Mexico is already home to one of America’s most beloved spirits, tequila, but now the country is getting in on America’s No. 1 brown spirit: whiskey. And one of the first distilleries to enter the market is Sierra Norte, a Oaxaca-based brand produced by master distiller Douglas French who is also responsible for Scorpion Mezcal. While Sierra Norte has been on the market for a couple of years now, it wasn’t until recently that people really started to sit up and take notice. It was just featured at the Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas and all three of Sierra Norte’s expressions were awarded high points by Whisky Advocate this past spring. And there’s good reason: This stuff is tasty.
Sierra Norte currently offers three color-coded bottlings of its single-barrel whiskey, each one made from a different strain of Oaxacan corn: white, yellow and black (all are $45-50 depending on where you buy them). The White has an almost cotton candy-like aroma with touches of overripe papaya and a definite funk. Sipped, it’s heavy on the corn with lots of sweet porridge and polenta flavors and a cozy, nutty finish. The Yellow still has that touch of funk but with much more sweetness on the nose. It tastes just like sweet corn—like cornbread or fresh corn on the cob. The finish is slightly spicy with a touch of apple and cinnamon. The Black is much earthier with some dried mango flavors and a black pepper bite on the finish. It is much more like a traditional whiskey, if that’s what you’re after.
All of the bottlings can and should be sipped neat, though a big, giant ice cube wouldn’t hurt on a sweltering hot day. If you’re looking to celebrate Cinco de Mayo but still haven’t gotten over your fear of tequila, these south of the border whiskeys are the answer to your boozy prayers.