Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Best American Whiskeys You Can Actually Buy Part II: The Little Guys

There were a lot of good responses to my query about the best American whiskeys that you can actually buy, both in the comments and on Twitter. One reader pointed out that while the list covered the best available whiskey from each major company, there are also some good, readily available whiskeys from smaller producers, be they craft distillers or independent bottlers (aka NDPs).  I thought that was a valid point, so today, we will expand the list to good quality, readily available whiskeys from smaller operations.

Craft Whiskey

At local stores in Southern California, it's pretty easy to find the Charbay R5 and S whiskeys, though I don't know how available they are out of state; likewise the new Seven Stills Whipnose Whiskey, another California beer distillate that I really liked, is still around, and while it's distribution is probably still pretty localized, you can order it on-line from K&L.  Balcones Brimstone is another tasty craft whiskey that I could easily grab at a number of locations.

Independent Bottlers

High West is one of those producers like Four Roses that people tend to take for granted since their whiskey is excellent quality, a good value and easy to find.  I regularly see no less than five of their labels on the shelf, but for my money, their original whiskey, Rendezvous Rye, is still the best of their basic offerings.

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers has many easy to find products.  My pick of their current offerings would be the Willett Rye, distilled at MGP.  While it may not be at every store, I see it often enough to count it here.

The basic Michter's, Jefferson's and Angel's Envy lines are all pretty available, and I'm sure some folks would put them on the list, but I've never been a fan of any of their standard offerings that you can actually find on a shelf (as opposed to hard to find special releases like Jefferson's Presidential 17 and 18).  If I had to pick one from that group, it would probably be Angel's Envy Rye (and yes, that would be my third MGP rye on these lists - third and a half if you count Rendezvous Rye).

Did I miss any?


My Annoying Opinions said...

In a sense, yes. I mean to say that you recommended Balcones Brimstone thus missing the opportunity to be correct.

sku said...

I thought you'd come around on Brimstone.

My Annoying Opinions said...

I liked the second batch I tried more, but not enough to recommend it as anything but a curiosity.

But still, why let facts get in the way of schtick?

Anonymous said...

Breckenridge is pretty accessible, Willet Rye is one of my favorite whiskey's another though which I can find on a regular basis is Noah's Mill kind of a toss up for me and a KBD offering.

Mr. Obvious said...

Hmmm. "My Annoying Opinions" clearly trying to live up to your handle..as am I.

Sam Komlenic said...

Anything from Dad's Hat in Bristol, PA. They have what I think is the best short-aged rye on the market, and their vermouth finished expression was my personal craft whiskey of 2013.

They'll likely have the first Pennsylvania straight rye in decades available in the next year or so. They're also not ripping off the consumer in terms of price.

And why am I the only one who finds Angel's Envy rye close to undrinkable? Bubblegum and cotton candy...not what I look for in whiskey.

Is Rendezvous all-MGP?

Steffen said...

I went around Ballast Point in January and thought their boutbon was quite tasty. I haven't tasted their Single Malt


sku said...

Sam, I would definitely be interested in trying a Dad's Hat straight rye.

I'm also not a fan of Angel's Envy. Their rye is the only one I care for, but it's still overly sweet.

As for Rendezvous Rye, it's a blend of MGP and Barton Rye.

Steffen, I've wanted to try Ballast Point, but I don't think that stuff even makes it out of San Diego. It's definitely not something most people can reliably buy.

Steffen said...

I've only seen it at the brewery, and got no idea about the availability

Alex said...

I like Stranahan's of Colorado. It's a single malt, I believe, although the label doesn't say so. But it's getting harder to find outside of Colorado since it was acquired by Proximo.

Justin said...

The craft segment is harder to follow in my neck of the woods. (OK). Of the brands mentioned so far I can get most of the high west bottles, charbay, and michters. Oklahoma has just recently started to see angles envy bourbon. And you'd think living so close to Texas that balcones would be easier to get here. NOPE! It doesn't come here. Believe it or not but one of the most difficult places to get any balcones bottle seems to be its own home state of Texas. (Any Texas readers please correct me if I'm wrong. My bottles of balcones were nabbed in Tennessee).

The way I look at it, if it's made it to Oklahoma I'm not sure it can still be called a "craft" whiskey.

Funky Tape said...

Stranahan's is a 4-grain barley malt. It's avail online at a few places if you dig a bit. I love the stuff so much I bought a case.

Big Bottom out of OR is doing good stuff with different casks. I like the Zin finish quite a bit.

Few out of Chicago makes good stuff. I have their new make in my mini barrel right now.

Dry Fly out of WA has done some ok stuff with wheat. Have only tried their CS wheat and its a bit thin but a B+ effort by my standards.

Of course Balcones is dope and Chip is now working on rum. Half of me wants them to be bought out and the output and distribution to bump up but the other half thinks that's probably not going to work out too well over time.

Fun stuff, keep them coming.

Unknown said...

That’s the second time I’ve seen Sam recommend Dad’s Hat in recent weeks, I guess I should give it a try!
I do think, like others, that rye appears to taste better than bourbon at a young age, and so the best American craft whiskey’s I’ve had (25+ counting only brown, not-sourced whiskey) have all been rye so far. The three which I consider to be at or above the level of quality that can be found from the big producers are:
1512 Rye from California. This was recently reformulated and rebranded to Sonoma Rye and, unlike the 1512, the new formulation uses both 1st and 2nd use barrels and I haven’t tasted it yet. The original version is only 1st use barrels and scored an impressive 85 on whiskyfun. It’s very close to the grain with lots of earth and pumpernickel flavors but no overt signs of immaturity though it’s a bit thin in terms of mouthfeel. The original was also stupidly expensive ($85) but the new version has at least come down in price ($70 I think).
Town Branch Rye from Kentucky is 53% rye and lots of corn to make it sweet and viscous with good rye flavor. It’s fairly conventional in flavor but enjoyable and not too expensive ($50) but I found the other two whiskies in their stable to be weak, young, and lacking in much character.
Lastly Gunpowder Rye from Portland, ME is “Maryland Style” like the new Leopold Bros in that both are 80% rye, 0% corn and some roasted/chocolate barley. That’s not my understanding of Maryland style from reading Mr. Cowdery’s blog last week, perhaps someone has some literature to suggest why these two craft producers have chosen this method to represent the style? Anyway, the whisky is rich and viscous, with savory spice character so strong it tastes like huge bags of caraway and coriander were steeped in the whisky prior to bottling.
I’d also like to give an honorable mention to two domestic single-malts, Balcones (the only one I liked in their line-up) and McCarthy’s from Oregon.

Alan Minor said...

77 Wheat Whiskey (Breuckelen Distilling Co.)