Ryes, corn, wheats... there's more to American Whiskey than just bourbon.
Dan Priseman, a whiskey brand ambassador and owner of London’s Nola Bar, toured the USA learning about what makes whiskey great.
Here, he gives us the finer points on the official spirit of America in seven bottles.
1 | Tennessee Whiskey Jack Daniel's Single Barrel
“Surprisingly, JD isn’t, legally speaking at least, a bourbon. It’s actually a Tennessee whiskey, one of only a handful of American whiskies produced there.”
“Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel is 45 per cent ABV and comes from one whiskey barrel, as opposed to being a blend, hence the name. Soft on the nose, there’s a distinct charcoal aroma because all Jack Daniel’s is filtered through sugar maple charcoal prior to it being aged. This, they say, strips out harsh flavours. It’s designed not to linger on the tongue and the big tasting note to look out for is banana bread.”
2 | Rye Bourbon, Wild Turkey 101
“The Wild Turkey 101 is a really traditional bourbon that’s made up of around 12 per cent rye, meaning it’s packed full of flavour. It’s bottled at 101 per cent proof, which by American measurements means it’s 50.5 ABV. Subsequently it’s what you might call ‘punchy’.”
“Because this is a straight-up bourbon, it’s a little harsh on the palette but once that initial kick dies away you get a really smoky, woody flavour, especially oak (US regulations say all whiskey barrels must be made from oak). Of the selection, it’s not the best for sipping but it will mix into cocktails brilliantly.”
3 | Corn Whiskey, Balcones True Blue 100
“Pronounced Bal-cone-ees, Balcones was founded in Texas five years ago and has already won Whisky Magazine’s Craft Distillery of the Year 2012. Made using 100 per cent blue corn, the difference in flavour from a regular bourbon is startling. Bourbon, for instance, usually uses around 50 per cent corn. At 50 per cent ABV, Balcones say it’s ‘aged until it tastes right’.”
“Corn whiskies are generally verydifficult to make, not least because the corn used in the process is extremely flammable. Full of sweet, vegetable notes and a buttery, almost creamy aftertaste it makes a great sipper. It also, unsurprisingly, tastes distinctly of corn.”
4 | Wheated Bourbon, Maker's Mark
“The only whiskey here that spells it without an “e”. As a result of Irish whiskey producers wanting to distance themselves from poor quality scotch whisky, most American whiskies include an “e”. Not Maker’s Mark, though.”
“Credited with revitalising the American whiskey industry by producing an upmarket brand when everyone else was trying to do things on the cheap, Maker’s Mark is made following strict tradition. It’s got a grainy, and distinctly vanilla flavour thanks to the oak barrels it’s aged in, and while it’s not designed to be mixed, it will do so very easily.”
5 | Wheated Bourbon, WL Weller 12-Year-Old
“WL Weller is a wheated bourbon, and one which, if you’re a Maker’s Mark fan, is great to step up to. Made by the Buffalo Trace distillery, it’s named after William Larue Weller, a distiller credited with introducing smoother-wheated bourbons during the 19th century.”
“Aged for between 12 and 13 years, the high wheat content makes this extremely smooth and easy to sip. There’s very little fieriness on the tongue and the caramel, chocolate and oak flavours, while still present, are softer than the Maker’s.”
6 | Rye Whiskey, FEW Rye Whiskey
“FEW won the Whisky Advocate’s Craft Whiskey of the Year 2013/2014 with a whiskey made from 70 per cent rye, 20 per cent corn and 10 per cent malted barley. The high rye content gives this a completely different smell and taste to the other whiskies here. It has a spicy, almost savoury flavour that’s balanced with the use of red wine yeast, which helps lend it a fruit finish.”
“The spicy flavour and almost dusty taste mean this isn’t really one to sip but would work very well in a Manhattan or with ginger ale.”
7 | Occasional Whiskey, Four Roses Small Batch 125th Anniversary
“Four Roses bourbon is usually made from a mix of up to 10 different whiskies, but this one is a limited edition, made up of three, hence the name “small batch”. It also features a handwritten note on each bottle from the master distiller.”
“All the whiskies used to make this have been aged for between 13 and 18 years, giving it a long finish on your tongue. You’ll also be able to detect dark fruit, especially cherries and hint of bakewell. This is definitely an ‘occasion whiskey’, to be sipped, not mixed.”
Dan Priseman is the owner of London’s Nola Bar.
This article first appeared in Esquire Weekly, our iPad-only edition. Containing 100 per cent new and original content, it’s published every Thursday on the Apple Newsstand.