The American whiskey fraternity is enjoying the burgeoning success and ever-increasing popularity of a thing called craft-distilling. There’s always been something intrinsically exciting that surrounds artisan food and drink, and whiskey is no exception. In fact, the spirits industry is abuzz with new releases of wonderfully packaged and gloriously quaint bourbons and other American whiskeys and we thought we’d throw in our two cents. You see, whiskey really is a spirit of provenance and it requires great attention to detail. You simply can’t go about mass-producing the stuff without due care and diligence, and that’s exactly what the new breed of craft distillers are tapping into, and they’re creating some of America’s best exports.
However, it’s not just the new names in distilling that are worth discovering though; there are countless whiskeys of eminent flavour that are surprisingly unknown. So we’re going to take you on a tour of some of the lesser-known American whiskey distilleries, and their scrumptious fare.
We start with the 8 year old bourbon, Corner Creek – a small marque which packages its whiskey in wine bottles, resplendent with a beautiful drawing of the local creek by US artist William Nagle. The distillery sits in the bluegrass lands of Bardstown, Kentucky, an area which is pretty much bourbon capital. Corner Creek’s exceptional nose of sweet oak and barrel char give way to a palate of smooth, sweet wheat-led whiskey so elegant and refined that the Chicago Beverage Testing Institute awarded it an impressive 90 points.
Not far from Corner Creek, and also in Bardstown, the Willett family has been distilling for decades. In 1936, they produced their first batch of 300 bushels (our favourite archaic measurement of dry grain – a bourbon in the barrel is worth ten in the bushel).
The Willett distillery remained under family control until 1984, when the Norwegian Even G Kulsveen acquired the distillery, forming Kentucky Bourbon Distillers Ltd – a company with a very good selection of brands to its name.
Included in their arsenal of small batch bourbons are such gems as Noah’s Mill, Johnny Drum and Kentucky Vintage. The first, Noah’s Mill, perhaps named for the great seaman and animal matchmaker of yore, is bottled at a heady cask strength of 57.15% abv. At 15 years of age this is big-bodied stuff and it muscles its way into the consciousness of the drinker with palpable intent. Every punch landed explodes across the palate in creaking waves of toasty spices and an almost effervescent flavour which lasts for minutes. The woody flavour profile is utterly unique, and amongst a forest of muscular oak there lies an intense bouquet of pine and plumwood.
Kentucky Bourbon Distillers also produce Johnny Drum – a trio of sour mash bourbons with unbridled consistency. The production methods have remained unchanged through five generations of master distillers and the producers even go so far as describing Johnny Drum Private Stock as “The proudest achievement in the art of Bourbon making.” High praise indeed, but when you sample this high-proof, 15 year old whiskey, you’ll begin to understand why. Without question, this is spirit of the old-school and the nose offers up caramel, oak, blossom and glorious hints of stem ginger. A sublime palate entry follows with the kind of well checked sweetness and puckering rye spices that warm the soul. Absolutely delicious!
During US Prohibition, the moon lit the states of Georgia and Kentucky at night as the moonshiners beavered away, creating their illicit wares. They were men’s men with names like Chet and Curly. Their production processes were so simple and the key ingredients were so innocuous (corn and sugar), that law enforcement was nigh on impossible. Transportation brought with it various difficulties, but the distillers mitigated this by modifying their cars to outrun the federal agents. There was little the government could do to stop them. Their enthusiastic levels of ride-pimpery gave rise to stock car racing, and whilst moonshine is no longer so prevalent as it once was, there are several distillers that legally make their own modern-day versions.
Of these, Georgia Moon steals the show. It’s bottled in old fashioned mason jars which take you back to the Lenny-and-George days of corn fields, Gatsby hats and harmonica playing. The core expression is Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey, which proudly bears the slogan “less than 30 days old”. The inimitable soul of true American corn whiskey is captured wonderfully, and Georgia Moon offers up remarkable toffee popcorn notes with a bracing sourness that will have you hankering for more. It’s not elegant and it comes with little-or-no snobbery value, in fact it probably wouldn’t be out place on a canoe trip with Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, but that’s sort of the point. It’s a charming libation that reminds us of denim dungarees and banjo strummin’, and it’s one that no spirits shelf should be without it – if only because it’s a great talking point. We’ve made up 3cl samples of Georgia Moon, as well as the Lemonade variant which boasts a refreshing natural lemon flavour.
We’ve added another batch of new 3cl samples (or drams, should we say) including these great US whiskeys. We’ve also added:
Bernheim Original £3.25 – America’s only straight wheat whiskey. A fruity, mellow flavour.
Evan Williams Extra £1.85 – A rich, charcoal filtered bourbon with vanilla and spice notes.
Heaven Hill 4 Year Old £1.75 – Smooth, easy drinking and great value for money.
JW Dant Special Reserve £1.85 – Minty and sweet with a punchy rye character.
Kentucky Vintage £2.35 – Sour mash bourbon produced in very small, hand-numbered batches.
Mellow Corn £1.95 – Aged for two years with a staggeringly deep yellow colour.
Old Fitzgerald 12 Year Old £2.45 – Deep, complex and very rich. Absolutely delectable.
Old Fitzgerald Gold Label £1.95 – An exquisite wheated bourbon with a lovely soft flavour.
Pikesville Straight Rye £1.85 – Classic Maryland style rye. “Fruity and racy”.
Rowan’s Creek 12 Year Old £2.95 – Aromas of pears, citrus and rich honey with a fruity, supple palate.
Willett’s Pot Still Single Barrel £2.65 – This creamy, woody bourbon was awarded 90 points by Malt Advocate.
We’ve also filled in some inexcusable holes in our selection Japanese whisky samples.
The following are now available as drams:
Miyagikyou 12 Year Old £4.55 – Produced at the Sendai distillery – light and fruity.
Miyagikyou 15 Year Old £5.15 – A Lowland style single malt which Jim Murray awarded 92 points!
Yoichi 10 Year Old £3.85 – Recommended by Whisky Mag, lots of sweet, creamy, oily notes.
Until next time…
– The Chaps at Master of Malt –