Feature

A beginner’s guide to American whiskey

American distillers now produce some of the world's finest whiskeys. Here are suggestions for two tastings—one beginner, one advanced.

American whiskey has never sold well outside this country, said F. Paul Pacult in Wine Spectator. Prohibition, the Depression, and two world wars were among the powerful political and economic factors that distillers have been forced to contend with just to survive, “let alone trying to make international inroads.” Only in the past 20 years have American distillers “pulled themselves together” and began producing some of the world’s finest whiskeys. They’ve become especially popular in such emerging markets as China, Russia, Eastern Europe, and South America.

Master distillers suggest that consumers who want to learn more about American whiskey begin with a basic tasting flight “before graduating to a more challenging flight.” The first encompasses four styles—straight rye, straight bourbon, wheated bourbon, and Tennessee sour mash. Use wine glasses, “pour no more than 1 ounce of whiskey per glass,” and have mineral water and unsalted crackers available. The same rules apply for the advanced flight, but conduct this tasting on a different night. These whiskeys “are all high in alcohol” and are “deceptively potent.”

A tasting for beginners
1. Jim Beam (White Label) Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
2. Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
3. Jack Daniels Gentleman Jack Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey
4. Sazerac Six-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

An advanced tasting
1. George Dickel Superior No. 12 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey
2. W.L. Weller 12-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
3. Rittenhouse 10-Year-Old Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
4. Old Forester 100-Proof Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
5. Baker’s Seven-Year-Old Small-Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
6. Wild Turkey “Kentucky Spirit” Single-Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

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