American whiskey is a catch-all category. It’s for all of those expressions that don’t quite fall into the bourbon, rye, or American single malt categories but are often some combination of all the above. When talking about “American whiskey” as a category, we’re talking about mostly blended whiskeys (mixes of ryes and bourbon with maybe some single malt) or whiskeys that were simply aged in barrels that disqualify them from legally being called bourbon or rye.
That makes this a pretty wide category. Which is why I’m conducting a blind taste test with some new and interesting expressions.
Below, I’m blindly tasting eight American whiskeys that range from average to above average if you look at them strictly price point of view. But I’m not here for price-taggery. This is about taste. These whiskeys all offer something a little different, sure. But it’s the taste of these whiskeys that matter most, and that’s how I ranked them.
Our lineup today is:
- Breckenridge Whiskey Imperial Stout Cask
- The Beverly High Rye Fine American Whiskey
- 291 Colorado Whiskey 11th Anniversary
- Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey
- Arcane Imperial American Whiskey
- Redwood Empire Lost Monarch Blend of Straight Whiskeys Cask Strength
- Five Trail Blended American Whiskey Barrel Proof Bold and Uncut
- Savage & Cooke Second Glance American Whiskey
Let’s dive in!
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Part 1: The Tasting
The nose opens with a leathery chocolate vibe next to plenty of fruit, mostly red tart berries and bananas with a hint of vanilla. The palate leans into chocolate maltiness (think well-roasted malted barley, not milkshakes) next to winter spice, caramel, and a hint of dried chili flakes. The end has a burnt vanilla and salted caramel feel to it with a bitter dark chocolate tobacco whisper.
This is pretty fine overall. It’s chocolatey but could have used a little more depth on the palate.
The nose is leathery and leans toward pound cake with a hint of almond and vanilla oils next to rye bread with a dash of caraway and tobacco woodiness. The palate is full of vanilla and cherry with a woody spice underpinning that leads to brown sugar and floral honey with a whisper of citrus and black pepper. The end opens up the almond toward marzipan with soft toffee and rum-raisin vibe.
This was pretty nice overall.
There’s a clear sense of old porch wicker that leads to worn leather, chili-spiked dark chocolate, and dark and meaty dried dates, figs, and prunes with a hint of vanilla. The palate is darkly fruity and then blows out with intense ABVs. It’s a hot buzz that mutes everything else until it fades, revealing orange and vanilla with woody winter spice and some more dried stone fruits.
This was great until that massive alcohol rush in the middle. Adding ice will solve that, but … wow, that was a lot.
There’s a soft sense of a pile of firewood cut from an old fruit orchard next to dark chocolate oranges with a flake of salt and a drop of honey with a hint of vanilla cake frosted with apple-cinnamon butter frosting. The palate has a lightly smoked cherry vibe next to clove and allspice with a sense of lush and creamy eggnog and vanilla-cherry tobacco stuffed in a slightly pitchy pine box. The end really leans into the cherry tobacco with a layer of mild chili spice and more of that soft and sweet orchard firewood.
This is in the “delicious” category.
Milk chocolate and spiced caramel lead on the nose with a hint of vanilla cookies and roasted chestnuts. The palate then veers into tinniness with a sense of coffee grounds and more “spice.”
This completely lost me on the tinny palate. I spit it out and moved on.
There’s a bold nose full of old boot leather, dried chanterelles, cedar bark, a whisper of cumin and chili powder, and creamy yet sharp mint chocolate ice cream. The palate opens with a cherry bomb that’s tempered by mild ABV warmth and buzzing before spiced apricot jam arrives with a soft scone, creamed butter, and bright Turkish Delights on the mid-palate. Those soft and fruity candies give way to meaty dates and rum-soaked raisins with a hint of vanilla candy and apple cider tobacco and a flutter of white pepper.
This is really freaking good.
The nose opens with a sense of old leather and cumin seeds next to salted caramel, pecan waffles, real maple syrup, and browned butter with a few woody spices thrown in alongside a date or prune. The palate sweetens the spices with a hint of sour mulled wine next to caramel apples, Cherry Coke, gingerbread, and allspice-heavy Christmas cake with candied orange rinds. The end leans into the gingerbread with a nice layer of marzipan and cedar over some mild ABV warmth.
This is another winner!
There’s a “woody” vibe on the nose that’s not really distinct that leads to whispers of fruit, vanilla, and spice but you really have to dig to find anything, The palate has a sense of “whiskey” with a mild Pine-Sol feel next to orchard fruit and citrus.
And… that’s pretty much it.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Savage & Cooke Second Glance American Whiskey — Taste 8
Average Price: $40
This five-year-old American whiskey is sourced from Kentucky — with a mash bill of 95% corn, 4% rye, and 1% malted barley — and sent out to California to be finished. The final blend is a combination of whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrels and then finished in Napa Valley Cabernet casks. The whiskey is then proofed down with pure water from the Alexander Valley in Northern California.
This just didn’t pop on today’s panel. It’s not “pour down the drain” bad. It’s just forgettable.
7. Arcane Imperial American Whiskey — Taste 5
Average Price: $46
Arcane Distilling out in Brooklyn is making whiskey from craft beer. In this case, the distillers made an imperial stout — hopped, barrel-aged, everything — and then distilled that. Comparatively, distiller’s beer (which all whiskey is made from) is basically the first step of beer-making before the hops go in that’s then distilled. That whiskey was then aged, batched, and proofed to highlight the imperial stout notes in the flavor profile.
This was fine. It certainly had a stout-cask-finished vibe, though the stout-iness goes deeper than that according to the label. I don’t know, this felt more like a novelty than a stone-cold killer whiskey.
6. 291 Colorado Whiskey 11th Anniversary — Taste 3
Average Price: $200 (Distillery only)
This whiskey celebrates 291’s 11th anniversary of distilling out in Colorado. The juice is made from 291’s classic mash and then aged for around two-plus years in barrels with Aspen wood staves added into the whiskey barrels. A select handful of the absolute best of the best barrels was then hand-picked then batched and bottled as-is to create this cask-strength version.
This was amazing up until the ABVs blew out the flavor profile. You’ll really need a rock or two to calm this one down. Once you get there, you’ll be in for a very nice treat.
5. Breckenridge Whiskey Imperial Stout Cask — Taste 1
Average Price: $60
This whiskey is a match made in Colorado. The whiskey is aged in imperial oatmeal stout from Breckenridge Brewing. The brewery and distillery are only two miles apart so, there’s very little time between the beer getting emptied from the barrels and the whiskey getting filled in, adding extra layers of flavor to the final product. Once the barrels hit just the right moment of final maturation, they’re batched and bottled as-is.
This was nice. There was good nuance and balance with the stout-iness (chocolate, spice, etc.) that worked with this whiskey. I think I’d still lean towards mixing this into an old fashioned before I’d sip it though.
4. The Beverly High Rye Fine American Whiskey — Taste 2
Average Price: $60
This brand-new whiskey is rendered from a marriage of Iowa’s famed Cedar Ridge and Indiana’s MGP whiskeys. The blend balances bourbon with a majority of rye in the mix to create a “high rye” American whiskey.
This was hitting nicely today. There’s serious depth and a nice easiness to the pour. I can see this being an easy-to-drink sipper over the rocks or a solid cocktail base for fall and winter mixing. Overall, this is good stuff.
3. Five Trail Blended American Whiskey Barrel Proof Bold and Uncut — Taste 7
Average Price: $69
This new batch of whiskey from Coors’ new distillery and Bardstown Bourbon Company out in Kentucky blends six-year-old Colorado single malt with 12-year-old Kentucky bourbon. Once batched, those whiskeys go into the bottle with zero filtering or proofing.
This is pretty damn good whiskey. It has a sense of older bourbon in the nose and palate that’s very enticing, especially if you’re already a bourbon stan. The overall vibe feels like a sipping whiskey but I can see this making a pretty good Manhattan too.
2. Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey — Taste 4
Average Price: $229
This release takes Michter’s signature Kentucky Sour Mash — which doesn’t have enough corn or rye to be either a bourbon or rye whiskey — and finishes it in toasted barrels. In this case, those barrels are first air-dried for 18 months and then lightly toasted barrel before the whiskey is filled in. Finally, the booze is batched and bottled with a good dose of that Kentucky water.
I had to look at the ABVs on this one about three times. This is amazing for a low-proof whiskey. That aside, this is also very nostalgic on the nose and palate. It’s deep, tasty, and engaging.
1. Redwood Empire Lost Monarch Blend of Straight Whiskeys Cask Strength — Taste 6
Average Price: $70
This California whiskey is a blend of two whiskeys that range from three to 12 years old. The base is a rye mash of 94% rye, 5% malted barley, and a mere 1% wheat mixed with a bourbon mash of 74% corn, 20% raw rye, 4.5% malted barley, and 1.5% wheat. Once blended, that whiskey goes into the bottle at cask strength with no fussing whatsoever.
This was a great pour today. It had serious depth and really took you on a journey. The overall vibe was easy sipping with a nice balance. It was also warming enough on the palate that I know it’ll work wonders in a Sazerac or Manhattan as the weather cools.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
The top four are all fine whiskeys. You’d be in good hands buying and drinking any of them.
Still, that Redwood Empire Cask Strength really did shine the brightest today. It’s just so lush and kind of fun. The Michter’s is a killer too, but a little on the pricier side. But hey, it’s pretty much the holidays so it might be time to treat yourself to a little of the good stuff!