Drinking alone gets a bad rap, but there’s having a drink alone and then there’s really drinking alone, getting after it, sitting on a creaky chair the garage with a case of Keystone and no real plans to speak of except to power through it. Be careful with that. But in the first scenario a man comes home after a long day at work, or reaches beneath his desk around 6:00 p.m., puts The Best of Dean Martin on the phonograph, starts nodding to the music, feels a little blue when “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You” comes on, and pours himself a measure of something good and strong. During a recent six o’clock hour we opened up a bottle of Lock Stock & Barrel ($118) straight rye whiskey — and it’s just about as smooth and rich as Dino’s voice.
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More on the taste soon, because there are three other interesting things going on here outside of the nosing and the tasting. The most obvious is that rye sales are on the rise, bouyed by whiskey drinkers exploring related spirits and the flourishing cocktail scene, which often leans on classic rye-based drinks like the Manhattan and the Sazerac. Some of the more recognizable rye brands are Van Winkle, Bulleit and Rittenhouse, but there are many others behind the stick, from big guns like Wild Turkey to upstarts of the Ravenswood variety.
The second is simply to note that while this increasingly popular spirit must be made of 51 percent rye (just as bourbon is at least 51 percent corn) in the U.S. to earn its place in the category, the rules are different in Canada, where rye might just include a small fraction of mash bill. Lock Stock & Barrel is a straight rye whiskey, distilled 100 percent from rye and aged for 13 years in newly charred American oak barrels. This kind of age on a rye makes it a relative outlier among competitors.
Another said, “It’s like velveteen caramel.” “You mean velvety?” we asked. “Velveteen is imitation velvet.” “Oh, right”, he said.
And finally, and perhaps most interestingly, this rye comes from Cooper Spirits Co., which launched in 2006 with the introduction of St-Germain, the wildly popular elderflower liqueur you’ve likely had in a cocktail or splashed into some sparkling wine. There’s plenty of distilling chops in the family — Robert Cooper is a third-generation distiller — but Lock Stock & Barrel just feels a little different than other rye we’ve had from familiar whiskey brands. You can tell it comes from a different portfolio, that it’s almost cautiously related, like the brother who went off to Princeton and comes home on Thanksgiving in a cashmere sweater and boat shoes.
It’s what we sort of want to call a lifestyle rye: the bottle is lush black glass with a slick label and a cork closure. It feels expensive. It is expensive. And it tastes luxurious, big and round with salty, buttery caramel, vanilla, all kinds of oils and spices from distant lands, toasty oak and a finish that hangs on for a while. One taster called it “a spice lover’s dream”. Another said, “It’s like velveteen caramel.” “You mean velvety?” we asked. “Velveteen is imitation velvet.” “Oh, right”, he said.
If you invest in a bottle like this, call it anything you want. It’s your six o’clock ritual. We’ll be sipping it neat and shuffling around the room to “Volare”, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a splash of sweet vermouth and bitters and one of those fancy cherries and call it a Manhattan. Just don’t call it drinking alone.