Thanksgiving is here and as Americans across the globe celebrate the harvest and give thanks, the attention of the whisky world turns towards the States. From the traditional bourbons of Kentucky to the new wave of artisanal distillers, there is 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.
When founded in 2008, Balcones was well ahead of the craft-distilling curve. Their approach was to expand American whisky beyond the realm of bourbon in an innovative way. That said, they continue to make traditional bourbon but also single malt, rye, corn and smoked whiskies. They even distil rum. The original tiny distillery in Waco, Texas has given way to a new facility housed in the town’s old fire department building. 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 appear from America’s artisan distilling scene. Mellow notes of baked pear and stewed apple mingle with cinnamon, clove and oak spices. Tastes like Christmas.
This Kentucky distillery produces many brands known to American whiskey connoisseurs including revered names such as Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, Thomas H. Handy and Weller. Some of the limited editions produced by these are amongst the most highly collectable spirits in the world. The regular Buffalo Trace bourbon is fabulous and highly respected by bartenders and highly awarded in spirits competitions. Perfect for mixing classic bourbon cocktails like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
One To Try: Buffalo Trace Bourbon
This flagship bourbon from the distillery is produced in batches of no more than 40 barrels and aged in historic warehouses. Notes of vanilla, coconut, toffee and cinnamon spice take centre stage.
This historic Kentucky bourbon dates back to 1888 and its name is the result of a love story after founder Paul Jones Jr. proposed to a local woman. She signalled her intention to marry him by wearing a corsage of four red roses. The distillery is unusual as 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 different quantities to create each whiskey.
One To Try: Four Roses Small Batch
This appears annually and consistently wins top awards around the world. Commonly made up of just four of those different bourbons with notes of vanilla, golden syrup, all-spice and pineapple.
The world’s biggest selling American whiskey with over 12.5 million cases sold per year. The distillery grew from humble roots in the 1870s and was founded by Jasper Newton Daniel, who picked up the nickname ‘Jack’ somewhere along the way. Ironically, Jack’s hometown of Lynchburg, Tennessee is in a dry county. This means the Tennessee whiskey cannot be sold or consumed within its own local area, except at the distillery’s own shop.
One To Try: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel
A serious step up from the best-selling Old No.7. This premium whiskey is selected one barrel at a time by the Master Distiller. Deeply rich and spicy with notes of toffee, nuts and cereals.
Any American whiskey list would not be complete without Jack and Jim. Jim Beam has great whiskey heritage and was founded by Jacob Boehm in 1795. He was a German immigrant whose surname was later anglicised 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 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 cask. This is shaken out to give extra bite.
Founded by a husband and wife team in 2008, this Chicago-based distillery was the first to produce whiskey in Illinois since the Prohibition era. They operate a field-to-bottle approach once the organic grains are sourced. From then, nothing leaves the distillery until it is in a bottle. A variety of grains are mixed together to create a quirky but excellent range that celebrates specific cereal types 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 have done it to great effect. The result gives nutty notes plus oat biscuits and baking spice.
Another whiskey from Tennessee. This up-and-coming brand, and in particular the person it is named after, played a major role in the history of its illustrious neighbour Jack Daniel’s. Nathan Green, known as ‘Uncle Nearest’, was the first known master distiller in the USA of African-American origin. He nurtured young Jasper Newton Daniel and taught him about distillation. A new distillery is now producing spirit to honour Green’s legacy and heritage.
One To Try: Uncle Nearest 1856
This is a marriage of maple charcoal filtered whiskeys, which have then been aged for 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 following the well-trodden Scottish route that most do. Innovative use of five different malt types (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 opportunity to fill your own bottle straight from a barrel.
One To Try: Westland Peated
There are not many smoky American whiskies but this one is a revelation. Uplifting notes of green apple, citrus zest and toasted almond accentuate deliciously drying peat smoke.
WhistlePig is a brand of straight rye whiskies that are actually distilled and initially matured in Canada. However, the spirits 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 show age statements on their products. They are helping to bring rye whiskey, often seen as a poor relation to 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. Vanilla and marzipan mix with warming baking spice, leafy herbs and dark chocolate.
Another classic bourbon that is triple distilled through copper pot stills in Versailles, Kentucky. Woodford Reserve has a long association with the famous Kentucky Derby horse race and the Mint Julep, the traditional cocktail sipped on race day. Other varieties of whiskey are also produced there including malt, rye and wheat. Recently they have also started maturing in unorthodox cask types, such as brandy 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 is a real bartenders favourite. Creamy and soft with honey, vanilla and delicate spice and cocoa notes.