The American whiskey landscape is elite and old. This comes down to the simple fact that making good whiskey requires large amounts of initial capital and the ability to keep pouring money into the venture. This has led to many next-gen distillers relying almost exclusively on buying stocks of whiskey from other older makers and passing it off as their own.
Newer distillers leaning on the work of other whiskey makers means less innovation, less craft, and more stagnation in an already slow-moving industry. There are however some new American whiskey brands trying to change this perception, pushing for a more creative and diverse whiskey shelf.
Here are 6 great American whiskies, both old and new, that push the flavor fold and deliver a delicious glass.
Balcones’s guiding principles were established pretty early on — to make a whiskey that was different and to make it Texan. Chip Tate, original founder, built his own stills, his own barrels and opted to buy Texas-grown blue corn instead of something more economical. In other words, it was as Texan as it could possibly be, and It was a hit. Baby Blue’s first release earned a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Suddenly the word was out, a craft distiller was making great whiskey that didn’t taste like anything else. With an ongoing series of limited releases and a slightly-off-kilter signature whiskey line-up, Balcones continues to produce some great-tasting, Texan whiskey.
Bottle to Try: Balcones Baby Blue
The Austin Nichols Company, a grocery store that became a spirits company when the Prohibition Era ended, was responsible for the creation of what is still an incredibly popular bourbon brand. They have maintained the same quality and standards by sticking to the same premium ingredients throughout their history. They are still using water from the Kentucky river, which is naturally filtered through limestone, which ensures that it is free from iron and other nasties.
You can also be sure that they never use genetically modified grain in their produce. It is held to the highest standards, so you know it is always natural and non-GMO. In some ways, Wild Turkey 101 is both the high-proof version of their base bourbon and one of the most popular alcohol brands in America. It is a bourbon blended with 6-, 7-, and 8-year-old bourbons, all of which are aged for six years in virgin white oak barrels with the deepest char. This results in alcohol with 50.5% ABV or 101 proof, hence the 101, making it one of the most popular whiskey brands.
Bottle to Try: Wild Turkey 101
New Riff looks a bit different from others on this list. It is not centuries-old, nor is it not owned by a larger parent company and none of its three whiskeys are more than five years old. But New Riff doesn’t seem troubled by a lack of history.
All of its whiskey is at least 100 proof, completely unfiltered, and comes labeled with all of the facts and figures you could want to know. It’s a bold step for a distillery that describes itself as mid-major.
Bottle to Try: New Riff Rye
It takes years to build a solid stock of well-aged whiskey that is marketable. High West is one of those whiskey brands that knows what it means to make craft whiskey- not by trying to compete with a centuries-old liquor empire, but through its own identity and uniqueness. Using a mix of its own pot-stilled whiskey and some really old stock bought from older distilleries they brew up a storm. Whether it’s a blend of 2- and 16-year-old whiskeys or bourbon, rye, and peated scotch into a single bottle, High West is willing to do anything to keep you excited.
Bottle to Try: High West Double Rye
Whiskey brands that don’t make their own whiskeys, called non-distiller producers, aren’t always looked at favorably by the whiskey community. Barrel seems to be an exception. Although it has begun putting down barrels of its own stuff in the last couple of years, Barrel’s specialty is acquiring and blending other distiller’s unsuccessful barrels into something exceptional.
Unlike others, Barrel does not hide that what is inside its bottles is not of their creation. Full sourcing info, including mashbilling, age, and state of distillation, is available for every bottle and unlike the majority of big distillers today, Barrel isn’t too concerned with consistency. Every batch is intentionally different from the last, allowing you to explore a different flavor profile and different age combination.
Bottle to Try: Barrel Bourbon Batch 011
Willet was established in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the Willet family sold the farm to the Kulsveen family that modern Willet began to form. The Kulsveen family bought up old stock from distillers looking to get rid of barrels they couldn’t sell and years later started selling it.
Master Distiller Drew Kulsveen heads up the company’s own whiskey-making program and even though its oldest release to date is only a 4-year-old rye, it has already garnered praise from its drinkers.
Bottle to Try: Willet Family Estate Bottled Rye
So there you have it. A bit of old and a bit of new to keep your pallet excited. Reach for one of these the next time you find yourself in the market for a whiskey. And who knows? It could be love at first sip.