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The Best ‘American Whiskeys’ To Sip Right Now

Defining American whiskey is a tough prospect. While most people will jump to bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and rye as being the quintessential “American” whiskeys, there’s a whole category of whiskey from the United States that doesn’t fall into those lanes. It’s literally called “American whiskey.” As whiskey culture broadens, this lesser-known whiskey expression is starting to grab the attention of imaginative distillers and whiskey lovers alike.

So, what is “American whiskey” exactly? First, it’s a broad group of whiskeys that aren’t adherent to any 51-percent mash bill rules. That means these whiskeys don’t have to have 51 percent corn (which would make them bourbons) or 51 percent rye (which would make them ryes). Next, American whiskey doesn’t have as strict of distilling, barreling, or bottling proof restrictions. Lastly, there’s a lot more room for barreling overall. While Tennessee whiskey and bourbon have to be aged in charred new American oak, American whiskey can be aged in anything from used bourbon barrels to wine casks to new oak and any combination thereof.

All this said, there are a few traits to be on the lookout for. For instance, American whiskeys that don’t declare on their labels that they’re “unblended” or “straight whiskey” tend to be blended with anything from other whiskeys to neutral grain spirits with coloring agents. So tread lightly and always check those labels for accuracy.

The 12 American whiskeys below are some of the best examples of the expression on the market right now. We tried to keep this as broad as possible but are leaving bourbon, rye, wheated, and even American single malts off this list. There’s plenty of time to talk about those whiskeys at another time.

MICHTER’S US *1 UNBLENDED AMERICAN WHISKEY

The Story:

This is an interesting expression of booze. The juice is the same as the bourbon Michter’s usually makes their signature expression from. The ripple here is that the distillate is instead aged in bourbon-soaked barrels (or ex-bourbon barrels). This is very similar to how a lot of your favorite Scotch single malts are aged. The results are in the pudding, so to speak. This is a killer, bourbon-ish American whiskey that’s never cut with a neutral spirit to draw it out — this is all whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

Strong notes of roasted corn greet you on the opening of this sip. Caramel, vanilla, apple orchards, and mild spice carry on throughout the palate. Hints of ripe stone fruits with a slight acidic edge come into play before that spice kicks back in towards a svelte, warming finish.

RANSOM THE EMERALD 1865 STRAIGHT AMERICAN WHISKEY

The Story:

This is a fascinating bottle of whiskey that utilizes a historical Irish whiskey mash bill from 1865. Oregon’s Ransom The Emerald uses a recipe of malted and unmalted barley alongside a good dose of malted rye and rolled oats. After being pot stilled, the spirit is aged in both American and French oak for three years. There’s nothing quite like this out there.

Tasting Notes:

A maple rush starts with a hint of smoke by way of a herbal apothecary. Dried fruits arrive next to dried mint intertwined with tobacco. A mulled wine spiciness comes into play with a slight toffee edge. Finally, that spice peaks and carries towards a warm, bold end the builds a menthol buzz after you drink.

LEOPOLD BROS. AMERICAN SMALL BATCH WHISKEY

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The Story:

Leopold Bros. out in Colorado takes their time making this whiskey. This small-batch spirit comes from local grains: in this case corn, malted barley, and rye. The fermented juice is then distilled in a classic copper pot still before going into charred American white oak to mellow. Each bottle contains a barrel number so you can rest assured you’re getting something special.

Tasting Notes:

Molasses and brown sugar sit next to rich spice. That leads to a dollop of fresh and tart raspberries and ripe pears and apples with an earthy underpinning. Roasted corn comes in and leads towards a vanilla-spiked caramel and oak nature with the baking spice. The finish carries that spice towards a dry and mellow finish with traces of those raspberries echoing in the background.

WYOMING WHISKEY OUTRYDER

The Story:

Wyoming Whiskey’s Outryder is a special straight American whiskey. The whiskey is a marrying of two mash bills. One is 48 percent winter rye, 40 percent corn, and 12 percent malted barley. The second is closer to a classic bourbon with 68 percent corn, 20 percent winter rye, and 12 percent malted barley. All of the grains are sourced from a single, sustainable farm in Wyoming near the distillery. This small-batch expression is a little bit rye, a little bit bourbon, and very quaffable.

Tasting Notes:

Apple and cinnamon lead the way on this one. Oaky char and vanilla spice drop in early with a sense of rye spice carrying the sip towards pine resin and fresh sprigs of mint. The oak comes back in with a rush of sharp rye spice as the dry finish lingers on your tongue and builds warmth.

SLAUGHTER HOUSE AMERICAN WHISKEY

The Story:

Slaughter House American Whiskey is the brainchild of Napa Valley winemakers who are using their expertise (and wine barrels) to make a killer whiskey. This expression starts off with a mash bill of 85 percent corn, eight percent wheat, six percent rye, and a scant one percent malted barley. After the juice spends nine years in American oak, the spirit is aged again in French oak that held the winery’s proprietary Bordeaux, Papillon.

Tasting Notes:

Burnt sugars, spicy dried fruits, butterscotch, and vanilla oak open this sip. The vinous nature of the ruddy French oak comes into play alongside fatty prunes and more baking spices. There’s a clear roasted corn wisp near the end as honey-drenched buttery toast blends with dark sugars towards a bold finish.

TEMPERANCE TRADER AMERICAN WHISKEY

The Story:

Out in Portland (OR), Bull Run is aging and bottling a subtle whiskey that’s the perfect gateway expression for anyone looking to explore whiskey for the first time. The Indiana-born distillate is a mash bill of 92 percent corn and eight percent malted barley that’s aged in Portland for six years in used bourbon barrels. The hot juice is then cut with Bull Run Watershed water to bring it down to proof before bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Butterscotch dominates with hints of wildflowers, honey, and a really distant echo of mesquite smoke. Fresh, oily herbs come into play alongside the oak, vanilla, and spice with a hefty dose of corn-rich caramel. A black pepper spice kicks back in with a honey note before a final billow of smoke leads towards a dry, lingering finish.

MOSSWOOD NOCINO BARREL-AGED AMERICAN WHISKEY

The Story:

The Bay Area’s Mosswood is all about specialty aging in unique barrels that they tend to make themselves. Their “Nocino” Barrel-Aged American Whiskey is a prime example of the distillery’s expertise at play. This nine-year-old small-batch whiskey is finished for nine months in a barrel used by Mosswood for their own nocino (walnut liqueur). You can also snag expressions aged in former Applejack, sour ale, pinot noir, espresso, and scotch barrels.

Tasting Notes:

Light touches of walnut shine through immediately. Roasted grains sit alongside deep oak and sharp spices that are cut by the fatty walnut nature of the sip. Bright citrus counterpoints the fat as a marshmallow sweetness comes into play late. Finally, that long-aging arrives with hints of book leather and tobacco smoke as the spice peaks and finishes the sip with the walnut remaining the constant throughline.

JOURNEYMAN DISTILLERY KISSING COUSINS ORGANIC WHISKEY

The Story:

Journeyman Distillery out in Michigan focuses on community and grain-to-glass distilling. Their Kissing Cousins Whiskey in a meeting of local Michigan grains and wine-making in each bottle. The mash bill of 70 percent organic corn, 25 percent organic wheat, and five percent organic rye is all sourced locally. That spirit is then aged in new American oak then finished in red and white wine oak barrels from nearby Dablon Winery.

Tasting Notes:

This lovingly made whiskey opens with a clear vinous cabernet nose. That essence edges towards a rich brandy as baking spices, fatty prunes, butter caramel, and whispers of orange zest and ginger come into play. The dry of the grape arrives as the perfect suitor for the oaky spice as the warm finish ebbs towards a tart raspberry on the very end.

TINCUP 10 YEAR AMERICAN WHISKEY

The Story:

Tincup’s 10 Year is a Rocky Mountain original. The two-thirds corn and one-thirds rye mash bill is aged for ten, long years in charred American oak. The spirit is then cut to proof with fresh Rocky Mountain spring water before bottling. This is Colorado in a bottle.

Tasting Notes:

The dark sip opens with rushes of bright cinnamon, fresh honeycombs, pine resin, and a freshly cut lawn on a summer day. Rich, worn leather comes into play alongside raw tobacco leaves and sweet chili pepper spice. Raisins, citrus, more pepper, and brown sugar all play a role before a big, buttery caramel flourish usher in the finish. Oak char and vanilla linger as one last hit of that leathery spice pops.

BOONDOCKS AMERICAN WHISKEY

The Story:

Boondocks is the culmination of over 40 years of whiskey distilling experience from Dave Scheurich (Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey). The master distiller has taken a lifetime of distilling whiskey and applied it to his own label in Bardstown, Kentucky. The result is a masterful expression that’s not quiet bourbon — though you’ll never know the difference.

This master-crafted spirit is 80 to 90 percent corn and aged for eleven years in used oak.

Tasting Notes:

Butter, oak, and marshmallow open this sip. Big vanilla comes in with clear oak char alongside corn-infused caramel with clear yet subtle woody spice. Campfire-roasted marshmallows come back into play as the finish leans back into the oaky vanilla with a simple, yet full body.

FEW AMERICAN WHISKEY

The Story:

Illinois’ FEW Distillery is a local grain-to-glass operation that takes its booze very seriously. FEW American Whiskey blends their FEW Bourbon and FEW Rye with their experimental cherrywood-smoked malt whiskey. We’ve called out FEW Bourbon before as a whiskey you should be tracking down. And if you dig their bottles, you’ll really be into this expression.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a lot going on this sip. It opens with notes of Christmas cake spiciness that leans into the ginger and clove with hints of apples, hickory smoke, and fresh vanilla beans. Caramel apples give way to black pepper spice, nutmeg, cloves, and candied ginger. Bitter dark chocolate arrives to usher in a dry finish that leans back into the black pepper and oily vanilla with a finishing hint of smoky char.

COOPER’S CLASSIC AMERICAN WHISKEY

The Story:

This Upstate New York whiskey has a traditional, corn-heavy bourbon mash bill with rye and malted barley in play. Cooper’s Classic American Whiskey is then aged in re-charred ex-bourbon barrels for up to two years. Finally, the expression is finished in French oak for three more months before bottling.

Tasting Notes:

The whiskey opens with a touch of dry grape with an umami note that leans between a charcuterie board and soy sauce. Dark, ripe berries and baking spices arrive with a rush of vanilla from that oak. There are hints of syrup sweetness that never overstay their welcome as oily vanilla beans and oak char lead towards a big, spicy finish with lingering hints of those dark berries and a final whisper of smoke.

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