These are strange and great times for American whiskey. A list has been quietly making rounds among aficionados that many popular “small-batch” distillers get their product from a former Seagram distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, naming Templeton Rye, George Dickel Rye, and over fifty others that are “likely distilled” in the same place. While a handful of high quality and expensive brands are in the mix, it’s a little tough to tell what all the fuss is about unless you’re a serious whiskey fan. Like anything great in life, what matters more than anything is quality; if you enjoy drinking bourbons or ryes from that Indiana distillery, that’s all that matters.
But if a bottle of bourbon that’s truly handcrafted is important to you, the good news is that you don’t have to look too far, because we’re currently in the middle of the greatest era for brown liquor in American history. From small Southern distillers doing it in their backyards to upstarts on the East Coast, right now, these five brands really are making it from the grain up.
Founded in 2009 by husband and wife duo Becky and Scott Harris, Catoctin Creek is the first legal distillery in Loudoun County, Virginia, and is the epitome of a 21st century whiskey maker obsessive about the organic (often locally sourced) ingredients they use to make their spirits, the company also makes it a point to let people know about their commitment to using solar energy at their plant. But enough about the logistics, let’s talk about the product.
A bottle of organic Roundstone Rye 92-proof is what you’re looking for if you want your socks knocked off. Just the amount of spice you’d expect from a great rye, but it won’t have you breathing fire. If you’re looking for something a little more subtle, a bottle of sweet and spicy regular Roundstone Rye should always be within reach. You can’t ever go wrong with Catoctin Creek.
It’s difficult to say “Artisanally crafted in Brooklyn” with a serious face these days, but in the case of Widow Jane, one of the better bourbon producers in the country, it seems worth noting that the company is indeed located out of Kings County, while some of their product has origins in Kentucky and is imported up to New York (hence the reason they can print “Kentucky Bourbon” on the bottle) to get cut down to proof. With their Heirloom bourbons, however, they see the entire process through, from the growing of the GMO-free Indian corns to limestone-rich water they use from the Catskills.
The company offers a number of bottles you should try, but it is impossible to go wrong with the 7-year straight bourbon, which will warm you up in the winter, but is also perfect to drink slowly as you watch the ice cubes melt in the summer. With its aroma of butter and caramel, and the zesty finish that sits in your mouth for a few moments after each sip, it makes for one damn fine Manhattan.
The thing about there being great whiskey from the Pacific Northwest is that it makes perfect sense, but you wouldn’t really think about it since, let’s face it, there ain’t much bluegrass in Spokane.
But there is lots of water in Washington state. Whether it’s falling from the sky or the bodies of water that flow through it, like the Gallatin River that inspired the idea to make a whiskey that represents everything that is great about the area. Dry Fly is that whiskey, and it is the best of the West.
It’s pretty difficult to lose with a bottle of Washington Wheat. It is the perfect sipping whiskey for sitting around with some friends, but also works perfectly taken neat alongside a nice pilsner. If you’re looking for something a little different, the Port Finish has subtle hints of huckleberry port that you get with the finish.
Go to Chicago to get your ketchup-less hot dogs and beer, but do not forget to pick up a bottle of Evanston, IL’s distiller Few’s bourbon. It could be one of the city’s famously frozen January evening, and this stuff will instantly transport you to a porch in Louisville. It smells spicy, it has an undeniable kick to it, but it goes down easy.
Everything Few bottles is great: We obviously love the bourbon, but the white whiskey has flavor, which is something a few distillers have had a problem pulling off. The rye, distilled from a mashbill comprising 70% rye, 20% corn and 10% two row malt, is perfect for mixing, and makes a Sazerac that would make even a New Orleans native smile.
When you think about American whiskey, your mind probably wanders south. And since Corsair has been distilling some of the most interesting and best American whiskey over the last few years, that puts them at the head of the new class of whiskeys to come from below the Mason-Dixon Line.
First, there’s Triple Smoke, easily one of the best bottles of whiskey you can buy right now. Smoked in three different ways (cherrywood, peat, and beachwood), this whiskey delivers everything you could want. More spice than sweet, you get these hints of chocolate and nuts, but there’s something about the stuff that will have you thinking you’re drinking a great single malt. This is a whiskey designed to knock socks off, and it delivers every single time.