Distiller Rob Cooper | Lock, Stock & Barrel Rye Whiskey - Find. Eat. Drink.

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Rob Cooper - The Cooper Spirits Co.



Why Rye?

Robert grew up in the distilling business (his father and grandfather were in the business) and seeded a passion for rye whiskey when his father passed along some family history to him. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, Rittenhouse Rye was doing so well that the Continental Distilling company, which distilled Rittenhouse at the time, borrowed warehouse space at his grandfather’s facility, located within the Philadelphia city limits, in Port Richmond. After discovering this, Rob was on a rye “archeological dig” at the overflow rickhouse (barrel house), hoping to unearth an old barrel of Rittenhouse. It was this seed that sparked the search for barrels of straight rye whiskey.

Back in 2006 and 2007, he was launching St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur and talking to the New york City bartenders. It was the upswing in New York City cocktail culture with Audrey Saunders at Pegu Club, David Kaplan was opening Death & Co, along with Brian Miller, and Phil Ward of Mayahuel. “We were having this discourse about a lot of spirit categories, but particularly straight rye. We would wonder why we could only get Old Overholt and Rittenhouse straight ryes. At that time, straight rye was dimly treated and almost looked down upon in the industry.”

Finding Rye

“It turns out they were making a straight rye whiskey solely for the purpose of blending for their Canadian Whiskey.”

Knowing the business, he called around to his friends and connections in search of barrels of straight rye to kick off his next venture in spirits. “I went to all the usual suspects: Rittenhouse, Beam, Sazerac, Heaven Hill, and KBD (Kentucky Bourbon Distillery). Nobody wanted to sell anything because demand had started to pick up and they needed it.”

Having come up dry in the United States in late 2007 and early 2008, he headed north to Alberta, Canada to meet with Jeff Kosak of Alberta Distillers. “My first thought was that there was no way this was legit. I jumped on a plane to go see for myself and just started tasting barrels.” It turns out they were making a straight rye whiskey solely for the purpose of blending for their Canadian Whiskey. After two tasting trips and some research, Rob fell in love with the only option available to him. It was the nuances of the project that started to attract him:

- 100% rye mash bill

- with koji used for the enzymatic conversion

- cold weather matured

- double copper pot distilled

- meticulous cuts taken during distilling

- a very clean resulting spirit

- with an abrasive rye character.

At this point, the rye was 8 and 9 years old and he bought as much as he could afford, which is still less than he wanted. Bear in mind, that he still owned St. Germain at this point. He wasn’t ready to bottle it at this young age, but he saw, well, took a leap of faith with the potential. “It was super bitter and abrasive, and almost too intense. I decided to just sit on it.”

Why 13 Years?

“It might sound a little hokey, but I think there is an magical element of time in the maturation process.”

Over the years, he kept tasting and tasting, checking on his barrels maturing in the cold. “It might sound a little hokey, but I think there is an magical element of time in the maturation process. There is something about it in the variable of time that is irreplaceable. You can’t just throw some wood chips or staves in there or use smaller barrels and think you are going to come out with the same end product as a whiskey that’s been resting for 10 or 15 years.”

“Particularly for straight rye whiskey, there is something about the ratio of wood contact to new-made spirit in a 52-gallon barrel, along with the variable of time, the size of the pores of the wood and the absorption, the expansion and contraction of the wood. All of those little nuances that allow the whiskey to absorb the perfect balance over the duration to make a good whiskey.”

Beyond just the aging of whiskey, there is the component of geography. The colder weather of Canada means the barrels expand and contract much less than the warmer weather of Kentucky. This means whiskey matures and changes at a different rate. Lock, Stock & Barrel is matured in cold weather in new charred wood, which means it will mature less quickly over a longer duration of time. Rob’s a firm believer in the diminishing returns of aging straight rye whiskey. “Of the Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, I think the 15 year is the best, the 20 year is really amazing, but I don’t like their 23 year.” The Pappy 23 Year Old has a little too much astringency and the feeling like you are chewing on a piece of wood. If you draw a bell curve for straight whiskey, depending where it is stored, 15 years might be the sweet spot.

When the whiskey turned 10 years old, “it was still a little bit abrasive and bitter on the finish.” He was looking for a rounder finish and balance. “For me a quality spirit is all about balance.” At 11 years, it still wasn’t there yet. “It kept improving though, which gave me a sense of optimism. It wasn’t until it got to 13 years that the balance came through. It was really getting good and I thought it needed to be shared with some people.”

Tasting It

“It’s a bit like the big, mean and savage-looking bouncer at the bar, who happens to be a total cream-puff.”

“The front palette is pretty bold. You get winter spice, aggressive rye bread, and tobacco notes. It’s almost a little off putting, but the mid-palette has a more fruit, sweet character to it, intertwined with the savageness. It all comes around in the end and it’s that finish that really is what caused me to think that it was ready to shared. It’s really well balanced. It’s a bit like the big, mean and savage-looking bouncer at the bar, who happens to be a total cream-puff.”

Lock, Stock & Barrel on a rock and in an Old Fashioned

Photo Credit: Find. Eat. Drink.

Drinking It

“There is something humbling and roguish about drinking expensive whiskey out of a plastic cup.”

It really comes to life with a little bit of dilution. It becomes almost magical. I love a couple of ounces of it over a big chunk of ice. Get some of those silicon square cube makers from Cocktail Kingdom and enjoy it with one of those blocks of ice.

There’s a time and a place for everything. There’s a time for drinking it out of a really nice, heavy crystal glass. Drinking good whiskey out of a quality glass makes it kind of ceremonious. But there’s also a time to be mischievous. There is something humbling and roguish about drinking expensive whiskey out of a plastic cup.

On a super hot day in August, you might not want Lock, Stock & Barrel neat. You might want it over a giant mound of crush ice, with some mint in it and a bar spoon of sugar. That would be pretty awesome.


“I was afraid that at cask strength it was too much of a flavor bomb.”

Although it’s 101.3 proof, it is not a cask strength / barrel proof whiskey. Straight out of the barrel it’s in the 130 proof range. Rob wanted a straight rye whiskey that would have punch, but wouldn’t be overpowering. “I was afraid that at cask strength it was too much of a flavor bomb and people wouldn’t get beyond that.” At the bottled strength, he feels it is balanced, but is still “an intense, robust whiskey.” He recommends tasting it neat first, “without any other constituents other than the spirit itself.” He was looking for a “good balance between where it is drinkable out of the bottle, neat and also with a big chunk of ice.”

More To Come

“We’ve only scratched the surface.”

The 13 year rye is their first release of the small quantity he acquired, but there are plans for subsequent releases. “We’ve only scratched the surface. I think it is going to continue to improve, primarily because of the weather and the slower maturation process.” He tastes the whiskey every two to three months and is very bullish on the direction the whiskey is taking. He’s not going to take it too far though. “The second I start to feel there is a plateauing of the flavor profile, I’ll bottle everything and sell it. We have a bond that just turned 14 years old and it’s a little bit more intense, but it’s still not like over the top.”




General Information

Lock, Stock & Barrel Rye Whiskey



The Cooper Spirits Co.




Old Fashioned Recipe


Serves 1

Glass: Old Fashioned

Ice: Large Cube

Garnish:  Lemon Twist. You can use an orange twist, but the true Old Fashioned uses a lemon twist.


- Bar spoon sugar + bar spoon of water (or 1/2 ounce of simple syrup instead of sugar and water)

- Two good dashes Angostura Bitters

- 2 oz. Overproof Straight Whiskey (Bourbon or Rye)

Whiskey Preference

My friend just played this trick on me and made me an Old Fashioned with Lock, Stock & Barrel. It was fantastic, possibly the best Old Fashioned I ever had. If I didn’t have my hands on a bottle of Lock, Stock & Barrel, I would use Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year or George T. Stagg. I like drinking an Old Fashioned with George T. Stagg because it’s such a heavy hitting, baseball bat over the head spirit. Elijah Craig 12 Year is also really good.


1) In an Old Fashioned glass, add the sugar and wet with two good dashes of Angostura Bitters and the bar spoon of water.

2) Muddle the sugar, water and the bitters.

3) Rotate the glass to line the glass with sugar / bitters mixture.

4) Add a large ice cube.

5) Add the whiskey and stir.

6) Garnish with lemon twist.

7) Let it sit for a minute and serve.



Cocktails in NYC

Download the F.E.D. iPhone app and discover where Rob Cooper loves to drink cocktails in New York City as well as many more recommendations from chefs, sommeliers and bartenders.


Photo Credit: Find. Eat. Drink.