Finding the best whiskey to buy these days is no easy task. There are about a bazillion bourbons on the shelf next to nearly as many ryes, American single malts, and plain old “whiskeys.” I’m focusing on the latter today, by blind taste testing ten American whiskeys that don’t fall into the major “rye,” “bourbon,” or even “American single malt” categories but are still worth your attention.
For this blind tasting, I picked ten whiskeys that are labeled as “blended whiskey,” “American whiskey,” or simply “whiskey” — sometimes, they’re categorized as “other whiskey” too. There is a throughline here though, in that these whiskeys are often a blend of barrels that disallow them from falling into the bourbon, rye, and even American single malt brackets. Both bourbon and rye need to be aged in new American oak (amongst other regulations) and American single malt needs to be made with 100 percent barley. These whiskeys are a mish-mash of bourbons, ryes, single malts, and some just plain whiskeys aged in used barrels instead of new ones.
Does that mean these are somehow inferior? Hell no. We don’t need a blind taste test to know that. However, we do need a blind taste test to figure out which ones you should actually add to your bar cart. I also added one blended bourbon ringer to the mix to see if it really was a “stand out” or somehow better than standard American whiskeys.
Our lineup today is:
- Jacob’s Pardon Small Batch American Whiskey Batch #2
- Nelson Bros. Whiskey Classic Bourbon
- F.E.W. Motor Oil Whiskey Finished in Rum and Vermouth Casks
- Mullholland American Whiskey
- Keeper’s Heart Whiskey Irish + Bourbon
- Bardstown Discovery Series #9 Blended Whiskey
- Whiskey War Barrel Proof
- Barrell Private Release Kentucky Whiskey Finished in an Apricot Barrel
- ZZTOP Tres Hombres Texas Whisky
- BLACKENED A Blend of Whiskeys Finished in Black Brandy Casks
Let’s dive in and find you a quality American whiskey to drink this summer!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months
- We Blind Tasted A Whole Bunch Of $30-60 Bourbons To See If Any Could Beat Weller
- We Blind Tasted Classic Bourbons And Were Shocked By The Winner
- The Best Ten-Year-Old Bourbon Whiskeys, Tasted Blind And Ranked
- We Tasted Bourbon Whiskeys ‘Double-Blind’ And Tried To Guess Each Bottle
- All The Double Gold-Winning Straight Bourbons From This Year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Part 1: The Tasting
This whiskey opens with a nose full of honey, chili pepper, and light chocolate with a hint of cumin in the background. The palate is classic with layers of vanilla, caramel, stewed apple, and a touch of soft and sweet grains. The finish is subtle and hits on that chili powder spice while a hint of honey and salty meat lurk in the background.
This is just plain interesting. I’m not sure where it’ll land though. That salty meat vibe was … interesting.
This is very bourbon-forward with clear notes of sour cherry, vanilla oils, soft leather, dry chili spices, warm apple pies, and a hint of bran. The palate takes that bran and turns it into a zucchini bread with walnuts as the vanilla smooths everything out. The sour cherry and woody chili spices return on the warm end to round things out as minty tobacco pops on the very end.
This must be the bourbon. If not, it’s a blend with a hell of a lot of bourbon in it.
This opens with a clear sense of chocolate malts next to dry reeds and rich spice with a slightly floral edge. Think sassafras by way of whole cinnamon and very subtle hibiscus. The palate starts off with a dry chocolate cookie before layering in vanilla husks, brown sugar, and a faint whisper of fat from a brisket smoker. The end lets the brown sugar and dry spices mingle with a thin line of that fatty smoke rounding things out.
This was pretty goddamn nice. It’s unique and one hell of a sipper.
Corn on the cob and vanilla dominate the nose with a hint of fresh bay leaf leading to a faint hint of umami and savory melon. The taste veers into soft vanilla as a line of woody maple syrup leads to a little ethanol and maybe some sourdough bread crusts with a hint of fennel. The end is short and kind of blank with the vanilla and spice giving way to that herbal note.
This tasting is a bit of a roller coaster so far. Down, way up, way back down.
This opens with a rich and moist bran muffin made with molasses next to warm leather, winter spices, and dark dried fruits with a hint of pecan. The palate is malty for a moment before vanilla and mulled wine spices kick in, leading to a mix of roasted nuts and a vanilla-chocolate swirl soft serve cone. The end has a moment of woody spice before fading back towards chocolate malts.
And we’re back up! This is a pretty solid sip but feels a little all over the place on first look.
The nose on this is dense yet inviting with hints of sour apple next to waxy cacao nibs, old boot leather, bruised plums, wet cedar bark braids, soft winter spice, and a hint of wet forest mushroom underneath it all. The palate is ultra lush with creamy vanilla leading things off as layers of cinnamon cake, dry reeds, and a twinge of spicy orange tobacco leaf mingle. The end is pure silk thanks to that vanilla with an accent of chanterelles and stewed plums in a ginger/cinnamon/clove brown sugar syrup base.
Well, this is going to be hard to beat. It’s amazing.
This opens with a light touch of leather next to mild and sweet grains with an orange-cinnamon note buried under some ethanol. The palate is very lemon pepper with light touches of vanilla and dry grass supporting everything. The end is short and slightly muted but leans into lemon oils and vanilla husks with a peppery background.
That roller coaster just took a dive from a very big high. This was a little too “Lemon Pledge” right after a masterpiece.
Apricot jam and creamy peanut butter mingle with mint candy, anise, clove, and sweet black licorice ropes with a secondary layer of spicy, woody tobacco and vanilla cream underneath it all. The palate opens with a sweet bran muffin next to dry porch wicker as dried chili pepper spice warms things up and dried and leather fruit — think dates, dried apricot, and maybe even dried pineapple — balance the taste. The finish is soft yet full of dark fruits, woody spices, and a hint of vanilla cream pipe tobacco.
And we’re back on top! This is another killer whiskey.
This opens with a Digestive Biscuit with a hint of brown butter, brown sugar, and pecan leading to a moment of dried juniper next to floral citrus. The palate is bright with a grapefruit soda vibe — more Fresca than Jarritos — as a moment of cumin dances with some suede, grape must, and a salty cracker. The end leans into the floral side of the citrus while adding in a hint of fresh ginger spice and apple cider cinnamon candies.
I’m not a huge fan of the floral note but it’s so subtle that I can get over it here. This is pretty damn good overall.
The nose is mildly sweet with a hint of honey next to light chili pepper spice, old leather, and burnt sugars with a twinge of butteriness. The palate is fairly classic with a mix of rich vanilla, soft caramel, winter spices, another touch of dried chili pepper, and maple syrup candies. The end dries out with a note of dried straw next to creamy vanilla and a final note of chili tobacco spiciness.
This was pretty nice. It’s not a standout but it’s very solid.
Part 2: The Ranking
10. Mulholland American Whiskey — Taste 4
Average Price: $37
This whiskey from cinematographer Matthew Alper and actor Walton Goggins is a real outlier. The juice is an Indiana whiskey with a mash bill of 94 percent corn, four percent rye, and two percent malted barley. That whiskey is aged in Kentucky before it’s sent to California for blending, proofing, and bottling.
This is where things get interesting. Had I blind tasted this against other high-corn and corn whiskeys, would it have dropped so low? I doubt it. But tasted against this crew of pours, it just didn’t stand up. It was fine but a little ethanol-forward. I think it would make for a great cocktail whiskey though as there’s plenty of build off in this pour.
9. Whiskey War Barrel Proof — Taste 7
Average Price: $50
This whiskey is a blend of high-rye whiskey barrels from Tennessee and Indiana. Those barrels are sent to Columbus, Ohio, where they’re masterfully blended at barrel strength and bottled as-is.
This was fine but a little too lemon-forward for me today. That said, this would really rule in a whiskey sour thanks to exactly that. Still, this ranks this low because of that one note aspect.
8. Jacob’s Pardon Small Batch American Whiskey Batch #2– Taste 1
Average Price: $90
This whiskey leans more into the story behind the label than the story of the juice in the bottle. The whiskey is a 100 percent Tennessee whiskey that’s aged at least eight years. Those barrels are then sent to BC Spirits in Kentucky for bottling in small batches.
This is where things get good to great in this ranking. Overall, this was fine, very drinkable, but not enthralling. It’s the lower side of the good stuff in that I’d use this for cocktails but I doubt I’d reach for it neat or on the rocks.
7. Nelson Bros. Whiskey Classic — Taste 2
Average Price: $47
This whiskey from Tennessess’ Nelson’s Green Brier is a blend of high-rye bourbons. The whiskeys are brought together by the Nelson brothers to meet a “classic” bourbon flavor profile.
This was nice and, yes, classic. And that’s about it. I can see using this in every cocktail from now to the end of the year though. It’s versatile and well-rounded enough to enliven any whiskey cocktail.
6. Keeper’s Heart Whiskey Irish + Bourbon — Taste 5
Average Price: $54
The whiskey from former Irish Distillers Master Distiller Brian Nation marries American whiskey with Irish whiskey on the American prairie of Minnesota. The juice in the bottle is a combination of American bourbon with Irish grain whiskey and Irish pot still whiskey — all over four years old. The idea is to create the ultimate Irish-American whiskey drinking experience.
Does an “Irish-American Whiskey” still count as an “American Whiskey”? Yes. This is a very American whiskey with an Irish backbone. It’s also pretty damn tasty. Overall, I’d drink this on the rocks or in a cocktail.
5. BLACKENED A Blend of Whiskeys Finished in Black Brandy Casks — Taste 10
Average Price: $50
This whiskey from Metallica uses a special “Black Noise” method while finishing the aging process of the booze. The whiskey barrels are exposed to sonic waves which jostle the wood and allow the spirit to interact with the sugars a bit more than usual. The whiskey in those barrels is a blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys that are vatted and then finished in black brandy casks before a blast of music, proofing, and bottling.
This is the first really good whiskey of this ranking (ironically, it was also the last taste). These top five are all winners. This is the bottom of that particular pile only in that it was the least interesting of the good stuff. It was classic and delicious but that was about it. There was no “Woah, dude!” But there was a lot of “wow, that’s really nice.”
4. ZZ Top Tres Hombres Texas Whisky — Taste 9
Average Price: $60
ZZ Top worked directly with Master Distiller Jared Himstedt (over Zoom) to blend three Balcones whiskies together. The blend is one part Balcone’s signature Blue Corn Whisky, one part Texas Single Malt, and one part Texas Rye. The idea behind the blends was to build the sip from a bold and oily base towards a fruity mid-palate that ends up nice and spicy.
A blend of single malt, corn whiskey, and rye is the epitome of American whiskey. The taste on this one also feels really distinctive and exemplary. Overall, this was a “wow” that didn’t “WOW!” like the next three but is still a great choice as a sipper or cocktail base.
3. F.E.W. Motor Oil Whiskey Finished in Rum and Vermouth Casks — Taste 3
Average Price: $60 (Coming Soon)
This whiskey is a collab between Illinois’ F.E.W. Spirits and rock band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The juice in the bottle is a blend of F.E.W. Bourbon finished in rum barrels, F.E.W. Bourbon finished in vermouth barrels, and a mesquite-smoked wheat whiskey. Those barrels are vatted and proofed down to 101 proof before bottling.
The chocolate notes on this were great. It was just the right balance of bitter and sweet with a nice dry edge. Overall, this would make for a great on-the-rocks pour of the base of a chocolate-y old fashioned.
2. Barrell Private Release Kentucky Whiskey Finished in an Apricot Barrel — Taste 8
Average Price: $125
These releases from Barrell Craft Spirits tend to be the best of the best barrels they have stocked. This expression is made from Kentucky whiskeys that are up to 18 years old. Those whiskeys are then finished in apricot brandy barrels before bottling as-is.
This is just f*cking delicious. But it wasn’t “number one” delicious. It was more a “wow, that’s got so much going on and I love it.” And there’s the rub, there’s a lot going on with this whiskey and that could either be off-putting or get entirely lost on a novice.
1. Bardstown Discovery Series #9 Blended Whiskey — Taste 6
Average Price: $140 (Coming Soon)
The Bardstown Discovery Series has become one of the most beloved and sought-after blended whiskeys in the game. Their latest edition is a mix of 35 percent eight-year-old Georgia bourbon, 31 percent 12-year-old Kentucky bourbon, 19 percent 17-year-old Tennessee whiskey, and 15 percent 12-year-old corn whiskey from Ontario. Those barrels are shipped to Bardstown where they’re masterfully vatted and bottled as-is.
That blend tips the scales to the ol’ U.S. of A. when it comes to what kind of whiskey this is. That aside, this was the clear winner. This is a truly wonderful sip of whiskey that works perfectly neat. It’s “WOW!” good and I couldn’t wait to go back for more.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
Overall, I’m not overly surprised by these results. Bardstown Bourbon Company is on fire right now and their newest release (dropping early next month) is par for the course from them.
Still, the top five were all killer whiskeys. I recommend them all. The bottom five were all perfectly fine but not my cup of tea or something I’d spend too much time chasing down. If the tasting notes speak to you, try a dram at a bar first and then go from there.
In the end, these whiskeys were all high-quality and very drinkable. The one bourbon didn’t stand out or rise to the top — it was just as nice and drinkable as the rest with no more a “wow” factor than anything else. The takeaway is simple: don’t sleep on labels that just say “whiskey” or “American whiskey” on them!