Sure, you can spend the rest of your life drinking whiskeys made by large brands and end up completely happy with your choices. Were talking about the likes of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Jameson, and Suntory (along with some of the slightly smaller brands). These behemoths all make enough whiskeys to keep your palate interested and engaged for decades to come.
But if you have more of an adventurous spirit or root for the underdog and you want to sip on something tuly unique, there are countless brands out there that don’t have parent companies or hedge fund investors. True independents — focused on perfecting their specific version of the grain-to-glass experience.
Below youll find the independent American whiskey expressions that I love best.
Leopold Bro’s Maryland-Style Rye
This is a seasonal release from Leopold Brothers and won’t be offered again until 2022. This pre-prohibition-style rye from the Colorado-based distillery is aged for two years in new charred American oak casks. Unlike its Pennsylvania-style counterpart with its rich oak and big notes of peppery spice, Maryland-style rye is much more mellow and fruit-driven.
This offering lives up its name with smooth, easy drinkability.
Theres a lot going on with this whiskey as you nose it. The first aromas that fill your nostrils are dried orange peel, cinnamon, and sweet cream. The first sip brings forth flavors of butterscotch, caramelized sugar, sweet vanilla, and just a hint of peppery spice. The finish is long, warming, and filled with toffee, cocoa, and a final flourish of white pepper.
If you can get your hands on a bottle of this seasonal release, make it last. Sip it slowly with a few ice cubes on a chilly fall evening.
Dry Fly Straight Washington Wheat Whiskey
In recent years, wheat whiskey has become fairly popular. One of the best is Dry Fly Washington Wheat. Made from 100% soft white wheat, its distilled two times before aging for 3 plus years in charred new American oak barrels.
The result is a very well–rounded, easy-drinking whiskey.
This whiskey deserves a nosing before sampling. Unlike a high-rye whiskey, the wheat gives the aromas of sweet cereal, charred oak, and caramel. The first sip yields sweet cream, sticky toffee, cooking spices, and honey. The finish is long, warming, and dry — with hints of toasted oak and just a whisper of pepper at the very end.
The reason I picked this whiskey is that it feels effortlessly velvety and smooth. Theres no reason to mix this highly drinkable whiskey into a cocktail.
Kings County Peated Bourbon
If youre a fan of Scotch, youre probably at least aware of the peat-smoked whiskies, specifically those from distilleries located on the island of Islay. But you might not know that it isnt just Scotch thats peat-smoked. One of the best American offerings comes from Kings County. This Peated Bourbon is made using peat-smoked malted barley. The result is a highly complex whiskey with sweetness from corn and smoke from peat.
Your first whiff of this whiskey will transport you to Scotland — making you think of the likes of Ardbeg and Bruichladdich. But behind the smoke, theres also sweet caramel and rich vanilla. The first sip is a mixture of soothing smoke, butterscotch, and dried fruits. The finish is long, warming, and filled with more campfire smoke paired with sweet cream.
If you get your hands on a bottle of this special small-batch bourbon, you should enjoy it with a blanket on your lap in front of a bonfire on a cold fall night.
Stranahans Diamond Peak Colorado Whiskey
Part of the appeal of Stranahans Diamond Peak is the fact that from batch to batch, the flavors will be subtly different. Made from 100% Colorado barley and water and aged in charred, new American oak casks for four years, Diamond Peak also comes with its own shot glass. (The bottle ingeniously comes with a black metal 3-ounce cap — a clever little topper for a fantastic bottle.)
Your first sniff will deliver a ton of flavor notes. First comes hints of cinnamon and candied pecans before leading into sweet cream and butterscotch. The first sip drops notes of toasted oak, rich caramel, spicy chocolate, and brown sugar. The finish is long, warming, and full of velvety sweetness and fall spices.
Take a hike and bring a bottle with you. As soon you reach a lookout, take a seat, crack open the bottle and take a sip while you sit back and enjoy the view.
Dads Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye
It might seem like rye has only become popular in the last few years, but before prohibition, it was arguably the most popular whiskey. Of the pre-prohibition ryes, there were two very popular styles: Pennsylvania and Maryland. This one is a Pennsylvania rye. That means this rye, made from local grain and aged for at least four years, is spicier than its counterpart.
Like all rye whiskeys, this one deserves a nice nosing before taking a sip. If you do, youll be met with subtle spice, brown sugar, and creamy vanilla. The first sip will bring you white pepper, Christmas spices, rich caramel, dried cherries, and delicate floral notes. The finish is long, rich, and full of a pleasing kick of black pepper and butterscotch.
Unlike dads actual hat, you shouldnt leave this whiskey laying around just anywhere. It’s a lovely fall dram and a fun one to share and taste with rye whiskey newbies.
Iron Smoke Straight Bourbon
Its likely that youve never heard of Iron Smoke. This small-batch bourbon is made using locally sourced grains in limited batches. At first glance, it looks like well-made whiskey using a similar recipe to many other well-made whiskeys. The difference is Iron Smokes version is a four-grain bourbon with applewood smoked wheat. The result is a subtly smoky, sweet bourbon youll want to sip all autumn long.
The first aromas youll be met with when nosing this bourbon are sweet corn, rich caramel, and velvety vanilla. The first sip teases flavors of toasted marshmallow, subtle bonfire smoke, sweet cream, and brown sugar. The finish is long, dry, warming, and filled with a pleasing kiss of applewood smoke that will make you wish you had a plate of ribs to pair the dram with.
This truly unique expression might be the perfect bridge for peaty Scotch fans to get into the world of American bourbon. Enjoy it on the rocks and sip it slowly.