American whiskey is a broad category of booze that stretches beyond “bourbon” and “rye” whiskeys but also sometimes incorporates markers of those two categories. Basically, “American whiskeys” are all the whiskeys that legally cannot be called “bourbon” or “rye” on the label. That means that American whiskey can… kind of be anything from blended bourbon and ryes in one batch, malt and bourbon and/or rye blends in another batch, or just a blend of whiskeys that don’t fall into a neat and tidy category besides being made in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
That makes it a wide and confusing genre to navigate.
Below, I’m blind-tasting some new American whiskeys that just hit shelves alongside a few from last year that I want to retry (or give another chance). American whiskeys often feature huge swings in flavor profile, so tasting them blind will level the playing field and allow me to look at the taste and depth alone.
That makes our lineup today the following bottles:
- Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey Barrel Proof Batch: A223
- Proof And Wood Extraordinary American Blended Whiskey Vertigo
- Journeyman Distillery Corsets, Whips, and Whiskey
- Chattanooga Whiskey Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Cabernet Sauvignon Casks Tennessee High Malt
- Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 2nd Edition Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey Aged 20 Years
- Whiskey War Double Double Oaked
- Mulholland American Whiskey
- Rare Character The Exceptional Series Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey Single Barrel
Some of these are so new that you might not even be able to find them yet. Others are pretty rare, so don’t be surprised if they’re not available in your region. All of them were pretty damn good with one glaring exception so let’s dig in and rank some whiskeys!
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Part 1: The Tasting
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 with the caramel and honey as spiced dark chocolate counters on the hot finish.
This is a nice place to start. It starts off subtly but ends boldly with a ton of high-proof heat.
Nose: Old cupboards full of winter spices mix with a sense of butterscotch candies and old vanilla pods on the nose.
Palate: There’s a mild sweetness on the palate that leans into dry grains or very dry sweetgrass next to a nutty chocolate vibe with a hint more of that musty spice from the nose.
Finish: The end has a moment of rye green herbaceousness that leans back into dry sweetgrass, butterscotch, and old Nutella with a winter spice underbelly.
This was fine but felt like the musty oldness was a late-idea addition and not a smooth layer of the whole blend.
Nose: There’s a clear sense of toffee and vanilla cake on the nose with a dash of woody winter spices and a light whisper of smudged sweetgrass.
Palate: The palate leans into the smoldering grassiness while warm dark spices add a sharpness before stewed pears mingle with clove and cinnamon bark.
Finish: The finish opens with vanilla pods and a whisper of old leather and tobacco on the warm and buzzing finish.
This is pretty good and deeply layered. Overall, this didn’t excite me as much as make me think, “yeah, that’s well-made whiskey” and little else.
Nose: There’s a sweet red tart berry vibe on the nose that leads to blackstrap molasses with a spiced cherry cough drop vibe next to a hint of sweet brown bread.
Palate: That red fruit drives the palate toward salted caramel and old oak that’s been soaked in cherry brandy with a fleeting sense of a savory green herb garden lurking beneath it all.
Finish: There’s a sense of malted cookies dipped in honey and blackberry juice next to softly spiced dark chocolate flaked with salt.
This was just plain delicious. It’s deeply flavored with a nice balance of tart, sweet, and savory with a hint of bitterness.
Nose: There’s a mix of sweet white grits cut with salted caramel and old oak on the nose next to a slight nuttiness with a hint of sweetgrass dipped in Caro Syrup.
Palate: That dry grassy nature continues on the palate as burnt orange and dry nuts balance out next to sweet dry white hominy and a hint of vanilla pods.
Finish: The end leans into the burnt orange and nuttiness with a creamy edge and a mild sense of powdered winter spices.
This was interesting and tasted really good. That said, I don’t know if I love it or am a bit “that’s fine” about it.
Nose: There’s a sweet sense of salted caramel on the nose with dried chili pepper, old wet leather sheets, and a hint of burnt orange rinds over cider-soaked cinnamon bark.
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.
I dig this too. It’s a little bourbon-y with its sweetness but not overly so.
Nose: 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.
Palate: 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.
Finish: The end is short and kind of blank with the vanilla and spice giving way to that herbal note.
This is very thin and funky in all the wrong ways.
Nose: This whiskey opens with a nose full of sharp chili spices soaked in apple cider and cherry liquor with a sense of old leather saddles, rich and sweet porridge, coconut cookies with dark chocolate chips, and a sense of old straw in a damp cellar.
Palate: The palate is lush with a sense of soft vanilla wafers next to a complex mix of apple wood, blanched almonds, peach pits, pear cores, mango skins, wet grass, and … this whiskey just keeps going.
Finish: The long finish is completely devoid of any ABV burn and instead relishes in malted vanilla wafers, woody white peaches, red apples, wet deck timbers, and a hint of soft winter spice cake with a touch of walnut and blood orange.
This is on a whole other level than everything else on this panel. This is deep, enchanting, and kind of challenging in the best way imaginable. Delicious!
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Mulholland American Whiskey — Taste 7
Average Price: $37
This whiskey from cinematographer Matthew Alper and actor Walton Goggins is a real outlier. The blend is an Indiana whiskey with a mash bill of 94% corn, 4% rye, and 2% malted barley. That whiskey is aged in Kentucky before it’s sent to California for blending, proofing, and bottling.
7. Proof And Wood Extraordinary American Blended Whiskey Vertigo 2021 — Taste 2
Average Price: $149
This blend is a mix of American rye, bourbon, and American light whiskey (aged in uncharred oak) from MGP of Indiana. The whiskeys were distilled in 1992, 2008, 2023, and 2015 and only yielded 1,000 once batched.
This was fine. I can see building a cocktail with it but not all that much else.
6. Whiskey War Double Double Oaked — Taste 6
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 was pretty good and a huge jump up in quality on this list. I’d like to play around with citrus-forward cocktails and funky fizzy water highballs with this one. But I can also see this working as an easy-going sipper when I don’t want to think about it.
5. Journeyman Distillery Corsets, Whips, and Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $60
This Michigan whiskey is 100% wheat whiskey. The grains are 100% organic and grown locally around Michigan. The whiskey then ages for an undisclosed about of time before it’s blended into a final product that looks to Irish whiskey for inspiration.
This is another big step up from the bottom spot. Still, this feels like I should be making cocktails with it more than anything else.
4. Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey Barrel Proof Batch: A223 — Taste 1
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 was really nice but the end was a little too hot. It needed a big ice cube to calm it down. That aside, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
3. Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 2nd Edition Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey Aged 20 Years — Taste 5
Average Price: $289
The 2nd edition of Heaven Hill’s Heritage Collection asks what budget brand Mellow Corn would taste like when left alone for 20 years and treated like an elite whiskey. The results from the mash of 80% corn, 12% malted barley, and 8% rye ended up in 110 barrels back in October 2002. After 20 long years in Heaven Hill’s famed Rickhouse 1K, they were batched and bottled.
This was so interesting and fresh with a deep flavor profile. I want to dig in further with water to find those deeper flavor notes buried in the whiskey.
2. Chattanooga Whiskey Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Cabernet Sauvignon Casks Tennessee High Malt — Taste 4
Average Price: $59
This whiskey is made from bourbon mash bills with a high level of specialty malt, especially toasted, roasted, and caramel malts made by Riverbend Malt House in Asheville, North Carolina. Those barrels spent four years resting before batching and re-barreling into Cabernet Sauvignon casks from Silver Oak Cellars out in Sonoma County, California. After a final 18 months of resting in those red wine barrels, the whiskey is batched, just kissed with water, and bottled.
This was delicious. There was so much more going on and it all felt right. This also felt like it’d make a killer cocktail base for a whiskey-forward concoction.
1. Rare Character The Exceptional Series Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey Single Barrel — Taste 8
Average Price: $199
This new whiskey from the Rare Character team out in Kentucky is a single barrel that’s like finding a golden needle in a haystack. The single barrel was distilled back in February 2011 with a mash of bill of 65% malted barley and 35% corn. That barrel was left alone until December 2022 when the Rare Character team bottled it completely as-is.
This was miles ahead of the rest. It is just much deeper, interesting, and tastier. This is great whiskey. And maybe most importantly, the high proof left your mouth softly buzzing and not burning with heat. It’s a crucial difference and the sign of something expertly made.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
You can full-out skip the Mulholland Whiskey. It’s just not getting any better at the moment. Numbers 7 through 5 were perfectly fine whiskeys but not overtly distinct. 5 through 2 were really nice. But that Rare Character was just on a different plane of existence.
If you can find a Rare Character Kentucky Malt, get it. Hell, buy the whole case. It’s that good.