What To Give: American Whiskey Edition
Single malt, rye, bourbon, cask finishes and everything in-between to please a whiskey-loving gift recipient (and stock the home bar for the holidays).
Visiting a store to buy a whiskey gift can be daunting. Sure, you can camp at a liquor store for a special release—we won’t judge—but there are so many other worthy options besides all that cult whiskey. Here’s a list of great gift ideas for the American Whiskey drinker in your life (and by no means inclusive of all the great whiskeys out there). Prices are approximate and may vary in different markets. The most important thing to know is that there are no wrong answers—try something new and if you like it, get it again. If you don’t, then don’t. Give a new category or a new brand a try. If you are looking for Kosher Whiskey, here’s some information about that, too. Have a suggestion for The Professors? Leave us a comment below!
American Single Malt and Straight Malt
American Single Malt is a category that’s seen a lot of growth in lately, with a movement working toward making it an official TTB-recognized category within the US (for now it is sold simply as “American whiskey”). Craft distilleries in particular are producing fine quality single malts as well as straight malts (malted barley with other grains), and here are some great bottle options both in peated and unpeated styles.
Westward American Single Malt - 90 Proof, $80, 100% Pacific northwest grown two-row barley made at House Spirits distillery
Virginia Distillery Co. Port Cask Finished Virginia Highland Whiskey - 92 Proof, $58, this one is a blend of Scotch whiskey and American Single Malt whiskey that won silver in the 2018 NYISC
Journeyman Three Oaks - 90 Proof, $60, aged in three different casks (bourbon, rum and port cask)
Woodford Reserve Straight Malt - 90.4 Proof, $40, 51% malt aged in new, charred oak barrels, an example of this style from a larger distillery, aged in barrels from their own cooperage
Kings County Single Malt - 94 Proof, $45, made with malted barley from England and Scotland, slightly peatey (375ml)
Stranahan’s - 94 Proof, $50, 100% barley from the Rocky Mountain region (also look for the Sherry Cask variation)
Hillrock Estate - (cask strength proof varies), $100, made from barley grown, floor-malted, distilled and bottled at this Hudson Valley farm. It’s also a great way to honor legendary master distiller Dave Pickerell, who passed in early November.
Shelf Standard Bourbons
In Kentucky, where I’m from, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to bourbon. We can walk into a store and mull over dozens of excellent choices at low prices. Here are some of the everyday standards that are a gem for any whiskey collection.
Russell's Reserve 10 - 90 Proof, $40, from Wild Turkey, this is an excellent value for a 10 year bourbon
Maker’s Mark - 90 Proof, $30, it’s hard to go wrong with this bottle, and it’s especially delicious as a base for Manhattans
Four Roses Small Batch - 90 Proof, $35, batch of four of the ten recipes made at the distillery
Bulleit 10 Year - 91.2 Proof, $35, solid value, made from sourced whiskey
Yellowstone Select - 93 Proof, $50, produced by Limestone Branch, with historical ties to the Beam family
Willett Pot Still Reserve - 94 Proof, $65, great whiskey in a really cool-shaped bottle
W.L. Weller Special Reserve - 90 proof, $35, this wheated bourbon from Buffalo Trace is a favorite among American whiskey aficionados (including our Editor-in-Chief) for it’s toasty notes and food-friendly flavors
Noteworthy Distillery Limited Release and Revival
Distilleries have been coming out with special releases and revivals of old brand names for years. These releases pay homage to noteworthy brands as part of their history. These might be harder to come by, and sometimes available only through distilleries, but worth finding a way to make a special visit (or find a suitable envoy).
Bond & Lillard - 100 Proof, $55, a special release from Wild Turkey to commemorate a past brand (375ml)
Old Tub - 100 Proof, $20, generally only available at Jim Beam’s visitor centers
Old Forester 1910 - 94 Proof, $55, the fourth and final expression of the Whiskey Row Series
Heaven Hill Old Fitzgerald Bottle-in-Bond Fall 2018 Edition - 100 proof, $90, a throwback tribute to Old Fitzgerald brand whiskey, this release comes in a stunning decanter
George Washington’s Straight Rye Premium Whiskey - 86 Proof, $225 distilled using period-accurate techniques at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery (375ml)
Noteworthy Craft Whiskeys
The craft spirits movement is gaining steam, with many releases from distilleries releasing their whiskey on the market for the first time. We recommend picking up a bottle or two from a craft distillery tasting room to show your support. Chances are in a few years you will be glad you did. Below are some options you can find in the marketplace.
High West Campfire - 92 Proof, $65, a blend of High West’s own barrels with sourced barrels, this perennial favorite among whiskey enthusiasts is a bit smokey, as the name suggests
Smooth Ambler Big Level Wheated Bourbon - 100 proof, $60, a 5+ YO whiskey with a wheated mashbill, produced entirely at the West Virginia Distillery
Breckenridge Bourbon Reserve Blend - 86 Proof, $55, a blend of four Breckenridge whiskeys
Treaty Oak Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon Whiskey - 95 Proof, $45, an excellent showing for a 2 year minimum bourbon
Deadwood Bourbon - 82 proof, $25, here’s a fun one to bring to a party! Named after the town where Wild Bill Hickok is said to have played his last game of poker. Distilled in Indiana and bottled in Kentucky.
Interesting Cask Finishes
Aging whiskey in used wine barrels was once a character trait of Scotch, but more American whiskey producers are starting to experiment with this age old practice.
Eight Oaks Distilling Bourbon Pinot Cask - 88 Proof, 18 month bourbon finished in Pinot barrels (price varies and is extremely rare)
Angel's Envy Bourbon Port Cask Strength - 124 Proof, $200, one of America’s first well-established wine barrel-finished bourbon gets a luxe upgrade and a higher proof
Minor Case Rye - 90 Proof, $50, Sherry cask finished release from Limestone Branch, named for Minor Case Beam
Jefferson’s Pritchard Hill Cabernet Cask Finished - 90.2 Proof, $75, finished for 12 months in French Oak cabernet barrels
Rabbit Hole Sherry Cask Bourbon - 93 Proof, $80, wheated bourbon aged in an alligator char then finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks
Until very recently there haven’t been many producers making rye whiskey. For this reason, most of the rye whiskey on the market tasted very similar. Today there is greater variation in the rye whiskey selections available out there, and old styles are starting to make a comeback.
Sagamore Spirit Cask Strength Rye - 133.6 Proof (varies), $70, Maryland style rye that was a gold medal winner in the 2018 NYISC
Redemption 10 Year Barrel Strength Rye - 108.2 Proof, $97, 10 year old bold and spicy rye
Balcones Texas Rye 100 - 100 Proof, $45, made with 100% rye, silver medal winner in the 2018 NY International Spirits Competition
Far North Roknar Rye - 94 proof, $40, a true farm-to-bottle whiskey made with non-GMO AC Hazelet rye and corn grown on the distillery’s own farm in Hallock, Minnesota. (More about this impressive distillery here.)
Sometimes a distiller chooses to give a whiskey a little extra kick of flavor from a second barrel—brand new barrels that have been charred, toasted, or both. The result varies from additional buttery caramel sweetness to additional baking spices. These picks are crowd pleasers.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked - 90.4 Proof, $65, a second brand new barrel that is toasted makes this a sweet sipper
Jim Beam Double Oaked - 84 Proof, $20, perfect for those who crave intense oak flavors in their whiskey
Knob Creek Twice Barreled Rye - 100 Proof, $45, limited edition rye whiskey with spicy barrel notes from a second stint in new, charred oak
Michter’s Toasted Barrel Bourbon - 91.4 Proof, $60, one of the most highly sought-after toasted barrel finished bourbons on the market
Other American Whiskeys And Whiskey Liqueurs
Liqueurs make a great addition to your holiday morning coffee or after dinner drinks, while classic Tennessee whiskeys can help you gain a greater understanding of American whiskey history as a whole.
Uncle Nearest 1856 - 100 Proof, $50, named in honor of Nearest Green, the former slave distiller who taught Jack Daniel to distil and is believed to have created the Lincoln County Process used in Tennesse whiskey today
Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream - 30 Proof, $24, a bourbon-based liqueur that is great in coffee or as an adult rootbeer float (distillery release only)
Nooku Bourbon Cream - 34 proof, $30, made without added sugar, this more spirit-forward version from Colorado’s Old Elk Distillery wowed the judges to win gold in the 2017 NYISC
Town Branch Bluegrass Sundown - 40 Proof, $35, bourbon-based coffee liqueur great for holiday desserts or an Irish coffee-style warm drink
George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whiskey - 90 Proof, $22, an often overlooked, but delicious-for-the-price, classic Tennessee whiskey