photo courtesy Woodford Reserve

photo courtesy Woodford Reserve

What’s new in bourbon, American single malt, Tennessee and other whiskeys

As we enter Bourbon Heritage Month, we see there might be some speed bumps in the road, but it seems there’s no stopping the growth of American whiskey. Despite overseas tariffs and other challenges (we’ll be covering those in tomorrow’s article), sales have risen 6.6% in 2018, contributing to a $3.6 billion industry, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. There’s a lot of American whiskey out there, and the good news is, thanks to growing consumer savvy, brands are increasingly more transparent about what’s in the bottle these days. They’re getting more creative with their products too, as distillers and bottlers explore alternative grains, cask finishes and blending techniques while working within the parameters of category stipulations.

Here are some of the newest releases to look for:

(Note: for new international whiskies out these season, please click here)

American Single Malt

Westland Distillery Garryana American Single Malt 2019 (a.k.a. Edition 4): This is one of the releases I look forward to most each year. Garryana is a native Pacific Northwestern species of oak (also called Garry oak) that had been nearing extinction. But don’t worry—each cask constructed from Garryana is from trees that have already fallen, and in repurposing the wood, Westland is also examining ways to preserve their habitat. In order to further explore the impact of the Garry oak on American single malt flavor, they matured this edition in 29% first fill ex-rye casks, 29% first fill ex-bourbon, 19% new Garryana oak, 16% Pedro Ximinez sherry hogshead and 7% refill Garryana oak (that’s the part that’s the real kicker). This could be my favorite so far, with comforting scents of roasted spices—ginger, fennel, cardamom, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon—tingling the nose and playing on the palate along with milk chocolate, vanilla and a hint of grapefruit peel. The finish is long and warming, but not too hot. 3,750 bottles produced, 50% ABV, $150

Tennessee Whisk(e)y

Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch: The brand is named for Nathan “Nearest” Green, the first known African American master distiller, who made whiskey in late 19th century Tennessee. The barrels for this bottling were selected by brand CEO and co-founder Fawn Weaver. From a press release: “This particular offering honors Nearest’s memory through his family’s personal involvement in the blending process, with each batch curated by a different descendant of the legendary master distiller and the back label of each bottle signed by the descendant who created that batch. The first bottles hitting shelves are curated by Victoria Eady-Butler, great-great-granddaughter of Nearest, shareholder of Uncle Nearest and its Director of Administration.” It’s a bit lighter in style than the first release (the 1856, which won silver in the 2019 NY International Spirits Competition), with zippy tropical fruit notes and a toasty maltiness. 46.5% ABV, $50.

George Dickel Bottled in Bond Tennessee Whisky: For her first curated release for Cascade Hollow Distilling Co., General Manager and Distiller Nicole Austin chose a mature (13 years, distilled in the fall of 2005) BIB—a style she says is near and dear to her heart, given that style’s history as a mark of quality, ensuring all aspects of it are legit. I love the tangy apricot fruitiness of this whisky (yes, the brand forgoes the “e”), enveloped by a pleasantly leathery pipe tobacco smokiness and a hint of movie popcorn butteriness. 50% ABV, $36

Straight Wheat Whiskey

Woodford Reserve Wheat: This whiskey, based on historical recipes, now joins the core distillery lineup. It’s produced from a mash bill of 52 % wheat, 20% malted barley, 20% corn and 8% rye. The flavor reminds me of a comforting bowl of warm cereal, with a soft, creamy texture, topped with baking spices, banana, vanilla, brown sugar and dried fruits. It retains enough grainy flavors, though, to keep it from tasting too sweet. 45.2% ABV, $35


Bardstown Bourbon Fusion Series #1: A mix of old and new, “estate made” wheated and high rye bourbons, both aged 2 years, are blended with a sourced 11 year old Kentucky bourbon. The result is one of the most satisfyingly earthy and savory bourbons I’ve tasted, with tons of spiciness gripped around notes of black olives, coffee and leather. Now available in CA, FL, IL, IN, TN and its home state of Kentucky - $60. Also look out for Discovery #1 and Phifer Pavitt Reserve wine finished bourbons.

Parker’s Heritage 13th Edition Heavy Char Rye): The barrels for this bottling were aged in level 5 charred barrels (as opposed to the typical level 3), aged on the 7th floor of Rickhouse Y for 8 years. The effect on the whiskey makes it not only a bit charcoal-smoky, but also pleasantly herbal and grassy with peppery (both the spice and the vegetable) accents and a hint of grapefruit and lemon zest in the finish. As with each release of this namesake whiskey, a portion of proceeds are given to ALS charities for research and patient care to commemorate the late Master Distiller Parker Beam, who died of the disease in 2017. 52.5% ABV, $150

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Amaranth Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon: Named for one of Buffalo Trace distillery’s original owners, this rare, small batch one-off (a.k.a. E.H. Taylor, Jr. #9) swaps out the typical rye in the mash bill for the ancient grain amaranth, blending it along with BT Mash Bill #1 corn and malted barley. I dig the viscosity and intensity of this bottling, as well as its unexpected savoriness—the taste is a bit akin to a hunk of herbed foccacia bread—along with bittersweet chocolate and espresso notes. Good heat in the finish too. Buy it if you can find it! 50% ABV, $70

Barton 1792 12 Year Old Small Batch Bourbon: This more mature offering (from BT’s “sister distillery”) uses the same high rye recipe as the NAS (non-age statement) 1792 small batch bourbon. Time has been kind to this whiskey, which tastes a bit like a snack of sesame crackers along with some fresh summer stone fruits and a bite of milk chocolate, ending in a warm, spicy kick. 48.3% ABV, $50

Rabbit Hole Distilling Heigold High Rye Bourbon: With new branding in tall, sleek rabbit-etched bottles following the distillery’s purchase by spirits giant Pernod Ricard, Louisville’s artsy Rabbit Hole distillery has begun a new journey with the release of Heigold. It’s a bourbon with a high rye mash bill named for the 19th century German stonecutter who carved details into the facade of the building the distillery operates from downtown. Heigold consists of 70% corn, 5% malted barley and 25% malted rye (imported from Germany). The idea was to present a toasty, malty whiskey, and they succeeded, along with fun accents of salted, roasted almonds, dried mangos, and powdered hot chocolate mix. 47.5% ABV, $70

Welcome back to the world, Smooth Ambler Old Scout Straight Bourbon! Following a three year hiatus, this West Virginia distillery and bottler has re-released one of its most sought after whiskeys with a high rye recipe of 60% corn, 36% rye and 4% malted barley. I am happy to report it’s just as zippy and satisfying as ever. 49.5% ABV, $45

Little Book Chapter 3 “The Road Home”: For the 3rd in this annual series blended by Freddie Noe (son of 7th generation Master Distiller Fred Noe and grandson of Booker), he sticks close to his legacy roots with a blend of 9-year-old Knob Creek Bourbon, 9-year-old Basil Hayden's Bourbon, 11-year-old Booker’s Bourbon and 12-year-old Baker's Bourbon. How do all these core products taste Frankensteined together? It’s aliiiiiive! 61.3% ABV, $126

Gun Fighter 13 American Straight Bourbon Whiskey Tennessee Orphan Cask: There’s a lot to unpack in the name of this whiskey, bottled by Golden Moon Distillery in Golden, Colorado. Do we really need to say a whiskey is “American” if it’s already labeled as bourbon, something that can’t be done with a whiskey made in that style outside the US? What happened to this whiskey barrel’s parents if it’s an orphan? What does it have to do with gunfights, and with so much violence in our country these days, do we really need to glamorize that image? Well, the stuff tasted very good, which is why I decided to include it on this list. The liquid has a very classic bourbon flavor profile, with raisin bran cereal sweetness, decent heat and a lingering finish. If you see it in a good whiskey bar, it’s worth a taste for sure, especially since there’s not much American craft bourbon at this age range, from well chosen single barrels, at its price point. Hey, Golden Moon, maybe for the next release you can call it “Assault Rifle Protection Lobbyist”? Just a thought. 50% ABV, $99