American whiskeys is a very general category. For one, when using that term, you could be talking about literally every whiskey made in the U.S.A (and some made in Canada and barrelled or aged or blended in the US). That includes bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, American single malt, blended bourbons, blended whiskeys, straight whiskeys… It’s a lot.
In fact, that term is coming more and more to mean “all the whiskeys that aren’t a particular type of whiskey, legally speaking.” So that could be, say, an expression that’s a blend of bourbon and rye or a straight whiskey that can’t legally be called a bourbon or even a whiskey made with a different mix of grains, like a wheat whiskey. Since the trend is leaning toward this sort of usage for the phrase, that’s how I typically use it — unless I’m specifically talking about the entirety of American whiskey in a global context.
To that end, it’s time to blindly taste some new and award-winning American whiskeys and rank them. For this exercise, I kindly asked my wife to grab some American whiskeys off the shelves. We ended up with a mix of straight whiskeys, blends of ryes and bourbons, special cask-finished straight whiskeys, and a wheaty or two. It was a good mix!
Our lineup today is:
- Whiskey War Double Double Oaked A Blend of Straight Whiskeys
- Blackened Cask Strength Volume 01 A Blend of Whiskeys Finished in Black Brandy Casks
- Chicken Cock Double Oak Kentucky Whiskey
- Bardstown Bourbon Company Collaborative Series Foursquare Blend of Straight Whiskies Finished in Foursquare Rum Barrels
- Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey
- Chattanooga Whiskey Founder’s 11th Anniversary Blend A Blend of Straight Whiskeys
- Barrell Craft Spirits Private Release Islay Cask Finish Whiskey
- Middle West Double Cask Collection Oloroso Wheat Whiskey
When it came to ranking these whiskeys, it was… very hard. Every whiskey on this list is good to great. Most of these whiskeys are so good that I seriously considered not even ranking them and just saying, “Buy the one that speaks to you, they’re all great in their own way.” But, where’s the fun in that? Upon deeper analysis/tasting, there were standouts that did push ever higher and there were weaker pours.
Still, these are all good freakin’ whiskeys, folks. Let’s dive in!
Part 1 — The American Whiskey Tasting
Nose: There’s a sweet sense of salted caramel on the nose that gives way to dried chili pepper, old wet leather sheets, pink peppercorns, and a hint of burnt orange rinds over cider-soaked cinnamon bark and raw waffle batter with a whisper of pecan.
Palate: The palate hits that burnt orange and caramel note harder as minor keys of winter spice, fruit cake, and rum raisin darken the taste.
Finish: The end has a sense of pitchy firewood and sweet oak next to smudging sage and spearmint-chocolate tobacco just dusted with lemon pepper from the 90s.
Well, this is great. It’s deep and lush with a real sense of high-level craftsmanship.
Nose: Leathery figs, old vanilla cookies, buttery toffee, and candied orange peels mingle with a very light sense of oatmeal cut with butter and maple syrup.
Palate: The palate is nutty and lush with a salted caramel vibe next to silky vanilla sauce bespeckled with poppy seeds and brittle toffee next to a hint of spiced oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips.
Finish: The nuttiness turns into smooth marzipan on the finish with a sense of chili-spiked dark chocolate next to cinnamon caramel syrup and soft vanilla cake.
Yeah, this is really f*cking good.
Nose: Hints of back porch wicker on a sunny day under a cedar tree mingles with dark chocolate with a hint of salt layered with dried cherry and toasted coconut next to salted caramel lattes.
Palate: Rich bourbon vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone leads to a sugary berry syrup with a hint of cinnamon and clove on the light palate.
Finish: Cinnamon-spiced vanilla tobacco rounds out the short-ish finish.
This felt a tad short-winded. I wanted more but it just wasn’t there.
Nose: Woody banana and rich marzipan pop on the nose with a deep and sharp clove, anise, and cinnamon vibe next to peanut butter clusters dusted with toasted coconut, burnt orange zest, and sea salt with this whisper of rum-soaked raisins and old oak in the background.
Palate: The rye funkiness drives the rummy oak tannins towards a soft sticky toffee pudding with rich toffee, mild vanilla oils, and a sense of spiced mincemeat pie.
Finish: The finish is lush and silken with a sense of fresh and warm vanilla pods over warm grog with a handful of dark and woody winter spices countered by luxurious and buttery salted caramel with a fleeting hint of smoldering marshmallow.
This is one of my favorite pours of 2023 — not even “so far” as there is little that’ll beat this. It’s fan-f*cking-tastic whiskey.
Nose: There’s a sense of a freshly baked loaf of whole wheat bread on the nose with a slight sweetness, toasted oats, soft dry nuts, dried fruits, and a layer of honey accented by a thin line of clove.
Palate: That honey and clove come out further on the palate as creamy spiced malt with a hint of choco caramel mingles with dark winter spices and a small note of vanilla.
Finish: The end sweetens and warms up considerably with the caramel and honey as very spicy dark chocolate builds to a hot finish.
I like this. It’s a little warm on the mid-palate and finish and could have used a single cube of ice, but that’s almost just semantics at this point.
Nose: Dark chocolate and nutty holiday cakes dance on the palate with a sense of spiced plum jam next to soft vanilla pudding that slowly morphs into fancy cream soda.
Palate: A hint of waffle cone and walnut salted caramel ice cream drives the palate a soft sense of oak and holiday spice barks with a hint of stewed apple/pear in the background.
Finish: The orchard fruit layers into spiced chewy tobacco with a sense of plumminess that’s part holiday cake and part creamy pudding.
This was just really good too. I don’t know what else to say.
Nose: The nose leans into smoked black pepper with a hint of salted caramel next to coconut nut clusters, demerara syrup, and a twinge of dried smoked cherry.
Palate: There’s an earthiness to the palate that’s almost mossy in a dry way next to more smoke cherry and wet brown sugar with a twinge of marzipan just kissed with dark orange.
Finish: The nuttiness drives the dry finish toward very thin whisps of smoked dark fruit and winter spice barks.
This is very nice. But again, kind of left me wanting more.
Nose: Classic bourbon notes of rich vanilla and spiced oak lead the nose toward rich and creamy eggnog with plenty of allspice and nutmeg next to cinnamon sticks dipped in warm apple cider.
Palate: Lush marzipan dipped in salted dark chocolate and rolled in dried dark cherries vibe with brandy-soaked prunes and dates next to subtle hints of burnt orange and old oak.
Finish: Those brandy-soaked raisins drive the finish toward an end brimming with dark chocolate, dark cherry, and dark spice vibes.
Part 2 — The American Whiskey Ranking
8. Chicken Cock Double Oak Kentucky Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $99
This Kentucky whiskey — not a bourbon or rye — is made with a mix of eight-year-old barrels. Once batched, that whiskey was then re-barrelled into new American oak again for a final rest before batching, proofing, and bottling.
Not to Monday morning quarterback, but this felt like it needed to be a 50% or even 55% ABV to really shine. It was good, don’t get me wrong. But I needed a little more oompf to really take it to the next level.
That all said, I can see this being a great building block for a killer whiskey-forward cocktail any ol’ day of the week.
7. Barrell Craft Spirits Private Release Islay Cask Finish — Taste 7
Average Price: $99
This new single-barrel release from Barrell Craft Spirits via ReserveBar is a blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys. Once batched, that whiskey went into a single barrel from Islay that held peated single malt whisky over in Scotland for years. That barrel was then selected by the team at ReserveBar and bottled 100% as-is.
This left me wanting more in the sense that I wanted bolder smokiness/peatiness. It was there. But I needed more of a kick from it. That is me 100% nitpicking anything to try and rank these. Overall, this is tasty and unique (Islay cask finished American whiskey? Sign me up!), which alone makes it worth checking out.
6. Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey — Taste 5
Average Price: $65
This brand-new release from Heaven Hill is their famous wheated whiskey at barrel proof. The mash of 51% wheat, 37% corn, and 12% malted barley is fermented and distilled and then left for seven to nine years in open-air warehouses. Once batched, the whiskey goes into the bottle without any filtering or proofing.
This first barrel-proof release from Heaven Hill’s Bernheim is a big hit. It’s easy to see why if you’re already a fan of the brand and wanted it in all its barrel-strength glory.
This works for me too. I might lean more toward using this in a Manhattan or Sazerac but it’s clearly a decent sipper and will certainly bloom further with a little ice or water in the glass.
5. Middle West Double Cask Collection Oloroso Wheat Whiskey — Taste 8
Average Price: $99
This limited edition release from Ohio’s Middle West is all about the locally-grown red winter wheat in the mash bill (recipe). That wheaty beer is distilled and then loaded into new American oak where it rests for five years. Those barrels are batched and that whiskey goes into Spanish Oloroso sherry casks before batching and proofing.
This is where I get into the weeds. This is delicious. Each entry from this point on is a minuscule incremental increase in depth and flavor. So, re-read the tasting notes above and if those speak to you, buy it now.
4. Blackened Cask Strength Volume 01 A Blend of Whiskeys Finished in Black Brandy Casks — Taste 2
Average Price: $80
This new line from Metallica’s Blackened is all about the cask strength versions of their now-classic “sonically-enhanced” blend of straight whiskeys. In this case, the blend is a mix of bourbon and rye that are batched and re-barrelled in black brandy casks that are blasted with, you guessed, Metallica tunes during the finishing maturation. Finally, those barrels are batched and bottled as-is at barrel strength.
This is another winner. Metallica aside, this is good whiskey with a killer profile and depth. If you are a Metallica fan (even remotely), this is a no-brainer addition to your bar cart.
3. Chattanooga Whiskey Founder’s 11th Anniversary Blend A Blend of Straight Whiskeys — Taste 6
Average Price: $59
This very limited edition whiskey is made from a blend of Chattanooga’s own whiskey blended with classic whiskey from MGP of Indiana. All the barrels are over two years old (young by a lot of people’s “standards”) and barrelled in toasted and charred oak. Those barrels were batched (using nine to 11 barrels at a time) and that whiskey was then added to Chattanooga’s solera vat (where whiskey is always added before the old wooden vat it’s fully emptied). That whiskey was then lightly proofed and bottled as-is otherwise.
This is a limited run of whiskey that’s worth tracking down right now before it’s gone forever. It’s deep, fun, and engaging from top to bottom.
2. Whiskey War Double Double Oaked A Blend of Straight Whiskeys — Taste 1
Average Price: $99
This Ohio whiskey is hewn from a rye-heavy mash bill. That spicy juice is then rested in new American oak for a spell before being vatted and re-barreled into another brand-new American oak barrel, all adding up to five years of mellowing. Those barrels are then batched and bottled as-is.
This whiskey was awarded Best Blended Whiskey of 2022 at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and this batch received another double gold this year.
Brasstacks, this American whiskey lives up to all that hype. And amazingly, even with those Elysian-level accolades, you can still get this. That won’t last forever, so move fast to get some.
1. Bardstown Bourbon Company Collaborative Series Foursquare Blend of Straight Whiskies Finished in Foursquare Rum Barrels — Taste 4
Average Price: $159
This is a much-sought-after blend from Kentucky darling Bardstown Bourbon Company. The blend in this case is a mix of seven-year-old Indiana rye with a mash bill of 51% rye, 45% corn, and 4% malted barley blended with a 17-year-old Tennessee bourbon with a mash bill of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley. Once those barrels are batched, the whiskey is re-barreled in Foursquare rum barrels for an additional 23-month rest.
This is one of the best rum-barrel-finish whiskeys to date. Seriously. It’s also one of the most delectable whiskeys of 2023. It’s pure fire. This is a whiskey people will be talking about on every end-of-year list. I’m calling it now … in May … it’s that good.
Part 3 — Final Thoughts on the American Whiskey
Run to your nearest liquor store to see if you can snag that Bardstown and Foursquare collab. It’s so delicious that I’m still thinking about it right now. It’s kind of all I want to drink.
That said, you really can’t go that wrong with any bottle on this list. The top four or five are the prime cuts but the bottom few are all perfectly fine and tasty too — they just didn’t blow my socks off which is asking a lot anyway.
I’ll say it again, read those tasting notes and find the whiskey that speaks to you or sparks your interest, and then click those price links to see if you can snag one.