Whiskey… it has had an extraordinary effect on these United States.
There are plenty of types of American whiskies to discover. Bourbon, white whiskey, rye whiskey, and Tennessee whiskey are all a part of the family. With their own styles and distillation methods, some of which have been handed down through generations, these spirits have a heritage that predates the formation of our government. Moonshining, bootlegging, prohibition, and taxes are all important in this heritage as well. Whiskey was such a large part of everyday life in colonial days that it was often used as payment for goods and services and became the first domestic product to have a tax levied on it by the new national government. Over time, traditions have been formed along with laws, to protect the integrity of whiskey products. Historically, the spirit was rationed to soldiers and sailors, who preferred it to the water, which more often than not was unhealthy. Today, whiskey production has become one of the biggest industries in the country with the taxes collected on sales making up a huge portion of state and federal coffers.
So I invite you take a look at some of these American whiskies and a little history on their distilleries.
Death’s Door Spirits
Supplier: Domaine Select Wine Estates
The distillery is named after Death’s Door Passage, the treacherous straight between Green Bay and Lake Michigan where deep currents and counter-currents has caused havoc on sailors for years. Their White Whisky is made with 80% organically grown hard red winter wheat from Washington Island and 20% Wisconsin malted barley. Getting this particular wheat isn’t easy – it’s grown in only one place, Washington Island. Ships must safely charter the precious grain to the mainland through Death’s Door Passage. The whisky is double distilled, rested, and then aged in new oak barrels for less than 72 hours, not long enough to get the color from the barrel. It is made in small batches, the bottles hand filled, sealed and labeled.
Nose: Unique, I think it has the aroma of a wheaty tequila, call me crazy…for a white dog, it’s very soft.
Taste: Soft and mellow, almost sweet and thick with an expected slight medicinal warming. Finish is a bit short, but that is typical of a whiskey that is un-aged and uninfluenced by wood. All in all, an interesting product. Not for everyday, but fun.
Alltech Brewing and Distilling Company
Dr. T. Pearse Lyons, President and Founder of Alltech Brewing and Distilling Company, in the heart of downtown Lexington, unveiled a decades-old dream. Pearse Lyons Reserve, Kentucky’s first malt whiskey since 1919. Pearse Lyons Reserve is noticeably smooth, due in part to its double-distillation in copper pot stills from Forsyth’s in Scotland. Produced in the old-world tradition of whiskey creation, Pearse
Lyons Reserve also utilizes a robust, proprietary yeast strain designed by Alltech specifically for distillation.
Pearse Lyons Reserve, 80 Proof
Nose: I get single malt scotch, a little iodine, smoke and peat. I shared it with a friend, Brittany Chardin, who has a fantastic nose and palette; she guessed (blind) a fine Irish whiskey. You get the point – a fine old world aroma not often found in an American whiskey.
Taste: Starts off soft and luxurious with a mid-palette burst of flavors including mint and sweet smoke. The finish is long and clean. A fine whiskey and an unusual find.
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Supplier: Sazerac Company
As the mighty buffalo thundered across the land, they carved paths in the wilderness and a destiny for our ancestors. These paths were known as traces. One such trace, called the Great Buffalo Trace, led to the rugged banks of what is now called the Kentucky River.
The first modern distillery was built on this site in 1857 and was the first to incorporate the use of steam power—a major advance in producing high-quality bourbon. The distillery was later purchased by E.H. Taylor Jr., one of Kentucky’s original bourbon aristocrats. Astute and innovative, Taylor brought advancements to the facility as well as to the entire whiskey industry. By 1886, the distillery had introduced the nation’s first climate-controlled warehousing for aging whiskey and had earned a worldwide reputation for producing America’s finest bourbons.
During the Prohibition era, the distillery’s existence was spared by the allowance of a permit–one of only four issued in the country–to continue distillation for medicinal purposes. After repeal, Albert Blanton took over the operation of the distillery and added many quality control enhancements. An innovator in his own right, Blanton enjoyed producing single-barrel bourbon for himself and his friends. This tradition was honored in 1984 when the distillery became the first to commercially market a single-barrel bourbon. Today the Buffalo Trace Distillery site encompasses 119 acres and 114 buildings. The George T. Stagg distillery was renamed Buffalo Trace in June 1999 and introduced its flagship bourbon, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, in August 1999.
Buffalo Trace Bourbon, 90 proof
Nose: A nice richness of caramel, oak and vanilla.
Taste: Medium bodied with vanilla and a slight toffee finish. The finish is smooth and satisfying. The rye in the blend gives it a nice spiciness; I found it complex, smooth and creamy.
Bulleit Distilling Company
KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY
Augustus Bulleit was a Barkeep in Louisville, Kentucky. He would create small batch bourbons of different flavors to find his favorite recipe. After many trials and tribulations he finally created the bourbon recipe he set out to find. While August was transporting barrels of his bourbon from Kentucky to New Orleans, he disappeared, vanished. It is still unknown what happened to him.
In 1987 his great-great-grandson, Tom Bulleit, a lawyer by trade, now distills Bulleit bourbon in the same small batch style that Augusta Bulleit did over 150 years ago, thus preserving the family legacy.
Bulleit Bourbon, Frontier Whiskey, 90 proof
Nose: A nice sweet and spicy honey with medium wood tones and a pinch of smoke, a nice balanced aroma.
Taste: Rich and full with a bit of vanilla, honey and oak. A bit more rugged or sharp than other bourbons in the mid-palette, which is probably due to its high content of rye, somewhere around 30%. A very nice bourbon.
James B. Beam Distilling Company
Supplier: Beam Global Spirits and Wine
Jacob Beam sold his first barrel of whiskey in 1795. The family business begins and passes down thru four sons. By 1880 the Beam bourbon called Old Tub, became a national bourbon. Jim Beam
sold his distillery in 1920 due to prohibition, upon the repeal in 1933; Beam rebuilt his distillery and was back in business, to stay. Through generations, Jeremiah Beam, Booker Noe and now Fred Noe carry on the tradition of this heralded family business.
Jim Beam Black, Double Aged, 8 Year Old Bourbon, 86 proof
Color: Dark Amber
Nose: The aroma changes in the pour within a few minutes, strong and medicinal at first, it mellows. It could be me, but I get a lemon zest character.
Taste: It tastes stronger than the 86 proof it is. A little thinner, not as viscous as some. Good wood flavors, not sweet at all, finishes with a bit of gusto. To me, a masculine whiskey.
Red Stag, 80 proof
Color: Red Auburn
Nose: Dark cherry notes over the sweet, slightly woody bourbon.
Taste: Viscous, a bit syrupy, but that is how it is supposed to be. Very smooth, more sophisticated than the nose. The finish is not long but it has a fun infused flavor to it. Strikes me as a sporting bourbon, made for fun drinks and fun times.
Knob Creek Kentucky Bourbon, 100 proof
Knob Creek is named after the creek that Abraham Lincoln spent his boyhood days on 20 miles south of the distillery. Aged 9 years in level 4 charred barrels; this small batch bourbon emulates the bourbons of yesteryear, bottled at 100 proof. Created by the late Booker Noe, this is a world-class small batch bourbon, not to be missed.
Color: Medium dark amber
Nose: No mistake what in your glass with this spirit. The room filled with the aroma of roasted nuts, toffee and smoky wood and more.
Taste: A rich flavor jumps right out of the glass, a bit strong until you get used to it, but once you adjust to the proof, it delivers a balanced flavor of rich wood and honey, with a kick! It gives me a mid-palette burst that almost numbs the roof of your mouth straight. A pinch of branch water would help to mellow the proof in this muscle bound bourbon.
Jack Daniel was one of 13 children, born in or around 1850, nobody knows for sure due to the burning of the courthouse records and all. He was mentored by a Lutheran minister named Dan Call who taught him everything he knew about making whiskey. Mr. Call fell under increasing pressure from his ministry to concentrate his efforts on either religion or making whiskey. He chose religion and sold his still to Jack in 1863, who was 13 at the time. Thank God for that! Jack was taught and firmly believed in mellowing fresh whiskey through hard maple charcoal. He perfected this process in a few short years and it is still done at the distillery today giving Jack Daniel’s its distinctive flavor.
The oldest registered distillery in the U.S., Jack Daniel’s Distillery, was bought by Brown Forman in 1956. Today, Brown-Forman is one of the largest American-owned spirits and wine companies and among the top 10 largest global spirits companies.
Jack Daniels Old #7 Brand, 80 proof
One story goes that the recipe for Jack Daniel’s was Mr. Jack’s 7th recipe or 7th trial batch. The only one who knows is Mr. Jack, but if it is true, we’re just glad he didn’t go for number eight…
Nose: Medium bodied, with sweet caramel notes with
a hint of charcoal/smoke.
Taste: Full and flavorful, masculine tasting, a bit of leather to it, stronger and less sweet than typical bourbons, which this is not, and doesn’t want to be. This is Tennessee whiskey at its best.
Gentleman Jack, 80 proof
Gentleman Jack takes the Jack Daniel’s formula for Tennessee whiskey and incorporates an extra step– a second charcoal mellowing after it has been aged. In this process they drip the whiskey through about 10 ft of sugar maple charcoal over a 4 to 6 day period to create a whiskey of distinction.
Color: Dark Golden
Nose: Medium to full bodied with oak and vanilla, slightly earthy with a slight smoke. Almost a minty character to it if you reach hard enough.
Taste: Medium body with a slight pepper tingle at the beginning giving way to a rich nutty, orchard fruit flavor. Finish is clean and creamy.
HAND CRAFTED MOONSHINE
MADISON, NORTH CAROLINA
Piedmont Distillers, Inc is a small distillery that produces its hand-crafted spirits in an authentic, small-batch copper pot still. It is the only “legal” distillery in the state and operates out of a former train station built in 1915. The small town of Madison is located in Western North Carolina at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Piedmont Distiller’s mission is to create a family of completely new products that stir your imagination and deliver the most unique and satisfying experience ever. Our first product, Catdaddy, a specially crafted Carolina Moonshine, draws on a private-batch recipe that contains ingredients not used in any other product. True to the history of moonshine, each batch is born in an authentic copper pot still and our hand-crafted process ensures we deliver the highest
quality product in every bottle.
Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon, 80 proof
Nose: Clean and robust.
Taste: A lower proof than the old ‘shine at 80 proof, but it still has a nice kick. It was silky and viscous with little flavor per say and did not burn, as I would have suspected.
Austin, Nichols Distilling Company
Supplier: Pernod Ricard
Legendary Master Distiller Jimmy Russell and his son, Associate Master Distiller, Eddie Russell of Wild Turkey fame produce this remarkably smooth, hand selected small-batch whiskey. Jimmy Russell joined the distillery in 1954, in 2004 after 50 years with the Wild Turkey Distillery, they released a limited edition 15 year old bourbon called Wild Turkey Tribute.
Trivia fact – In the 1940’s, Thomas McCarthy, hunter and distillery executive, brought a supply of his private bourbon on a turkey hunt to enjoy with friends. When they had the annual hunt the next year, his friends asked him if he could bring some of the “Wild Turkey” bourbon he brought last year. The rest is history.
Russell’s Reserve Rye 6 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, 90 Proof
Color: Rich Tawny
Nose: Sweet and woody. Leather and vanilla jump out with spices accenting the full, but smooth nose.
Taste: The rye gives it a wonderful spiciness you wouldn’t get in a bourbon. The wood, vanilla and spices blend into a complex flavored whiskey. A very nice treat! It finishes with a nutty character.
Maker’s Mark Distillery
KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKY
Supplier: Beam Global Spirits and Wine
Maker’s Mark is Bill Samuels’ baby. He creates this soft and sweet whiskey with winter wheat instead of the traditional rye, giving it a sweeter flavor without bitterness. While purists will think this whiskey a little on the feminine side, it’s not, just smoother than most. Marked by the traditional wax dip, this world class whiskey has become a favorite of bourbon drinkers everywhere.
Maker’s Mark, 90 Proof
Nose: Sweet, slight cinnamon spice and tight grained wood. Very pleasant.
Taste: Wood, vanilla and spice seem to hit me first. Mid-palette is soft and luxurious. Very balanced flavor with a soft and creamy finish.
Maker’s 46, 94 proof
Ten seared wooden staves are affixed inside a mature barrel of Maker’s Mark and aged several more months to achieve the taste they are looking for.
Color: Medium to dark amber almost henna
Nose: Smooth and rich for a 94 proof whiskey. Same slight cinnamon spice as the original with a modified sweetness level.
Taste: seems a bit stronger than and not as sweet as the original for being just 4 more proof points. Still all the vanilla and spice as the original but I definitely taste the difference between the two whiskies. A little more time, more proof and more wood will do that!
Because the bottles are hand-dipped, no two are alike.