Thanksgiving is here and as Americans around the world celebrate and give thanks for the harvest, the whiskey world’s focus is on the United States. From Kentucky’s traditional bourbons to the new wave of craft distillers, there’s more diversity coming out of the country than ever before.
There are many to choose from, but here are 10 brands worth trying from the Land of the Free.
Founded in 2008, Balcones was way ahead of the craft distilling curve. Their approach was to take American whiskey outside the realm of bourbon in an innovative way. That said, they continue to make traditional bourbon, as well as single malt, rye, corn, and smoked whiskeys. They even distill rum. The original small distillery in Waco, Texas has given way to a new facility, housed in the city’s old firehouse. A great place to visit for a tour, tasting and cocktail.
One to try: Balcones Single Malt
One of the first true single malts to come out of America’s craft distillation scene. Soft notes of baked pear and stewed apple mingle with cinnamon, cloves and oak spice. Tastes like Christmas.
This Kentucky distillery produces many brands well known to American whiskey connoisseurs, including respected names like Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, Thomas H. Handy, and Weller. Some of the limited editions they produce are among the most collectible spirits in the world. The regular Buffalo Trace bourbon is fantastic and highly respected by bartenders and highly rated in spirits competitions. Perfect for mixing classic bourbon cocktails like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
One to try: Buffalo Trace Bourbon
This distillery’s flagship bourbon is produced in batches of no more than 40 barrels and aged in historic warehouses. Notes of vanilla, coconut, toffee and cinnamon spice take center stage.
Dating back to 1888, this historic Kentucky bourbon takes its name from a love story after founder Paul Jones Jr. proposed to a local woman. She indicated that she intended to marry him by wearing a corsage of four red roses. The distillery is unusual in that they make 10 different types of bourbon – two mashbills (one high in rye and the other low) are then fermented using one of five different yeast strains. These are then combined in varying amounts to make each whiskey.
One to try: four roses small batch
This comes out annually and consistently wins top prizes around the world. Usually composed of just four of those different bourbons with notes of vanilla, golden syrup, all-spice and pineapple.
The world’s best-selling American whiskey with over 12.5 million cases sold annually. Growing from humble roots in the 1870s, the distillery was founded by Jasper Newton Daniel, who picked up the nickname ‘Jack’ somewhere along the way. Ironically, Jack’s hometown, Lynchburg, Tennessee is in a dry county. This means that the Tennessee whiskey cannot be sold or consumed in its native environment, except in the distillery’s own shop.
One to try: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel
A serious step forward from the bestselling Old No.7. This premium whiskey is selected barrel by barrel by the Master Distiller. Deeply rich and spicy with notes of toffee, nuts and grains.
Any American whiskey list wouldn’t be complete without Jack and Jim. Jim Beam has a great whiskey heritage and was founded in 1795 by Jacob Boehm. He was a German immigrant whose last name was later Anglicized to Beam. The distillery is located in Clermont, Kentucky and the Master Distiller, Fred Noe, is the seventh generation of the family to hold that position. He is the great-grandson of Colonel James B. Beam, who was known as ‘Jim’. Jim Beam is the best-selling bourbon in the world.
One to try: Jim Beam Devil’s Cut
This complex bourbon is stunning. The ‘devil’s cut’ is the opposite of the ‘angel’s share’, and refers to whiskey that remains trapped in the wood of a barrel. This is shaken out to give extra bite.
Founded by a married couple in 2008, this Chicago distillery was the first to produce whiskey in Illinois since the Prohibition era. They take a field-to-bottle approach once the organic grains are sourced. From then on, nothing leaves the distillery until it’s in a bottle. A variety of grains are blended together to create a quirky yet excellent range that celebrates specific grains including millet, rye and wheat. They also produce an award-winning gin.
One to try: Koval Millet
This grain is rarely used to make whiskey, but Koval has done it with great success. The result is nutty notes plus oat biscuits and baking spices.
Another Tennessee whiskey. This emerging brand, and in particular the person it is named after, played a huge part in the history of its illustrious neighbor Jack Daniel’s. Nathan Green, known as ‘Uncle Nearest’, was the first known master distiller in the US of African American descent. He raised young Jasper Newton Daniel and taught him about distillation. A new distillery is now producing spirit to honor Green’s legacy and heritage.
One to try: Uncle Nearest 1856
This is a marriage of maple filtered whiskeys, which are then aged between eight and 14 years. Notes of vanilla, brown sugar, chocolate and cinnamon lead the way.
Along with Balcones and Koval, this distillery was one of the true pioneers of the American craft revolution. Their goal was to make single malt, but not go the well-trodden Scottish route that most do. Innovative use of five different malts (six for the peated expression) gives their spirits wonderful depth and character.
The distillery in downtown Seattle is a must-visit with an excellent tour, tasting room, and option to fill your own bottle straight from a cask.
One to try: Westland Peated
There aren’t many smoky American whiskeys out there, but this one is a revelation. Uplifting notes of green apple, citrus zest and toasted almond highlight wonderfully drying peat smoke.
WhistlePig is a brand of pure rye whiskeys that are actually distilled and initially matured in Canada. The ghosts are then transferred to WhistlePig Farm in the state of Vermont, where they complete their maturation journey. The brand is one of the few in America to consistently display age markings on their products. They are helping to bring rye whiskey, often seen as having a bad relationship with bourbon, back to the fore.
One to try: WhistlePig 10 years old
Made from 100% rye, this shows a great combination of creaminess and spiciness. Mix of vanilla and marzipan with warming baking herbs, leaf herbs and dark chocolate.
Another classic bourbon triple distilled through copper stills in Versailles, Kentucky. Woodford Reserve has a long association with the famous Kentucky Derby horse race and the Mint Julep, the traditional cocktail drunk on race day. Other types of whiskey are also produced, including malt, rye and wheat. Recently, they have also been maturing in unorthodox cask types, such as cognac and red wine, for their premium Master’s Collection range.
One to try: Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Woodford’s flagship whiskey, this bourbon is perfect for cocktails and a firm favorite with bartenders. Creamy and smooth with honey, vanilla and delicate spice and cocoa notes.