Please recommend the best American whiskey.
September 23, 2009 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend the best American whiskey.

A friend of mine is moving to Colombia for a year. She wants to bring a gift for her hosts, and was told that American whiskey is something that is hard to come by and largely appreciated by the community down there. She wants to do this up proper. What bottle would you bring if you were in her shoes?
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! to Food & Drink (47 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Knob Creek, because it is delicious and because its name makes me giggle like a kindergartner.
posted by Sara Anne at 5:39 PM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Is bourbon acceptable?

1. Blanton's is pretty stellar.
2. W.L. Weller can be had reasonably cheap, and kills anything you'd find in a average bar.
3. Old Rip Van Winkle is also another excellent, excellent bourbon.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 5:43 PM on September 23, 2009

Bookers. Soo delicious. Seconding Old Rip Van Winkle as well.
posted by boofidies at 5:58 PM on September 23, 2009

There's no best. There's lots of lots of really good ones though: Michter's, Maker's, Booker's, Baker's...You could seriously make a long nursery rhyme out of good american whiskeys.

I'd consider the fact that a lot of the time, when something from another country is really valued somewhere else, partly what people like is brand name that everyone knows is the special foreign thing, not necessarily the best example of it. Like how Jack Daniels is a premium product in Japan, or Levi's used to be, or how Diesel was in the USA, or some euro chocolate companies. With that in mind, I'd probably bring Jack, unless the people were big whiskey heads. Or I'd split the difference and bring Gentleman Jack. It's Jack with a double-plus upgrade.

On the raw awesomeness level, I'm having a hard time even picking favorites. Labrot & Graham's Woodford Reserve. That's good stuff. Elijah Craig's got a good price/quality ratio. Rittenhouse is another good rye, especially for the money. I don't really care for Early Times, but I love the name, same with Old Grandad.

The thing with American Whiskey production is its kind of similar to American cheese production: since about the mid-1990s, its gone through a crazy rebirth where a confluence of market factors (people deciding they could position booze brands as super-premium products) and consumer interest (people drinking less quantity but more quality, fad for heritage, tradition, and local-ness in food) have cause a sort of rediscovery of American Whiskey. So there isn't a set of reigning Grandes Dames like there is with say Champagne or Bordeaux. If America ever had a Rothschild, we shut it down a hundred years ago. We've decided to pretend that Kentucky is the be-all end-all of whiskey making, but its as if brandy distilling in Cognac basically degraded to a bumwine industry for decades, and then all of the sudden little artisans and giant corporations alike decided to buy old run down distilleries and open them up. For marketing reasons though, the bourbon companies really like to attach themselves to tradition: buying old distilleries and old names so they can say, "Blah blah distillery, founded in 18xx", ignoring that a private equity firm bought the decommissioned distillery in 2001 and started making bourbon yesterday.

But that doesn't mean the bourbon isn't good, it just means the market hasn't settled out in the European fashion where we all know that this particular hectare of Bourbon county is a premier cru, etc... It's like Uplands Cheese Uplands is, for my dollar, making some of the best cheese in the country right now, but they've only been doing it since Nevermind came out. There's no ancient monks and secret recipes in the story.

This is probably an insanely overlong answer to this simple question, but hell, I typed it, so now I'm gonna post it. In summary I'm going to make my final, single recommendation Gentleman Jack.
posted by jeb at 6:08 PM on September 23, 2009 [11 favorites]

2nding Gentleman Jack (without the lecture).
posted by torquemaniac at 6:15 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oooh, came in to recommend Knob Creek. Fine, fine bourbon.
posted by 5ean at 6:16 PM on September 23, 2009

I could be out my ass here, but if Columbia is anything like, say, Korea, where I just visited and saw Jack Daniels being sold for $55 a fifth, just go with the regular Jack. It's a huge prestige thing elsewhere.

Aside from that, I'd drink with Jeb.
posted by klangklangston at 6:20 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

While not at all my favorite, with Jack almost certainly being the most commonly thought of "American Whiskey" abroad I think Gentleman Jack is indeed a good suggestion. If I were drinking it I would want Rip Van Winkle or Eagle Rare though.
posted by ghharr at 6:21 PM on September 23, 2009

Lots of good suggestions in this thread.
posted by neroli at 6:26 PM on September 23, 2009

I'm with Jeb for everything except GJ. That stuff's overpriced and can't decide what kind of whiskey it wants to be. My frat had blind whiskey taste-tests (for science), and GJ got crushed on most metrics by the other widely available decent american whiskeys.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:34 PM on September 23, 2009

Elijah Craig.
posted by shownomercy at 6:40 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Two out of three of my brothers-in-law requested Maker's Mark for the flask at their weddings (the other doesn't drink). It's not super high end, but it's very mellow, it keeps well, and has made me realize just how weak-flavored Jack Daniel's is.
posted by notsnot at 6:43 PM on September 23, 2009

N-thing Knob Creek and Elijah Craig. Blanton's is good, but pricey. Frankly, I like Wild Turkey 101 too. Also Maker's Mark.
posted by jquinby at 6:44 PM on September 23, 2009

Seconding Eagle Rare, great stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 6:46 PM on September 23, 2009

Bookers rocked my world when I first tasted it, and I have seldom been without a bottle in my cabinet since. I like many other fine bourbons - notably Maker's Mark, and several single-barrel whiskeys - but none of them compare (IMO) to Bookers.

OTOH, as has been pointed out, Black Jack Daniels will likely carry more cache amongst the supposed afficienados of another country. Can't stand ordinary Jack myself, so I've never delved into BJD.

So, from me, the choices are taste, or showmanship.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:57 PM on September 23, 2009

Check this out. It's a bourbon question though.
posted by comatose at 7:01 PM on September 23, 2009

I'm partial to Basil Hayden's, though I rarely spend the dosh for it.
posted by workerant at 7:12 PM on September 23, 2009

Check out Four Roses.
posted by valkyryn at 7:20 PM on September 23, 2009

If bourbon is okay, my friend recommends Southern Comfort.
posted by alon at 7:22 PM on September 23, 2009

As a gift I'd go for Bookers it's a nice looking bottle with a story, it's cask strength and not to be easy forgotten.
posted by jade east at 7:23 PM on September 23, 2009

If bourbon is okay, my friend recommends Southern Comfort.

that's not bourbon.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:25 PM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

2nding Basil Hayden's.
posted by BlooPen at 7:27 PM on September 23, 2009

As far as the story of Bookers bourbon is a couple of clips from a corporate video about the man.
posted by jade east at 7:31 PM on September 23, 2009

I'd second Woodford Reserve (it seems to me this is more likely to refer to Bourbon or Tennessee - which is quite similar to Bourbon - Whiskey, rather than Rye). I don't agree with the suggestion to opt for commonplace name whiskeys like Jack Daniels, Jim Beam or Southern Comfort. Quality is quality. Woodford is an excellent value (while still being relatively expensive) but a very mellow, balanced whiskey suitable for sipping or mixing that I think any aficionado of American Bourbon would appreciate.
posted by nanojath at 7:32 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've sampled quite a few bourbons and I keep coming back to Knob Creek (when I can afford to). Bookers is good too, but it has a higher alcohol content, which gives it more of a kick and makes it less of an easy drinking whiskey, in my opinion.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:34 PM on September 23, 2009

With that in mind, I'd probably bring Jack, unless the people were big whiskey heads. Or I'd split the difference and bring Gentleman Jack. It's Jack with a double-plus upgrade.

Agreed. A friend of mine who worked on the engineering side of Formula 1 said that everyone drank Jack Daniel's because you could find it at every Grand Prix venue. While American whiskey offers fantastic value right now, most of the domestic brands (outside JD and Beam) don't travel, or are only found abroad in the odd duty-free shop. So Jack++ has the advantage of that kind of brand recognition, which makes it a better gift unless her hosts have a preferred alternative.

(OTOH, Bulleit's saloon-style bottle might make it a fun gift for people who associate American whiskey with westerns.)
posted by holgate at 7:35 PM on September 23, 2009

Maker's Mark or Knob Creek.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:47 PM on September 23, 2009

And now for something completely different.....try Templeton Rye. Guaranteed to get folks talking about it.
posted by webhund at 7:54 PM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Jack Daniels. Just for the name recognition. Some people may know what maker's is, most people will not, and thus will not react as well. It's like my cousin, who went back to Korea after going to Brown, and at his job interviews, he would say, I went to an Ivy League school. His interviewers were always impressed until he said he went to Brown. One guy even got mad, accusing him of lying, saying, what the hell is Brown? Brown is a color. Where did you go to school?

Same thing. "I got you a bottle of excellent American Bourbon."
"Oh, great! what is it?"
"Maker's Mark!"
posted by wuzandfuzz at 8:52 PM on September 23, 2009

Nthing Woodford Reserve, that's a really nice premium Bourbon.

But I'll tell you what, I used to live in Vancouver, and the Bourbon I used to buy most often there was Wild Turkey. I now live in Ontario, where Wild Turkey is not available. If someone was to bring me a bottle of Wild Turkey I'd be exceedingly grateful.

If someone brought me Jim Beam I would smile and say thank you and then use it to clean paintbrushes.
posted by wabbittwax at 9:32 PM on September 23, 2009

If you want a great bourbon (which is remarkably well priced, too), i'm going to second Old Weller 107. I'd recommend it if she likes coctails.

Also, in my opinion, very little can beat a Rittenhouse Rye Manhattan (though, you'd have to send her vermouth, angostura, and cherries, too.).

If she drinks her whusky clear, Woodford Reserve or Wild Turkey are good bets.
posted by chicago2penn at 9:55 PM on September 23, 2009

Old Rip Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year. Should be able to find some right about now.
posted by thinman at 10:04 PM on September 23, 2009

Throwing in for Woodford Reserve.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:29 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Laird's Applejack is a unique American product, but not a whiskey, that many whiskey drinkers will appreciate.
posted by nestor_makhno at 11:06 PM on September 23, 2009

Knob Creek, Knob Creek, Knob Creek.

I find Makers watery, personally.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:11 AM on September 24, 2009

We just did this not weeks ago (it was Bourbon specific). Other than opening up the question to non-bourbon whiskies, which is sort of like opening up a Scotch contest to grain alcohol brands, the recs here are pretty much the same ones.

American rye whiskies, meh. I somewhat like Old Overholt, which can be hard to find outside of the middle-Atlantic, but nearly any high end Canadian rye will taste better than the American stuff.

As for corn liquors -- bourbon and Tennesee -- as I said in the last thread, my favorite is Old Fitzgerald 101, which is a rare bourbon to include a small amount of rye in the mash for complexity. Lovely drink if you like rich, sweet, fiery bourbons that are also reasonably complex.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:12 AM on September 24, 2009

And I will second Weller 107. It is the rare bourbon that is actually worth more than 50 a bottle, and where a premium price isn't actually buying, mostly, the fancy stoppered glass bottle and wooden display box.

It's bourbon. It's a redneck drink. It's not supposed to go down easy.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:14 AM on September 24, 2009

as distinguished from bourbon, my favorite true american whiskey is Michter's.
posted by Shike at 5:25 AM on September 24, 2009

Jack Daniels is probably your best choice for several reasons:
-It's a whiskey, not a bourbon.
-It has massive name-brand recognition as discussed above.
-It's likely what most people outside the US think of as an "American whiskey". While the others might be of better quality, people outside the US may never have heard of them and as such could be abit disappointed if they don't recognize the brand.

My suggestion is the Jack Daniels single-barrel reserve. It has the name-brand recognition factor but is also more rare than the standard-issue Jack. It's a higher end product than the Gentleman Jack in my opinion. Sharper flavor, less sweet. Plus single-barrel always has an air of quality about it, no matter what brand it is - blends are OK, single-barrel is better.

For double-plus bonus factor include a bottle of something else along with the JD, to show your friend what higher-end American whiskey is like. That way you give them the best of both worlds - and if it isn't too expensive to do so, you don't have to feel bad about compromising.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:53 AM on September 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

If I were in your friends' shoes, I'd bring Jack. It's not the best, but it is the most recognizable and if the idea is for the gift to be pleasing to the hosts, then Jack will do it. They'll instantly recognize it and understand what it is.
posted by agentwills at 6:14 AM on September 24, 2009

"Please recommend the best American whiskey" was a terrible way to introduce this question, producing instant booze snobbery of the worst sort ("My incredibly obscure and pricey distillery product is more exquisite than yours!"). What you meant to ask was "What American whiskey shouild my friend bring to Colombia as a gift for her hosts?" The answer is almost certainly Jack Daniels. Nobody abroad gives a shit about fancy little labels that have gotten great reviews in specialty connoisseurs' magazines, or even that you personally love to death. They want a famous name on the label. I am not being dismissive; I have lived abroad and I have seen how this works. In short, wuzandfuzz and agentwills are right.
posted by languagehat at 6:27 AM on September 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Maker's is my favorite everyday bourbon. Knob Creek and Bulleit are what I like for fancy. I find Maker's and Knob Creek to be mellower and more vanilla-warm-syrup and Bulleit to be a little more distinctive/whiskey flavor. Bulleit holds up better to strong flavors, like bitters in an old-fashioned.

I guess we need to know how they like to drink their bourbon. Neat, rocks, cocktail, mixed drink?
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:02 AM on September 24, 2009

Really, just go with Jack Daniels. Unless your friend has more information than you've provided, like these folks are connoisseurs of American whiskeys, Jack is the way to go. It's the American whiskey overseas, the only one with broad name recognition and the standard bottle and label is near-iconic (unlike Gentleman Jack or JD Single Barrel). It's pretty much a fail safe gift and, if they prefer the "better" stuff or don't even like whiskey at all, they can always re-gift to someone who will appreciate it.
posted by 6550 at 7:24 AM on September 24, 2009

There are many great bourbons, many mentioned above. But if I were to bring a gift to someone not well versed in bourbon (or American whiskey), I would bring either Woodford Reserve or Bulleit as they are both quality bourbons, have unique and distinguised bottles and are fair in price.

If I wanted to knock their socks off regardless of price, I would bring a bottle of Elijah Craig 18yr old single barrel.
posted by wile e at 7:40 AM on September 24, 2009

I'm with languagehat here; the question is not "what is the best american whiskey," but rather "what american whiskey, if gifted, would leave the best impression on Friend's hosts." I think Gentleman Jack or Jack Single Barrel would be the best way to go, or just a handle of Jack Black.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:19 AM on September 24, 2009

For double-plus bonus factor include a bottle of something else along with the JD, to show your friend what higher-end American whiskey is like.

Agreed: Colombia lets you import two bottles of alcohol duty free, so you have room for a second choice that won't be familiar.
posted by holgate at 2:10 PM on September 24, 2009

Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek on the premium end, Jim Beam on the inexpensive end. Even though Jack Daniels may have all the name recognition, Jim Beam is the best selling whiskey in the US.
posted by LouMac at 3:12 PM on September 24, 2009

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