a whiskey that will come off as too hot. For wealthy drinkers who demand highly aged spirits, this will come off as too young and wild (although I would argue fiercely about the former). But for the rye whiskey lover that can look past national borders and respect a good rye whiskey when they see it, this one can do it all. Bright floral scents, citrus, mint and a touch of age, it really is a very solid product. What’s more, the price and proof are almost unbeatable.

It’s a common trend for Alberta-sourced ryes to only have two of the following three traits at any one time: high proof, high age statements and low price. With high proof and high age statements, the price I’ve seen easily crests the $200 threshold, just like this bottle of Hoch 16. Low-proofed Alberta with high age statements tend to be cheaper (like Jefferson’s 10yr rye or recent sub-105 proof Whistlepig Single Barrels) but the flavor quality seems poor. Where Alberta Premium seems to shine is by showing us that you can have high proof and low price without sacrificing flavor (oak is a different story, however).

So if you’re the kind of rye whiskey person who seeks out a sip that challenges your tastebuds and seems to last forever, then you can’t do much better than Alberta Premium. I don’t think it’s quite up to par to get an award like Whiskey of the Year, but once you factor in the value, it’s damn close. If you are into rye whiskies that evoke springtime memories, this is your bottle.

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