Discover 8 American Craft Whiskeys
Local Distilleries Flourish in the USA
Take a walk in any major U.S. city and you'll see restaurant signs stating, "Eat Local," "Farm-to-Table," and "Fresh Local Ingredients." Have you ever considered how to drink local? Whiskey and bourbon are made across America with distillers utilizing grains, water, and other raw materials native to their area.
Let’s do a refresh on American whiskey and bourbon. Included in this newsletter are recommendations on touring and tasting at distilleries, whiskey history books, and “Whiskey by the Month” programs. It’s whiskey time at Wine Wanderings.
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Distilleries in the US
Whiskies are made around the world. Thanks to a Congressional decree, bourbon was declared a distinctive product of the U.S.A. in 1964. Kentucky is home to 90% of Bourbon production. Recognized brands of major producers include: Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve. Bourbon must be made with 51% corn and tends to be slightly sweeter than other American whiskeys, which are made from grains--like rye, wheat, and barley. The spirit is spelled “whisky” in the UK, Canada, and Japan, and “whiskey” in Ireland and the US.
In the past, whiskey was considered a gentleman's drink. That's no longer true. Just ask the members of Women Who Whiskey, boasting more than a dozen clubs in the U.S. alone. Women aren't just drinking whiskey, they are making it too. In 2015, Marianne Barnes became the first woman Master Distiller in Kentucky since Prohibition. Women are also famous mixologists, creating a spin on the classic whiskey cocktails like Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, and 7 & 7.
Today, bourbon and American whiskey are produced in almost every state in the Union with more than 1,1836+ craft distilleries licensed by 2020. Generally craft distilleries are those that are sold in smaller batches and often at a premium. Searching across the country I recommend these craft distilleries from four distinct American regions that use local, indigenous ingredients ranging from Vermont oak trees to Tennessee sorghum to Rocky Mountain snowmelt. Try these outstanding whiskeys on-site on a personal tour. Join a whiskey-by-the-month club. Discover the homegrown excellence of American whiskey.
Vermont: WhistlePig Farm, Shoreham, VT
It doesn’t get much more “farm-to-bottle” than this whiskey. WhistlePig grows the rye on their farm, ages the whiskey in barrels created from their Vermont oak trees, and the water they use in production is from their own well. They won the Robb Report’s “Best of the Best: Rye” in 2020. If you like a whiskey with some spice, try their PiggyBack 100% Rye at 100 proof that has been aged for 10 years. It was awarded 93 Points from Wine Enthusiast and is Certified Kosher.
New York: Kings County Distillery, The Brooklyn Navy Yard, NY
Named 2016 “Distillery of the Year” by American Distilling Institute, Kings County Distillery is New York City’s oldest operating whiskey distillery. If your plans don’t include a trip to Brooklyn soon, you can try their unique creations including a Chocolate Whiskey.
South Carolina: High Wire Distillery, Charleston, SC
Trained at the Culinary Institute of America (one of my alma maters) and a former baker, Scott Blackwell brings his unique culinary techniques to distilled spirits. If you have a sweet tooth they offer a Tennessee-sourced Sorghum-based whiskey. If you are more of a traditionalist with a twist, try their Jimmy Red Cask Strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Kentucky: Corsair Distillery, Kentucky and Tennessee locations
In 2013, Corsair Distillery was named Whisky Advocate’s “Craft Distillery of the Year.” The distillery origins were in a garage, and now tours are available at their distinctive distilleries locations: Bowling Green, Kentucky; and Nashville, Tennessee. This distiller likes to play with alternative grains like rye and quinoa, resulting in a full range of whiskeys. Try the Corsair Dark Rye, a 2018 “Wizards of Whiskey” Silver Medal winner.
Illinois: Koval Distillery, Chicago, Illinois
The grain millet is popular in Asia and Africa. Koval sources millet grown in the Midwest to use in its 100% Millet Whiskey. Millet is a component in their single barrel bourbon as well. Both whiskeys are unfiltered and organic. Koval is the first distillery in Chicago since Prohibition. Try the Koval Millet Whiskey.
Garrison Brothers may be the smallest and oldest legal whiskey distillery outside Austin and the Texas Hill Country, but they offer Texas’ biggest, boldest taste. Garrison sources its corn and wheat from Texas, while acquiring barley from Pacific Northwest and Canada. Garrison Brothers is quickly becoming synonymous with outstanding American whiskey. Try the Guadalupe Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in a Port Cask. 107 Proof.
Colorado: Breckenridge Distillery, Breckenridge, CO
Breckenridge, Colorado is best known as a ski resort city. Rocky Mountain snowmelt is used to bring this high rye content whiskey to a lower proof that would allow you to still be standing on your skis. It is the world’s highest elevation distillery. Try the Broncos Bourbon Blend.
Washington: Westland Distillery, Seattle, Washington
For most whisky connoisseurs, “single malt” is designated for Scotch Whisky. Whiskey minds are being opened with Westland’s American Single Malt made from Washington State barley and aged in new American oak barrels. Try the flagship Westland Single Malt.
Whiskey every month programs
Beyond the Bottle: Five Books on American Whiskey
For the history buff...
Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey, by Reid Mitenbuler
Newcomers to whiskey searching for their style...
Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker, by Fred Minnick
For a new view of an old art…
The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining: How to Make and Drink Whiskey, by Dave Haskell and Colin Spoelman
Thank you to Courtney Quinn for her collaboration on a preceding article which was published in PrimeWomen Magazine in 2017, “Discover 8 American Craft Whiskeys.”
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