The term “American whiskey” might sound generic but that’s definitely not the case. The category is full of all those whiskeys made in the U.S. that don’t fall into the guidelines set for American single malt, bourbon, or rye whiskeys. That means the whiskeys in this category are far-reaching and can include blended whiskeys, corn whiskeys, wheat whiskeys, multi-grain whiskeys, and even unaged whiskeys. To help you dive into the wide category, I decided it was high time for yet another blind taste test to see what’s both new and exciting in American whiskey right now.
For this lineup, I grabbed eight new bottles from my shelf — a mix of brand new releases and 2022 expressions of standards and classics. I went deep and included whiskeys that are blended from barrels from multiple states and grain sources (a couple even have a minor drop or two of Scotch or Canadian whisky in the mix) alongside corn whisky, some old-school sour mash, and even some white whiskey. It’s a broad spectrum, just like American whiskey, that I then ranked on taste alone.
Our lineup today is:
- Five Trail Blended American Whiskey Small Batch Limited Release
- The Beverly High Rye Fine American Whiskey
- Bardstown Discovery Series #9 Blended Whiskey
- Barrell Craft Spirits Dovetail Gray Label
- High West Campfire
- Shenk’s Homestead
- Stillhouse America’s Finest Original Whiskey
- Balcones Big Baby Bottled In Bond
Okay, let’s dive in and find a new bottle to stock on your bar cart this fall!
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Part 1: The Tasting
The nose opens with a classic sense of burnt orange, cardamom pods, dried chili pepper (only a dash), and soft leather with a touch of ginger lurking in the background. The palate leans into Honey-Nut Cheerios with an almost floral honey vibe next to creamy vanilla sauce. The mid-palate leans back into the burnt orange with a hint of spicy apple pie filling and a hint of spiced cherry tobacco on the finish.
The was a nice surprise as the first pour. It’s really nice and has some serious depth, and definitely feels like it was built for bourbon drinkers.
The nose is soft and full of rye bread crusts, a touch of pound cake, and a hint of marzipan with a mild “woodiness” below everything. The palate feels very Irish Whiskey with a spiced maltiness — cinnamon and nutmeg mostly — next to wet brown sugar, floral honey, and a hint of lemon pepper. The end really leans into the maltiness with a hint of nutshell woodiness and toffee sweetness next to mild raisin notes.
This really felt like an Irish whiskey to me. I mean that in a good way.
Hints of sour apple and savory melon draw you in on the nose with old leather, threads of saffron, wet cedar, ripe gooseberries, and plenty of burnt orange next to woody winter spices. The taste is lush and creamy with just the right amount of vanilla oils next to a moist cinnamon cake countered by dry reeds, bran muffin (a touch of Tennessee whiskey?), and cherry cordial. That sweetness drives the finish toward a mix of forest mushrooms and stewed plums with a hint of ice tea powder and old porch furniture.
This is a deep sip of whiskey. It feels complex but not complicated. There’s a sense of ease to the nose and palate that’s very welcoming. It’s going to be hard to beat.
This is another deep nose full of fresh leather, fresh chili peppers, green tart apple skins, tart berries, Christmas cake, and maybe some peanut shells and cream soda. The palate has a mild tannic edge that’s more old charred oak than anything else next to strawberry rhubarb crumble, some fennel, a hint of vanilla protein powder (Tennessee sneaks in again!), and a mix of floral and black tea with a dollop of fresh honey. The end has a black licorice vibe with a bit of orange/chocolate tobacco dipped in miso.
This is really good but a wild one. There’s just a lot going on and it takes time to get through it all — it’s kind of like taking a machete to the jungle to find a path. It’s fun but takes a lot of effort.
The nose on this one is immediately peated with a sweet edge of toffee, buttered cinnamon toast, and plenty of dark red berries next to green tea, soft leather, and a hint of pine tobacco. The palate has a generally “peatiness” that remains sweet with plenty of vanilla and fresh honey next to more of those red berries and a good dose of matcha tea dusted with nutmeg and cinnamon. The end leans into the rye and bourbon with a hint of orange zest, salted caramel, and spiced tobacco next to that sweet smokiness.
I like this but there’s no real depth to the peatiness besides it being sweet and just there. The rest is well built though.
Soft leather, burnt orange, spiced Christmas cake, fresh vanilla beans, sultanas, and a hint of fresh firewood round out the nose with a hint of almost sweet oak char. The palate has a nice sweet spiciness to it like a box of Hot Tamales next to allspice and orange with raisins, nutmeg, and a whisper of espresso bean sneaking in late. The end marries the orange oils to soft cedar notes with a woody spiciness next to soft notes of sweet cinnamon, stewed plums, minced meat pies, and brandied cherries layered into chewy tobacco leaves.
This is delicious, nuanced, and perfectly balanced. It warms you to your soul while feeling like you’re coming home after a long time away.
White whiskey! This clear pour has a nose that’s surprisingly deep and full of salted butter, butterscotch, vanilla-heavy cream soda, and almond crescent cookies (with the powdered sugar and all). The palate is a little watery at first but immediately pushes toward vanilla pound cake with yellow frosting and sprinkles. It’s sweet but tempered on the finish thanks to that vanilla cake vibe.
This was sweet but had a nice balance to it. There was a little water on the front of the palate but none of the finish really.
The nose opens with a hint of singed barrel char next to bright notes of Key lime pie, grapefruit pith, and orange-tobacco leaves next to a hint of freshly cracked red peppercorn, a twinge of five spice, and soft cedar kindling. The palate has a black tea vibe that’s cut with dry chili pepper flakes, a flake of kosher salt, and some honeydew melon skins. The mid-palate leans into raisins and Martinelli Apple Cider, pear candy, and a hint of vanilla wafer. The end hits on a Russian Wild Berry Schweppes soda next to cedar and vanilla/orange tobacco.
This has some serious shifts from savory to tart to sweet on the flavor profile. I like it but it felt a little taxing getting through the whole palate (which might just be because it’s the eighth pour).
Part 2: The Ranking
8. The Beverly High Rye Fine American Whiskey — Taste 2
Average Price: $60
This brand new whiskey is rendered from a marriage of Iowa’s famed Cedar Ridge and Indiana’s MGP whiskeys. The blend balances bourbon with a majority of rye in the mix to create a “high rye” American whiskey.
This was good. It didn’t last in my mind that long and didn’t really take me anywhere. It was a solid sip that I immediately wanted to build a cocktail with, which feels like the point of the marketing around this bottle.
7. Stillhouse America’s Finest Original Whiskey — Taste 7
Average Price: $24
This white whiskey is made from 100 percent corn grown in the fields around the distilleries the whiskey comes from in Kentucky and Virginia. After copper pot distillation, the hot juice is charcoal filtered before proofing and bottling (or canning in this case).
For something that could have easily been just a vodka made from corn mash, this feels like it’s on a whiskey path and not a vodka one. I liked it but would only likely use it for cocktails that need a good vanilla sweetness boost.
6. High West Campfire — Taste 5
Average Price: $80
This blend from Utah’s beloved High West is a big mix. The majority is a blend of MGP’s famed 95 percent rye (with five percent malted barley) mixed with High West’s own 80 percent rye/20 percent malted rye and an MGP bourbon with 75 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and only four percent malted barley. Finally, a dash of blended pure malt Scotch whisky is added to the mix from an undisclosed distillery somewhere in Scotland. All of that is then proofed down and bottled.
I like this as a beginner’s peated whiskey. There’s no real depth to the peat or smoke beyond sweetness, and that’s fine. But if you’re already into hefty peat monsters like Laphroaig or Ardbeg, this will fall a little flat for you.
5. Balcones Big Baby Bottled In Bond — Taste 8
Average Price: $60
This Texas whiskey is one of the most interesting releases of 2022. The juice is made from 100 percent roasted blue corn from New Mexico. That mash is pot distilled before going into used tequila barrels for a five-year rest. After maturation, the barrels are vatted and proofed down to 100 proof per bottled-in-bond law and bottled as-is.
I really have to be in the mood for this one. It’s complex and nuanced. And there’s just so much going on that I need time to actually enjoy it. It’s really good, you need a good ten minutes to really get into it.
4. Barrell Craft Spirits Dovetail Gray Label — Taste 4
Average Price: $249
This evolution of the already beloved Dovetail from Barrell Craft Spirits is an instant classic. The juice is a blend of rare barrels from Indiana, Tennessee, and Canada with ages reaching above 20 years old. Those whiskeys are then finished in a combination of rum, port, and Dunn Vineyards cabernet barrels before batching and bottling in Louisville, Kentucky at cask strength and with zero tweaks.
This is so good but, again, it needs a lot of your time to find all that goodness. There’s a deep nose and flavor profile but you need to let it breathe, add water, go back and forth on the nose and taste, just to scratch the surface. But, folks, once you get there, this is pretty goddamn interesting and delicious.
3. Five Trail Blended American Whiskey Small Batch Limited Release — Taste 1
Average Price: $72
This is another big blend of whiskeys that leans into the new Coors Distilling out in Colorado (yes, that Coors). The whiskey is a blend of sourced whiskeys from Indiana (a four-year wheated bourbon), Kentucky (a four-year four-grain bourbon), Tennessee (a 17-year TN whiskey), and Colorado (an eight-year-old American single malt). Those whiskeys are vatted in a small batch and bottled proofed down a tad with that Coors Rocky Mountain water.
This was really good. It had depth and character, and I genuinely wanted to go back for another sip. It was a little light on the finish thanks to the proofing but that’s more of a nit-pick than anything else.
2. Bardstown Discovery Series #9 Blended Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $140
The Bardstown Discovery Series has become one of the most beloved and sought-after blended whiskeys in the game. Their latest edition is a mix of 35 percent eight-year-old Georgia bourbon, 31 percent 12-year-old Kentucky bourbon, 19 percent 17-year-old Tennessee whiskey, and 15 percent 12-year-old corn whiskey from Ontario. Those barrels are shipped to Bardstown where they’re masterfully vatted and bottled as-is.
This is just delicious. It’s also complex and deep but you don’t need to spend so much time digging out those complexities, hence it’s higher on this ranking. Still, pour this over a rock or with a few drops of water to really enjoy the nuance of this sip.
1. Shenk’s Homestead — Taste 6
Average Price: $150
Chinquapin oak is at the core of this release as well. The variable here is that this isn’t bourbon. This straight whisky leans heavily into rye but isn’t rye, not by law anyway. The juice is devised to highlight the best of both worlds with a unique barreling that really brings something unique to the table and palate.
The was the best tasting overall. It went down easy. It was beautifully layered. And it was just a nice experience overall.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
There was a lot going on with this list of whiskeys, and I like it all for the most part. The biggest surprise was how un-vodka-like the white whiskey was. It had a serious flavor profile that stood out. You can’t beat that.
Overall, I really liked all of these but the top two were the real winners today. They’re just stellar pours of whiskey that stick with you. They take you somewhere on the palate. They don’t spend too much time over challenging your palate either. Sometimes the best whiskeys are the ones that let you breathe a sigh of relief without thinking too much about what’s happening in the glass.