American whiskey consists of much more than just bourbon. This umbrella term also includes rye, corn, malt, and Tennessee whiskies, as well as other less popular styles that are made by distilleries across the country. The spirit is typically prepared by aging a blend of corn, rye, wheat, and barley, known as mash, in charred oak barrels, which gives it a distinctively sweet and smoky flavor. Here's what else you should know about this classic spirit.
How to Choose a Whiskey
The whiskey brand you buy should be based on how you intend to use it. For instance, are you putting it in whiskey craft cocktails or frozen blended drinks, or serving it neat to connoisseurs? As a mixologist looking to carve your own successful career, you'll want to become well-versed in mid- and high-quality American whiskies.
Pros of American Whiskey
The beauty of American whiskey is that it's not nearly as expensive as its imported counterpart, scotch, so you can invest in a variety of bottles without breaking the bank. And because microdistilleries are sprouting up in almost every state, you can easily impart a regional theme to your drink menu.
Different Types and Distilleries
As you can see in this family tree of bourbon, a good amount of family distilleries have been purchased by corporate companies in the American whiskey market. That said, many of them still produce some of the best bourbons on the market. Here are a few of the most popular American whiskies:
Owned by Brown-Forman since 1956, the Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee has been producing its unique style of Tennessee whiskey since 1866. Tennessee whiskey is special because it's filtered through 10 feet of sugar-maple charcoal after distillation, giving it a smooth, mellow finish.
While the Jack Daniel's brand is considered commonplace in the U.S., it has managed to gain international appeal by changing its marketing in other countries to reflect a more upscale brand image. Instead of relying on the original, try experimenting with other varieties, such as Gentleman Jack, which is smoother and more refined due to an additional charcoal mellowing process. You can also use newer (and trendier) varieties, like Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire and Tennessee Honey, in creative cocktails.
Since 1795, the Beam family has had seven generations involved in making whiskey in its Clermont, Kentucky distilleries. These days, you can find a ton of options from Jim Beam, including maple whiskey, apple whiskey, and rye whiskey, that won't destroy your budget.
For aficionados with more refined palates, you may want to keep a bottle of Basil Hayden's in stock. Produced by the Jim Beam company, this award-winning Kentucky straight bourbon has notes of citrus, pepper, and mint, and its recipe dates back to 1796.
Beam also makes Knob Creek, a great go-to bourbon for mixologists to use in mixed drinks and serve neat. It's aged for nine years in charred oak barrels with the highest char level possible, giving it a deep flavor that's perfect for classic cocktails like a Manhattan.
This Kentucky distillery makes some of the best bourbons in America, including Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20-Year. Not for mixing in cocktails, this bourbon is often compared to cognac and should be served neat so it can be savored.
If you're a mixologist and looking to up your margins, you may want to consider stocking your bars with top-shelf American whiskies like Pappy Van Winkle and other high-end Buffalo Trace products, such as Blanton's and Weller 12 Year.
With so many talented distillers in the U.S., the American whiskey market can be overwhelming for mixologists. Luckily, it doesn't have to be. Keep tasting and acclimating your palate to different styles to get to know the subtleties of each brand and bottle, and always be open to experimentation.