According to the Technomic’s 2014 Spirits TAB Report, one of the bankable beverage trends in the U.S. is that whiskey sales are now growing at a faster rate than those of light liquors. Big news as this is the first time in over 10 years that that is true. Certainly one explanation for this shift in consumers’ preference must be attributed to the combined efforts of the America’s craft distillers.
Over the past decade there has been surge in the number of small, craft distilleries being opened in the U.S., each the culmination of one individuals passion for creating exemplary spirits. Relying more on expertise and craftsmanship than algorithms and focus groups, these master distillers are changing how we see whiskey. Pioneers like Phil Prichard, Lincoln Henderson, Dave Pickerell and Dave Schmier are a small handful of the craft distillers responsible for the popular resurgence of the whiskey category.
Another member of the fraternity is Jess Graber, who cut his teeth in 2000 as one of the creators of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey along with Flying Dog Brewery’s George Stranahan. His current claim to fame is TINCUP American Whiskey, which is distilled in Indiana from corn (64%), rye (32%) and barley malt (4%). After it exits the still, the whiskey is taken to the Stranahan’s Distillery in Colorado where it is aged in new charred American oak barrels. Prior to bottling it is reduced to 84-proof with Rocky Mountain spring water.
“I wanted to create an authentic American whiskey that combines the best Midwestern grains with Colorado’s incomparable pure water,” says Graber. “Given its high rye content, I think that TINCUP will appeal to whiskey drinkers who want a bolder, spicier taste. It’s a great sipping whiskey, neat or with a few ice cubes, and also makes a good base for classic cocktails like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned.”
Unlike Stranahan’s, which is distilled entirely from malted barley, TINCUP has more of an American orientation, yet is bolder and spicier than conventional bourbons. Garber describes TINCUP’s taste experience “honey on a corn muffin with spicy pepper and raisins.”
Whiskey enthusiasts are beating a path to our shores. The following hot new North American Whiskeys offer insight into the reason why. Cheers!
Angel’s Envy — This gem of a bourbon is handcrafted at the Louisville Distilling Company by Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson, formerly of Woodford Reserve. The small batch whiskey is made from a mash of corn, rye and Kentucky limestone spring water. Distillation takes place in both a column still and a traditional pot still. The whiskey is aged between 4 and 6 years in charred American oak barrels, after which it is finished in port casks for an additional 3 to 6 months.
Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey — This highly innovative whiskey is double-distilled in a classic alambic Charentais pot still from 20,000 gallons of premium, bottle-ready Pilsner beer, from which master distillers Miles and Marko Karakasevic derive 1000 gallons of whiskey. The whiskey is made from European Two-Row Barley, grown and malted in British Columbia, and choice hops, which are added just before distillation to contribute floral and spice notes. Aging takes place in French oak barrels.
Four Rose’s Single Barrel — Made in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, the limited edition 2013 Four Roses Single Barrel is aged for a minimum of 12 years and bottled at barrel strength at 109.4 proof. Master Distiller Jim Rutledge hand selected the barrels for this expression and only 4,000 bottles are being produced. Consider also Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon. It is made from a blend of four Kentucky straight bourbon whiskeys—whose mash bills are comprised of 60%-75% corn with the balance being rye and malted barley—and is bottled at 90 proof.
Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Aged Bourbon — Located in New York’s Hudson Valley, Hillrock Estate Distillery is one of the few “field-to-glass” whiskey producers in the world, and is the first U.S. distillery since before Prohibition to floor malt and handcraft whiskey on site from estate-grown grain. Master Distiller David Pickerell, former master distiller at Maker’s Mark, has created a world-class range of artisanal Hillrock whiskeys, including the first Solera aged bourbon, a single malt and a double cask rye whiskey.
Hudson Single Malt — This small batch whiskey from Tuthilltown Spirits hails from their farm distillery in Gardiner, New York. It is distilled entirely from malted barley and aged 4 years in charred oak barrels of various sizes. The whiskey is unfiltered and bottled at 92 proof. Hudson Manhattan Rye is distilled in a traditional copper pot still from whole grain rye and pure spring water. The whiskey is then matured in new charred oak barrels for 4 years and bottled unfiltered.
Larceny — Super-premium Larceny Bourbon continues the Old Fitzgerald tradition of using wheat in place of rye in the whiskey’s grain recipe, which produces a softer, fruitier whiskey. Master distiller Craig Beam selects 100 or fewer barrels that have been resting in Heaven Hill’s open rick warehouses. Larceny is drawn from barrels that have aged from 6 to 12 years and is bottled at a full-bodied 92 proof.
Masterson’s — This rye whiskey is handcrafted at the Alberta Distillers Limited Distillery in Calgary, Canada entirely from rye grain grown in the Pacific Northwest and water sourced from the Canadian Rockies. After fermentation, the mash is distilled in a small, copper pot still and then placed in white oak barrels. Masterson’s is matured for not less than 10 years before being bottled at 90 proof.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2013 — Whiskey pioneer George Garvin Brown opened his Louisville distillery in 1870. Every year Brown-Forman commemorates his birthday with a limited release, vintage-dated bourbon—Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, for which Master Distiller Chris Morris selects a set of barrels that were distilled and filled on a single day of production. The 2013 vintage of this highly sought after bourbon is 98 proof and aged for 12 years.
Pendelton Blended Canadian Whisky — Launched in 2003, Pendleton is distilled and barrel-aged in Canada. After reaching maturity, the whisky is brought to Hood River Distillers where it is rendered to 80 proof using the glacier-fed spring water from Mt. Hood, Oregon’s highest mountain peak. Pendelton is one of the fastest growing whisky brands in America
Prichard’s Double Barrel — This pot-distilled bourbon is handmade in limited quantities from white corn and rye. After distillation, it is matured in small, charred oak barrels for upwards of 9 years, after which it’s reduced to 90-proof with spring water and put back into a new charred barrel for an additional 3 to 5 years. It’s an expensive process exclusive to the Prichard’s. Equally noteworthy is Benjamin Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskey, a small batch whiskey distilled primarily from sweet white corn with lesser amounts of rye and malted barley. It’s aged for 10 years in both new charred oak barrels and 15-gallon rum casks, and then reduced to 80 proof with limestone-filtered spring water.
Redemption Rye — This classically structured, American rye whiskey is distilled in Indiana from a mash that contains 95% premium rye and 5% barley malt. The whiskey is aged for over two years in new charred oak barrels, then lightly filtered before being bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky at 92 proof. You’ll also want to spend some time with Redemption Barrel Proof Straight Rye Whiskey. Bottled at a lip-tingling 121.8 proof, it’s brimming with spicy rye notes.
Stranahans Colorado Whiskey — Handcrafted Stranahans is made from malted barley grown in the Northern Rockies. The fermented wash is distilled in a copper still whose design is a hybrid between a continuous still and a traditional copper pot still. The small batch whiskey is then aged between 2 and 5 years in heavily charred, white oak barrels and bottled at 94 proof.
WhistlePig Straight Rye — Located in Shoreham, Vermont, WhistlePig is the country’s first single estate distillery, which means that production of the whiskey takes place entirely on the estate. It’s earned its world-class reputation distilling exclusively “single malt” rye whiskey under the care and expertise of Master Distiller Dave Pickerell. WhistlePig 100% Straight Rye, 100 proof, is aged for 10 years—first in new American oak and then finished in ex-bourbon barrels. Limited edition WhistlePig Boss Hog is a muscular whiskey drawn of only 24 barrels. The acclaimed whiskey is aged for 12 ½ years and bottled at barrel proof (134 proof).
Robert Plotkin is a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and author of 16 books on bartending and beverage management including Secrets Revealed of America’s Greatest Cocktails. He can be reached at www.AmericanCocktails.com or by e-mail at [email protected].