So much attention to American whiskey is centered around bourbon and rye. Today, we’re going to highlight some categories that are a little less beloved but certainly deserve praise: American single malt, blended whiskey, and flavored whisky.
We’ll be using the San Francisco World Spirits Competition finalists just announced to showcase these worthy spirits and their respective genres. Considered the Oscars of alcohol, the SFWSC is the oldest spirits competition in North America and the largest spirits competition of its kind. Judges award bronze, silver and gold medals through a multi-day blind tasting process, with the coveted double gold referring to entries that are awarded a gold medal by all the members of the jury.
On the final day of competition, select Double Gold spirits qualify for the competition round. Here, the judges deliberate to determine the winners of the Best of Class and Best in Show Premium awards.
The SFWSC has released the names of the finalists in their respective categories over the past few weeks – you may have seen our tequila roundup – and today they revealed a number of top performing whiskies. For the selections below, we’ll focus on American whiskeys that don’t fall into the mainstream categories.
US regulations state that American blended whiskey is “at least 20% pure whiskey on a proof gallon basis plus whiskey or neutral spirits alone or in combination”. Note that the best examples in this category are absolutely will blend into another whiskey and not a neutral grain spirit.
Whiskey War Double Oaked hails from Ohio’s High Bank Distillery Company, which was started in Columbus in 2014 by, interestingly, a group of beer enthusiasts. The distillery describes this 100-proof version as a blend of pure whiskeys handcrafted in small batches and finished in a second oak barrel; it’s a rye mash bill and the liquid is aged for at least four years. Oak, caramel, pepper and “vanilla pipe tobacco” are the notes you will pick up here.
The George Dickel x Leopold Bros collaboration is part blended whiskey and part rye: it’s a three-chamber rye married to a never-before-seen traditional column from George Dickel. At 100 degrees, it offers notes of lavender, elderflower, maple syrup, marshmallow and cocoa.
American Single Malt
The not-quite-official (by government standards) category of American single malt refers to whiskey made from 100% malted barley and distilled at a distillery, though most ASM brands hope the category leaves out a requirement for the type of still (pot, column or hybrid) or restrictions on new oak versus old oak in maturation.
A distillery in Nantucket that makes lots of flavored vodkas, Triple Eight Distillery also specializes in award-winning single malts which they make in a barn at nearby Cisco Brewers. Their 12-year-old Notch is described as having notes of peach sorbet, candy apples, woody tannins, vanilla and orchard fruits.
Waco-based Balcones crafted the first legal Texas-made whiskey sold since Prohibition. Mirador is a ‘second fill malt profile’ using whiskeys aged under two years to nearly five years, with all aging in used casks to mellow out the oak flavors. Pear, green tea, pecans, marmalade, fennel and lemongrass are some of the notes here.
We’ve bragged about flavored whiskey before – the “flavor” doesn’t have to be overwhelming and can even enhance the whiskey in mixed drinks (or make the spirit more suitable for unexpected pairings, like Tiki cocktails).
Standard Proof is a Nashville micro-distillery specializing in naturally infused, straight rye whiskey. Their limited edition Cinnamon Spiced is real Ceylon cinnamon paired with American whiskey aged at least two years.
SoNo1420 is a Norwalk-based distillery that incorporates hemp seeds into their whiskey mashbill. Except, oddly enough, in their Cinnamon Whiskey, a small-batch version that features bourbon “exploded” with all-natural cinnamon sticks.
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