There are more than 2,000 distillers in the United States. Collectively, they are producing more than 3,000 expressions of American whiskey. How do you choose between the myriads of whiskey bottlings? Below are suggestions on a dozen American whiskeys. All of them are gold medalists in spirit competitions, many multiple times. It’s an excellent place to start, while hardly a complete listing of all the top whiskeys.
Pinhook, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, (Bourbon War) 7 YO, 57.5% ABV, 750 ml. Pinhook is produced at Castle & Key Distillery under the direction of Pinhook Master Taster Sean Josephs. Each bottling features the name of a famous Kentucky racehorse. Bourbon War is part of Pinhook’s vertical bourbon series. Each year, a successively older version of the bourbon is released. The series began with Bourbon War 4 and will end with Bourbon War 12 in 2027.
This expression features pronounced floral aromas accompanied by stone fruits and orange zest and notes of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, a hint of raisin, the typical rye spices of cinnamon, clove, and allspice, and a touch of old leather.
Broad Branch, Straight Rye Whiskey, Bottled in Bond, 50% ABV, 750 ml. Broad Branch is based in North Carolina. It’s a 6-year+ five-barrel blend of 100% straight rye whiskey. This complex, flavorful whiskey features notes of caramel, milk chocolate, coffee, and fruit notes of baked apple and dark berries.
High West, Campfire, 45% ABV, Batch 22K18, 750 ml. High West Distillery is based in Park City, Utah. Campfire is an innovative blend of straight rye whiskey, straight bourbon whiskey, and blended Scotch malt whiskey. This is a fruity and spicy whiskey with notes of caramel and butterscotch, fruit notes of orange zest, blueberries, black cherry, and spice notes of nutmeg and cinnamon. There is a persistent note of cold smoke and a touch of pine resin/fresh firewood, hence the name Campfire.
Spirit Hound, Colorado Whiskey, Straight Malt Whiskey, 45% ABV, 750 ml, Barrel No. 295. Spirit Hound is based in Lyons, Colorado. Its Straight Malt Whiskey is crafted from 100% Colorado barley grown and malted in Alamosa. It’s slightly peated. Each bottling is a single barrel. The whiskey is fruity with notes of green apple, vanilla, brown sugar, candied nuts, cinnamon spice, and just a touch of smoke.
Frey Ranch, Farmers + Distillers, Cask Strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 62.15% ABV, 750 ml, Batch #9. Frey Ranch is Nevada’s leading craft distiller. This is a four-grain whiskey with a mash bill of 66.6% corn, 12% barley, 11.4% rye, and 10% soft winter wheat and is produced from grain grown on Frey Ranch’s 1,500 acres in Fallon, Nevada.
This smooth, creamy whiskey has pronounced caramel notes and a crème brûlée quality. It features notes of dried stone fruit, orange zest, and black cherry, a candied sweetness, a touch of patisserie, and a hint of smoke.
Fort Mose 1738, Bourbon Whiskey, 42% ABV, 750 ml. Fort Mose is bottled at the Palm Beach Distillery in West Palm Beach, Florida, and is sourced from MGP in Indiana. It’s named for Fort Mose, the first free Black town in North America. It was declared in 1738 by the Spanish governor of Florida.
The roughly four-year-old whiskey features notes of vanilla and baked apple, along with a bit of sweet baked cornbread, some cinnamon, and seasoned oak, and is exceptionally smooth on the palate.
15 Stars Fine Aged Spirits Sherry Cask Finished, 10 YO, 57.5% ABV, 750 ml, Bottle 0054. 15 Stars is a Kentucky-based craft distiller. The 15 in its name refers to Kentucky’s entry into the United States in 1795 as the 15th state.
The Sherry Cask Finished expression is a blend of straight bourbon whiskeys finished in Sherry casks. This whiskey is absolutely outstanding! A perennial medal winner, it was crowned Best Bourbon at the 2023 New York World Wine and Spirits Competition.
The whiskey features the typical Sherry influences of dark dried fruits, nuts, candied orange zest, and notes of caramel, brown sugar, and white pepper. It’s smooth and viscous on the palate with a pronounced mouth weight and a long finish of Sherry-inspired lingering dried fruit notes.
Clyde May’s, Special Reserve, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 55% ABV, 750 ml. Initially founded in 1946, Clyde May’s is Alabama’s oldest distillery brand. The whiskey is now produced at Conecuh Ridge Distillery, although the current bottlings were drawn from MGP. It’s not well known outside its home state. That’s a pity because it is an outstanding whiskey and an exceptional bourbon value.
The Clyde May’s Special Reserve Straight Bourbon is a six- to seven-year-old bourbon based on a mash bill of 55% corn, 30% rye, and 15% barley. This “Alabama-style” whiskey undergoes a finish infused with dried apples and cinnamon.
Not surprisingly, it offers pronounced apple aromas and notes of caramel, vanilla, brown sugar, and apple and cherry flavors. The high rye mash bill adds spice notes of cinnamon, clove, some pepper, and some nutmeg.
Still Austin, The Musician, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 49.2% ABV, 750 ml. Still Austin is based in Austin, Texas, and was founded in 2015. The bourbon is based on a mash bill of Texas-grown, 70% white corn, 25% Elbon rye, and 5% wildfire malted barley.
Texas whiskeys tend to mature quickly and generally lose more water than alcohol, resulting in high ABVs. They are robust whiskeys that extract a lot of flavor from the cask wood but are prone to getting overly woody if the maturation is not managed carefully.
Still Austin uses the innovative technique of gradually adding water to proof down the whiskey while it matures. According to the company, adding water pulls more sugars from the charred oak while reducing the amount of tannins drawn from the cask wood.
This is a robust, flavorful whiskey, precisely what you would expect from a Texas matured whiskey, that features pronounced caramel, vanilla, orange zest, dark chocolate, espresso coffee, and fruit notes of dried red berries and stone and tropical fruits. It also exhibits subtle earthy notes and some herbal flavors, licorice, and cinnamon spice.
Mile High Spirits, Fireside, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 50% ABV, 750 ml, Batch #4. Fireside Bourbon is distilled in downtown Denver, Colorado, making it one of the first urban distilleries. It’s based on a mash bill of 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malted barley. The grains are sourced locally.
The whiskey has a noticeable rye influence with herbal notes featuring mint, straw, and freshly cut grass. It’s floral with a candied sweetness and pronounced notes of molasses, gingerbread cookies, citrus zest, cherry, caramel, brown sugar, vanilla, a hint of coffee, cinnamon, and black pepper.
Old Pepper Distillery, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Bottled in Bond, 50% ABV, 750 ml. Old Pepper is bottled at the James E Pepper distillery and is the oldest bourbon brand in Kentucky, dating back to 1776. Abandoned in the late 1960s, the distillery and the brand were inactive until 2008, when whiskey entrepreneur Amir Peavy relaunched the brand and refurbished the distillery.
The Bottled in Bond Bourbon is based on a blend of different mash bills that feature either very high rye (49%) or very high barley (49%) components, along with a more conventional mash bill of 80% corn, 8% rye, and 12% barley.
The whiskey features notes of buttery cornbread, salted caramel, and vanilla with fruit notes of blackberry, citrus, a hint of raspberry and strawberry, milk chocolate, and some pecan with spice notes of cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, and a little clove. At an average retail price of under $50, it is also an exceptional bourbon value.
Doc Swinson’s, Session Blend, Straight Bourbon, 5 YO, 45% ABV, 750 ml, Release No. 23-0001, Bottle 07690. Doc Swinson’s Session Blend is an MGP-sourced bourbon expertly blended to be extremely smooth and drinkable. It’s based on a blend of two mash bills: 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malted barley and 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley. It is also an outstanding bourbon value at a suggested retail price of $35.
The whiskey features baked apple and candied cherry notes, brown sugar, vanilla, chocolate, some candied nuts, cinnamon, and allspice.
These whiskeys are just a smattering of the many craft whiskey offerings available today. They are all outstanding, with the medals to prove it. If you are a fan of American whiskeys, there is plenty to explore among these bottlings.