Great American Whiskey

Now is the time to praise traditional straight whiskey. While we applaud the recent craft-spirit movement, we hasten to recall America’s more-than-two-century heritage in making straight whiskies of superior age with a few innovations of their own.

Maker’s Mark spiced up its Bourbon this summer, releasing the distillery’s first line extension since 1958. Maker’s 46 is a collaboration of the master distiller and cask maker. They make a Bourbon just like the original and then give it an extra finish by dipping 10 French oak staves, which have been quickly seared at high temperature, into the barrel for about 11 weeks. The supremely smooth liquor gets a zest of licorice in the bargain.

A close look at the superpremiums Booker’s, Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s and Knob Creek (expect a single-barrel expression soon) of the Original Small Batch Bourbon Collection reveals that they are Jim Beam products. Jim Beam Black, the double-aged version of standard Beam with the big taste and the approachable price, has no such identity issue. Fred Noe, son of Booker, is the seventh-generation Beam at the still house.

Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell is the distiller’s distiller and his (along with son Eddie’s) Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10 Year Old exemplifies their craft with plenty of maple, vanilla, oak and orange peel. At 90 proof, it’s a little less forbidding than Turkey’s signature 101 strength.

Jack Daniel’s is the Bourbon everyone thinks they know. And they do,—it just isn’t Bourbon, but a close cousin called Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey. (George Dickel is similarly made.) Both are made like Bourbon, then are filtered through charcoal.  Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel came from serendipity when, in the early 1990s, space utilized in warehouse attics was found to give the whiskey extra maturation.

Woodford Reserve is made in one of Kentucky’s most storied distilleries in copper-pot stills. The spirit is smooth and the taste sweet, with cherry, vanilla and caramel. Woodford periodically experiments with its Master’s Collection. The latest has a maple-wood finish.

Bulleit Bourbon, like Basil Hayden’s, is marked by a high rye content in its mash bill. The spicy jolt—prescribed by an old family recipe from the founder’s great-great-grandfather—is reminiscent of the frontier.

Heaven Hill, the last family-owned distillery in Kentucky, makes the venerable Elijah Craig Bourbon and beguiling Rittenhouse straight ryes. Our favorite is Evan Williams’ Single Barrel Vintage, another great buy. Master distiller Parker Beam, great nephew of Jim, personally picks the barrels for a new version of this 10-year-old each year.

They’ve made spirits under different names at Buffalo Trace since before the revolution, conjuring such storied whiskies as Blanton’s Single Barrel, Elmer T. Lee and George T. Stagg. Now add the Eagle Rare Single Barrel, a distinct 10-year-old at value price, with maple sugar and orange notes.

stantine972 November 19, 2010 9:37pm ET
Great article Jack. The only way it could be better would be to make it 20 pages long. Love those Bourbons.
JT Hallbeck Alamogordo, NM, USA, December 9, 2010 10:12pm ET
Liquid gold, baby. Having some Knob Creek right now with a mild cigar.
James White Chicago, IL, USA, December 30, 2010 11:19am ET
I agree! Great article I am a bourbon guy: My favorites in no particular order: Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniels Single Barrel is pretty good also. If I had to pick one to go with a Partagas Black label I think it would be the Knob, but they are all great
Eric Hewett Leamington, Ontario, Canada, December 30, 2010 11:50am ET
Hey Jack, love the article. A good bourbon is a thing of beauty. Have you ever done, or would you consider a similar article on Canadian Rye Whiskey's?
Daniel Cain Hampstead, NC, US, December 30, 2010 10:05pm ET
Basil is one of the top bourbons on the market but Woodford is a close 2nd.
Taylor Franklin December 30, 2010 11:02pm ET
Don't forget Willet's.

It's some of the best I've ever had.

Seek it out if you can. Highly recommended.
Juan Tirado Brookline, ma, United states, December 31, 2010 1:53pm ET
At the moment I'm loving Black Maple Hill and Elijah Craig 18 year... Blantons is definitely in my top five.
James DePierro New York , New York, United States Of America, January 1, 2011 12:28pm ET
newyears day celabrating with friends in my mancave with some knobcreek and padilla don;t get much better than this.
brujazz January 3, 2011 4:50pm ET
I love my bourbons and ryes. This past year I particularly enjoyed the great Black Maple Hill and the Van Winkle 13 year old. 2011 should provide some new tastes. Can't wait!
Alan Garcia Dover, DE, USA, January 29, 2011 3:49pm ET
I have to say, Maker's Mark 46 is one of my favorites, considering I am a Dalmore fan. My Father tried it during his last visit here in Delaware, and absolutely loved it.
Terry O Boyne city, MI, USA, January 10, 2012 12:59am ET
Throw a little love @ Buffalo Trace + my fav.

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