Here at UPROXX, we love the likes of Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, and Jim Beam just as much as the next whiskey drinker. But these larger brands definitely aren’t hurting for fans (or cash). That’s why we try our best to give props to the smaller outfits whenever possible. If we find ourselves in a random town and we come across a small distillery, you’d better believe that we’re going to stop in and see what they’re currently crafting.
We also love to purchase bottles from lesser-known brands whenever possible. That’s how you discover exciting expressions, after all. Alex Pendergrass, bartender at Hotel Viking in Newport, Rhode Island agrees with that approach. His travels have helped him to locate a few small distillery gems.
“Mad River in Burlington, Vermont is doing really great things with their blending,” he notes, adding, “I enjoy Sons of Liberty in Kingston, Rhode Island as well. They’re a small blender and bottler who have seen steady growth over the last several years.”
Just about every bartender out there has a small whiskey they’re keen to support. So we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their personal faves.
Wyoming Whiskey (Kirby, Wyoming)
Andrew Lamkin, lead mixologist at The Alex Speakeasy in Washington, DC
I just tasted the lineup for Wyoming Whiskey. I really liked it and plan to use it a good bit this spring. They make their own stuff and don’t just buy a ton of spirits from Indiana and slap a label on it. I don’t have a problem with that as a business practice and there is great stuff that comes out of that mass-produced hooch but I appreciate the ones that do it all (or mostly all) in house.
Miscellaneous Distillery (Mount Airy, Maryland)
Moe Thajib, director of food and beverage at Art and Soul in Washington, DC
Gertrude Rye from Miscellaneous Distillery is a whiskey brand I love supporting. Not that many people know about it yet, but it’s balanced, and spicy flavor profile can be enjoyed neat or in a cocktail.
Manifest Distilling (Jacksonville, Florida)
Cody Henson, beverage director at The Alida in Savannah, Georgia
Manifest is making a killer rye down in Florida. They use a good amount of wheat in the mash bill that softens the spice a little bit, and the flavor is great. I love that stuff.
Widow Jane (Brooklyn, New York)
Hjalmar de Boer, food and beverage manager at Conrad New York Midtown in New York City
I’m a fan of Widow Jane from Brooklyn. I had the pleasure of trying their Baby Jane Bourbon the other day. It’s amazing and perfectly suited for mixing or sipping.
WhistlePig Rye Whiskey (Shoreham, Vermont)
Allie Pochodzilo, bartender at The Chester in New York City
I’m going to have to go with WhistlePig. I remember when it was fairly new, so it’s nice to see them continue to grow. It’s also a great rye whiskey to drink on its own but pairs wonderfully in cocktails.
Brenne Whisky (Cognac, France)
Sophie Burton, beverage director at Politan in Chicago
I don’t have an opinion on this. I’m a traditionalist with a lot of whiskeys, so I mostly stick to the tried-and-true players. Brenne makes an interesting whiskey. It’s distilled in Cognac, France. A city associated more commonly with that other spirit.
Jefferson’s Bourbon (Crestwood, Kentucky)
Megan Abraham, lead bartender at Virgin Hotels in San Francisco
If I have to pick just one, I’ll go with Jefferson’s Bourbon The Brand’s Ocean Bourbon is a real winner because it rests in barrels on a shop on a ship, sloshing and around in its barrels — enough said.
Lexington Brewing And Distilling (Lexington, Kentucky)
Steven Staney, general manager of Sombra Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi
Town Branch Bourbon. Small distillery in Lexington, Kentucky. Bourbon and water used to referred to as bourbon and branch meaning the branch water and streams that run through Kentucky while sitting on a huge area of limestone help naturally filter out iodine to make a better quality whiskey/bourbon.
Ohishi Distillery (Kuma-gun, Kumamoto, Japan)
Olivia Duncan, bar director at Galit in Chicago
I really like Ohishi whisky, they do really cool limited bottlings and show a range of styles. I dream of visiting their distillery in Japan.
Tuthilltown Spirits (Gardiner, New York)
Zachary Blazek, general manager at Commons Club in Chicago
I love Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson whiskies. I would still classify them as small compared to some of the behemoths out there and has some of the most delicious bourbons outside of bourbon county.
Smooth Ambler (Maxwelton, West Virginia)
Bryan Mayer, bartender at Azabu in Miami
I love Smooth Ambler from West Virginia. By chance, I happened to be around the distillery and they gave a great tour and tasting. Contradiction Bourbon is not to be missed.
Ryan & Wood Distilleries (Gloucester, Massachusetts)
Jay Oakley, bartender at B & O Brasserie in Baltimore
Ryan & Wood is a small, family-owned distillery by Bob Ryan and nephew Dave Wood in Gloucester, Massachusetts. They have excellent wheat whiskey with a smooth finish and their rye has a nice spice and burn to it.
Middle West Spirits (Columbus, Ohio)
Emmanuel “Manny” Pressley, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia
I am a big fan of Middle West and the whiskies and ryes they produce. Located in Columbus, Ohio, they source all of the ingredients locally and make an awesome product. They offer tours where you can see the original footprint, the first expansion, and the upcoming planned expansion. They also have a restaurant that pairs courses with spirits. It’s a fun day trip.
Republic Restoratives Distillery (Washington, DC)
Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC
Republic Restoratives Distillery is a fellow D.C. neighbor and it is women-founded and owned. Their Borough Bourbon is delicious. I love working with their team and their amazing products.
Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery (Nashville, Tennessee)
Ellen Talbot, lead bartender at Fable Lounge in Nashville
Nelson’s Greenbriar. They are a Tennessee time capsule with their flagship Tennessee Whiskey emulating the exact recipe that their ancestors produced in the years before prohibition. Their Belle Meade Bourbon is also fabulous, and, being a Nashville native, we have certainly joked that we might, in fact, be related.