One of the wonderful things about whiskey is there is one for every occasion and personality. We live in a glorious age when there are choices that fit every situation. However, for some, that means shopping for them can be a dizzying prospect. How do you match a person with their whiskey?
The first step is assessing the situation, which also includes your budget. OK, Uncle Henry likes Bourbon. Great. So you know he appreciates American whiskeys. Decide whether he’d be the sort of person to choose a more traditional approach, or might want to try something new and different. Or you might be in the market for something truly rare for that special someone, something with impact. Or maybe you just need a casual hooch to bring to a party, something with good bang for the buck that isn’t what you would only drink on a dare.
Here are some suggestions that will hopefully make it easier and more fun to shop for whiskey. We’ll be presenting them in two sections – the single malts and blends from Europe and Asia will post tomorrow. Today, we present to you our picks for American Whiskeys. In the end it was a difficult choice since there are so many great ones out there from the old standards to new releases! These selections mostly highlight new and limited edition releases for the season. If you don’t see your favorite, let us know in the comments!
Happy shopping, and of course, sipping!
To bring to a party or give as a quality stocking stuffer:
Big House Bourbon (Gold Medal winner in the 2013 NY International Spirits Competition): Sometimes a gathering calls for something stronger than beer or wine. You’re stuck at the party you can’t leave yet, in conversation with Pasty Guy in Reindeer Sweater, who only talks about model planes and keeps nodding his head at the mistletoe and raising his eyebrows (unless that’s just part of that weird twitch/spasm thing, hard to tell). Or maybe that punch needs a somethin’ somethin’ extra. Maybe you just want an inexpensive Bourbon that actually tastes like someone put some care and attention into the mash and aging process, instead of sticking the hooch in the tiniest micro-barrel possible and rolling it out before it would have been old enough to chew solid food. This is the one. Solid, flavorful, aged 6 years, smooth Bourbon for the price (under $30.)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon: Yeah, it’s a big boy at 120 proof. The kick is there alright, but the stuff somehow manages to go down smooth as a peach. This more mature expression is toasty, with flavors of caramel corn, maple, roasted chestnuts and slightly smoky oak. It’s also a fun conversation starter at a gathering since someone inevitably will argue whether or not to serve it over rocks. Let them drink it neat if that’s what they want. You can then knowingly sip away on your delicious chilled drink, the ice heightening the bold whiskey flavors even more, and still manage to walk down all those stairs to catch your chariot home. ($42)
Bonus: For a limited time, Knob Creek is running a FREE custom label program! Simply fill out the required info and the label is shipped out in a few days! Takes a little lead time for gift-giving, but worth the extra few clicks.
Hillrock Estate Double Cask Rye: the “double cask” refers to a second cask aging in 2 years’ seasoned, No. 4 charred oak. The extra seasoning is critical in eliminating some of the stronger tannins that can sometimes be imparted from the wood and can ‘harshen,’ if you will, a Rye. Genius! Hailing from the Hudson Valley, this soft and toasty Rye has lovely pie spice, hugged by vanilla. A splurge for a Rye lover that Bourbon aficionados would definitely appreciate ($90.)
An American whiskey for the Scotch drinker who’s a sucker for a fancy cask finish:
Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Yr Finished with Spanish Brandy: Yep, it’s Jim Beam. Yes, that Jim Beam. The entry level products are what they are, and I was hesitant to include this for the brand association alone. However, tasting was believing. Scotchy tricks, Bourbon pricing. Except, surprisingly, the “trick” isn’t as tricky as one would think. The whiskey somehow manages an impressive balancing act that retains mellow aged Bourbon characteristics that are several steps up from Beam’s entry level products, with an extra hit of sweet fruit in the finish that doesn’t overpower things in syrupy goo. Basically, it tastes like really good Bourbon given a berried infusion, done by somebody who knows how to pull off such projects. Whoulda thunk? Price (around $40) can’t be beat either for its age or its extra finish.
For the tale about the big “quest” that makes them feel loved (also applies to the previous category):
Abraham Bowman Port Finished Bourbon: Super limited quantities of this stuff from A. Smith Bowman Distillery, but very much worth finding. The easiest way to tell the story is the wording from the press release: “In October of 2011, four used Bourbon barrels that had held Bowman Brothers Bourbon since 2007 were given to a local Fredericksburg winery. The winery in turn aged their Port wine inside these barrels for 15 months. The barrels were then returned to A. Smith Bowman in April 2013 and subsequently filled with Bourbon that had been made in March 2001. The Bourbon was finished inside the Port barrels for an additional four months.” It’s four years older than the last time they tried this, and the extra maturity wears well, as does its 100 proof strength. Maybe because Bourbon was always part of the equation, the Port finish is subtle enough to peak interest and enhance inherent flavors rather than steal the show. Track this fella down like a long lost lover. Someone’s bound to be glad you found it. (prices vary depending on markup $70 – $100)
For the boutique whiskey aficionado:
Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye: There are plenty of boutique/artisinal/craft whatever products out there. Sure, they made a cute label with a retro nostalgic film school wireframe-wearing font and put a batch number on it. But what does it really mean? In this case, it stands for something – yumminess. 75% Rye with 25% malted barley (not corn!), aged for 18 months, then blended with 6 month old rye to give it some additional vigor. Spicy and soothing, from the heart of Red Hook, Brooklyn! ($40)
Masterson’s Wheat Whiskey (another medalist in the 2013 NY International Spirits Competition): The whiskey is named for an Old West marshal, gambler, newspaper owner and boxing promoter named Bat Masterson, which in and of itself is a huge selling point. It happens to be a lovely, silky 12 year old, predominantly wheat-based whiskey with rounded spices and a cocoa finish. They had a lot of fun with the label too. ($60)
The one you can’t go wrong with:
E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel: Named for Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. one of the founding fathers of the Bourbon trade, who fought for the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, 3 decades after he purchased what is now called Buffalo Trace Distillery. He was one of the first to use climate controlled warehouses, and this whiskey is actually aged in one of his originals. 100 proof, bottled in bond, also comes in gift-worthy packaging. Balanced, warming and satisfying. The only person who would hate it is someone who doesn’t like drinking delicious things with a cool back story. ($75)