We Asked Bartenders For Their Favorite Small American Whiskey Brands

The American whiskey world is dominated by names like Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s, Wild Turkey, and Maker’s Mark. If you spend any time watching sports, you’re inundated with the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Mila Kunis hawking mega brands. This ubiquity and star power is enough to make a person settle for the well-known names constantly yelled at them any time they walk the liquor aisle.

We don’t subscribe to that kind of thinking. While we’ll gladly pour ourselves a glass of any of the aforementioned whiskey brands, we also like to try new things from time to time. Experiment! Travel the old tastebuds! Mix it up a little!

Bartenders often share our adventurous philosophy. They’re not content with following the crowd. It’s also in their best interest to constantly sample new and unique whiskey brands and expressions. Knowing this, we asked a handful of our favorite bartenders to tell us their favorite under-hyped, smaller whiskey brands in the United States.

Dad’s Hat

Maureen Shannon, head bartender at In the Valley in Philadelphia

Dad’s Hat from Pennsylvania. I have to represent my home state. They make a super solid vermouth-finished whiskey that is great alone or as a cocktail base. The wine influence comes through — with hints of dried fruits, herbs, and spice — before all that good pepper and barrel char slides in.

Rabbit Hole

Franck Savoy, corporate director of food and beverage at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, California

I was in Boston a few years ago, I entered a hole in the wall bar full of Red Sox fans, and there was such a great ambiance. I wanted a whiskey that I was not used to — something different. I poured me a glass of Rabbit Hole Rye Whiskey. It was just such an experience: cinnamon, licorice, dried fruits, sweet caramel…


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Todd Johnston, beverage director at Marsh House in Nashville

I really like Cathead, which is a distillery out of Mississippi. Their flagship is vodka but they have recently released a whiskey called Old Soul which is bright, fruit-forward, and easy-drinking which is great for cocktails or however you prefer your whiskey.

Garrison Brothers


Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami

Garrison Brothers. They’re making corn whiskey out of Texas and really exploring the impact of different corns, based on harvest season and varietal. Really good whiskey and something different to try.

Laws Whiskey House

Drew Reid, restaurant manager at W Aspen in Aspen, Colorado

AD Laws out of Denver does a pretty incredible job. In my opinion, this is the best distiller in the state. They make whiskey that compares to many others in the country. They also do a great job with marketing and packaging.

Ko’olau Distillery

Jim Lunchick, master mixologist at Merriman’s in Hawaii

We have a young operation here in Hawaii called Ko’olau Distillery that makes a whiskey called “Old Pali Road.” It tastes like the pure young corn whiskey from where I grew up, in Maryland. I eagerly await the day, years from now, when they will be releasing stuff with more age on it, but part of the charm of this stuff is its freshness and purity. Check them out.

Boulder Spirits

Ryan Negley, whiskey fellow at Boulder Spirits in Boulder, Colorado

Absolutely that has to be Boulder Spirits out of Colorado. We focus on American Single Malts, which is a category on fire right now, but the bourbon coming out is so amazing.

Bardstown Bourbon

Sabari Kanth, lead bartender at Conrad Fort Lauderdale in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Bardstown Bourbon. I got an opportunity to visit their distillery and tried some of their products. They do produce some amazing bourbons and they are blending the traditional whiskey-making with innovative new ideas.

Writer’s Picks:


Opened in 2010, Seattle’s Westland has worked tirelessly to prove that whiskey doesn’t just need to be made in Kentucky, Texas, or Tennessee. They do this by continuously cranking out high-level, award-winning bottles like Westland Sherry Wood and Westland Peated.

Cedar Ridge

Iowa is known one thing above all else: corn. That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Iowa-based Cedar Ridge would come out with a product literally called Iowa Bourbon that is full of sweet corn from the state (74 percent corn to be exact). The result is an award-winning whiskey with hints of caramel, toffee, cinnamon, and corn sweetness.