The term “American whiskey” can be confusing. People who use it don’t even always know what they mean. Bourbon and rye whiskey are made in America, and therefore are technically American whiskeys. But these spirits are not actually what is meant or defined by the term. An American whiskey, to whiskey nerds and spirit enthusiasts, is simply a whiskey that does not adhere to the definitions of what U.S. law constitutes as a rye, bourbon, or any of the subcategories of whiskey beneath those two categories like straight rye or bonded bourbon). American whiskey is a relatively new category, composed of spirits that use unique mashbills or age in barrels that are not new American oak (the type required for bourbon or rye). If you are a fan of whiskey, this is one of the most exciting new developments in the category. To help you navigate the newish subset of whiskey, we compiled this list. Here, five of the best all-American, American whiskeys to try now.
Founded in 1753, Michter’s was one of America’s first whiskey companies. While it cannot be labeled as a bourbon or rye due to the fact that it doesn’t adhere to either category’s strict legal requirements, that doesn’t make it any less desirable or delicious. The taste of Michter’s US 1 lies somewhere between a bourbon and a Japanese whisky. It is light, summery and incredibly fruity. To battle the heat of the Fourth of July, we suggest mixing this whiskey into a refreshing all-American take on the Japanese Highball.
This whiskey couldn’t be more American. Not only is it made by a family of ranchers who settled in Wyoming in 1890, but it also strongly identifies as a small batch, independent distillery and uses only ingredients sourced from Wyoming to produce its spirits. This bottling from the distillery is one of their most interesting and complex offerings. A blend of two different whiskeys with two different mash bills—one uses a mash bill of 48 percent winter rye and 40 percent corn, while the other uses 20 percent winter rye and 68 percent corn (both whiskeys use 12 percent malted barley)—the Outryder Whiskey is then aged for 5 years in American oak barrels. Bottled at 100 proof (it is labeled as a Bottled in Bond whiskey) the spirit is as boozy as it is flavorful. On the palate it has notes of orange blossom, Terry's Chocolate Orange, wildflower honey and freshly baked rye bread with butter.
Based on recipes for pre-industrial whiskeys made on farms in rural America, this bottling from Brooklyn is made with four different grains: malted barley, wheat, corn and rye. Light, floral and extremely drinkable, the whiskey has a verdant, oaky nose, and flavors of honey, clover, allspice, orange marmalade and Honey Nut Cheerios. While this limited, small batch bottling can be hard to find outside of New York state, it is delicious and absolutely worth seeking out.
Even though this whiskey from FEW Spirits is made in the style of a Scottish single malt, it’s soul, and ingredients are 100-percent American. Unlike other single malts, this whiskey is made with 100 percent malted barley sourced from within 100 miles of the distillery in Evanston, Illinois. Using smoked and unsmoked barley—fired with local cherry wood as the fuel—the spirit has a rich savoriness, and tinges of smoke in the nose and on the palate. Sipping it straight, one will pick up notes of Szechuan peppercorns, birds of paradise, Frosted Flakes cereal and barbeque. This brand never ceases to impress us with releases, and this whiskey is no exception.
This is not the first time we’ve sung this whiskey’s praises, and it won’t be the last. Westward American Single Malt is a total game changer. If bourbon and rye whiskey producers were to use this as a template for what to make next, we’d be 100 percent on board. Made with locally grown barley fermented with ale yeasts, the spirit has more in common with craft beer production than traditional whiskey production. After being distilled twice on a pot still, the spirit is matured in American oak barrels before being bottled. Savory and creamy on the palate, the whiskey has notes of white pepper, salted almonds, green tea, fresh hops, and vanilla custard. Pair this whiskey with a local craft beer (of your choice) to really bring out the beer-esque flavors from the ale yeast used in the fermentation.