Thanksgiving is upon us, which means the holiday season is in full swing. 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 it was founded in 2008, Balcones was well ahead of the artisanal distillation curve. His approach was to expand American whiskey beyond the realm of bourbon in an innovative way. That said, they continue to make traditional bourbon but also single malt, rye, and corn smoked whiskeys. They even distill rum. The original small distillery in Waco, Texas, has given way to a new facility located in the old building of the city’s fire department. A great place to visit for a visit, a tasting and a cocktail.
One to try: Single Malt Balconies
One of the first true single malts to appear on the artisanal distillation scene in the United States. The soft notes of baked pear and stewed apple are mixed with cinnamon, cloves and oak spices. It tastes like Christmas.
This Kentucky distillery produces many well-known brands by connoisseurs of American whiskey, such as revered names such as Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, Thomas H. Handy and Weller. Some of the limited editions produced by these are among the most collectible spirits in the world. Buffalo Trace regular bourbon is fabulous and highly respected by bartenders and highly acclaimed in spirits contests. Perfect for mixing classic bourbon cocktails like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
One to try: Buffalo Trace Bourbon
This flagship bourbon of the distillery is produced in batches of no more than 40 barrels and aged in historic warehouses. The notes of vanilla, coconut, toffee and cinnamon spices take center 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 indicated her intention to marry him wearing a bouquet 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 fermented with one of the five varieties of yeast. They are then combined in different amounts to create each whiskey.
One to try: small batch of four roses
This appears annually and consistently wins the best awards around the world. Usually made up of just four of these different bourbons with notes of vanilla, golden syrup, all spices and pineapple.
The best-selling American whiskey in the world with more than 12.5 million boxes sold a year. The distillery grew from humble roots in the 1870s and was founded by Jasper Newton Daniel, who took the nickname “Jack” somewhere along the way. Ironically, Jack’s hometown, Lynchburg, Tennessee, is in a dry county. This means that Tennessee whiskey cannot be sold or consumed in its own local area, except at the distillery store.
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 list of American whiskeys would not be complete without Jack and Jim. Jim Beam has a great heritage of whiskey and was founded by Jacob Boehm in 1795. He was a German immigrant whose surname 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 this position. He is the great-grandson of Colonel James B. Beam, known as ‘Jim’. Jim Beam is the best-selling bourbon in the world.
One to try: Jim Beam Devil’s Cut
This bourbon resort is stunning. The “devil’s cut” is the opposite of the “angel part,” and refers to the whiskey that remains trapped in the wood of a barrel. This is shaken to give an extra bite.
Founded by a team of husbands and wives in 2008, this Chicago-based distillery was the first to produce whiskey in Illinois since the era of Prohibition. They use a field approach to the bottle once the organic grains are obtained. From then on, nothing comes out of the distillery until it is in a bottle. They mix a variety of grains to create a quirky but excellent range that celebrates specific types of cereals such as millet, rye and wheat. They also produce one award-winning gin.
One to try: Koval Millet
This grain is rarely used to make whiskey, but Koval has done so with great effect. The result gives notes again in addition to oatmeal cookies and spices for the oven.
The closest uncle
Another Tennessee whiskey. This emerging brand, and in particular the person who bears the name, played an important role 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 the young Jasper Newton Daniel and taught him about distillation. A new distillery is producing spirit to honor Green’s legacy and heritage.
One To Try: Uncle Nearest 1856
It is a pair of maple whiskeys filtered with charcoal, which have since been 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 artisanal revolution. His goal was to make single malt, but not following the well-milled Scottish route which makes the most. The innovative use of five different types of malt (six for the troubled expression) gives their spirits a wonderful depth and character.
Downtown Seattle’s distillery is a must-see with a great tour, a tasting room, and the opportunity to fill your own bottle straight from a barrel.
One to try: Westland Peated
There aren’t many smoked American whiskeys, but this is a revelation. Stimulating notes of green apple, citrus zest and toasted almond accentuate the deliciously dry peat smoke.
WhistlePig is a brand of pure rye whiskeys that are initially distilled and ripened in Canada. However, the spirits move to WhistlePig Farm, in the state of Vermont, where they complete their maturation journey. The brand is one of the few in America that constantly shows age statements on its products. They are helping to bring rye whiskey, often seen as a poor relative of bourbon, back to the forefront.
One to try: WhistlePig 10 years
Made 100% with rye, it shows a great combination of creaminess and spiciness. Vanilla and marzipan are mixed with baking spices, herbs and dark chocolate.
Another classic bourbon that is distilled three times 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 taken on race day. Other varieties of whiskey are also produced, such as malt, rye and wheat. They have also recently begun to mature in unorthodox barrels, 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 favorite of bartenders. Creamy and soft with notes of honey, vanilla and delicate spices and cocoa.