— Raymond Chandler
Everyone from cocktail chemists to casual sippers can tell you that these are exciting times for American whiskey. Across the country, small-batch distilleries are making craft whiskies and blends – often from organic and locally sourced materials – with character and complexities rarely tasted before. In fact, consumption of domestically produced whiskey is up 30% in the past decade. Best of all, women are now 37% of the spirit’s fans, with more becoming passionate about whiskey’s unique subtleties every day.
A quick overview: All American whiskeys are distilled from fermented grains to no more than 80% alcohol and aged in charred new oak containers. Rye whiskey is made from a mash that is at least 51% rye grain. Bourbon is made from at least 51% corn mash. Tennessee whiskey is bourbon filtered through maple charcoal prior to cask aging (Scotch and Irish whiskey, by regulation, must come from Scotland and Ireland). Corn whiskey is fermented from an 80% corn mash and often only briefly aged. All American whiskeys have their own distinguishing characteristics, which are then further enhanced by individual distillers and their proprietary processes.
So where to start? Much like the craft beer revolution, you start by exploring and begin discovering. Does your palate prefer light, smooth, smoky or bold? Like fine wines, American whiskeys have different flavor notes and tones imparted by region and soil, fermentation, aging and casks. And in the same ways you’d evaluate a wine, a whiskey should be assessed for its color, bouquet, its taste and texture complexities, and often surprising finishes.
Lately I’ve been enjoying the whiskeys from High West, a small-batch distillery near Park City, Utah that is consistently proving what can be accomplished with distinctive blends and craft spirits. Their ‘Rendezvous Rye’ is a terrific traditional rye whiskey with big, multifaceted spices, including cocoa, mint and fennel. ‘Double Rye’ is a favorite, with surprising herb notes throughout its nose, taste and finish. Their ‘American Prairie’ bourbon is a rich and earthy blend of straight bourbons that tastes equally great neat or in cocktails. ‘Campfire’ blends bourbon, rye and Scotch for a big round taste that brings together gentle smoke with bright notes. But their ‘Midwinter Nights Dram’ is my hands-down favorite, a blend of aged rye whiskeys with warm notes of vanilla, cinnamon and caramel, followed by a long, fruity finish. The distillery also makes a barreled Manhattan called ‘The 36th Vote’, as well as a rye Negroni they call ‘The Barreled Boulevardier’. Both are excellent, as are all company’s other products. We have the full line at Broadway Dive.
In fact, we carry over 50 American bourbons, nearly 30 ryes, and over a dozen Tennessee whiskeys and corn liquors for you to discover. Your new favorite American whiskey is waiting.