6 Best American Whiskeys in 2023
What is American Whiskey?
All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. American whiskeys are those that do not meet all of the criteria of the strict bourbon requirements of being distilled with at least 51% corn and aged in new charred-oak barrels distilled in the US; or are bourbons that have been blended with other spirits or barrels not fitting the definition of bourbon.
GAYOT’s Best American Whiskeys list features exemplary examples of those not qualifying as American bourbons but excelling in quality of production and flavor. These selections are presented in alphabetical order.
> Check out GAYOT’s Whiskey Guide.
1. Alternate Takes Volume 3
Origin: Milton, Delaware, USA
Suggested retail price: $55 for 750 ml
Dogfish Head has distinguished itself as one of the top craft breweries in the U.S. and expanded into the spirits world with the opening of its Dogfish Head Distilling Company in 2015.
The third release out of its Alternate Takes Series (a lineup of premium, experimental whiskeys), a 90-proof limited-edition whiskey, is distilled from 100% pale malt and finished for 36-plus months in freshly emptied Dogfish Head American oak apple brandy barrels and Angry Orchard French oak apple cider barrels. Intricate complexities from the aging process include aromas of cinnamon and wildflower honey paired with flavor notes of fresh green apples, roasted chestnut and buttery, dry oaked Chardonnay.
The Alternate Take Series name is a nod to analog-aged musicians, who were known for recording various unique takes until a great record emerged. “Our Alternate Takes whiskey series is an ode of sorts to the mad chemistry of R&D distilling,” said Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head Founder & Brewer. “Just like music, our off-centered concoctions are boundless, and each alternate take is another piece of the artistic journey.”
> For more information, visit the Dogfish Head Distilling official website.
2. Duke & Dame Salted Caramel Whiskey
Origin: Jacksonville, Florida, USA
Suggested retail price: $30 for 750 ml
Two of the hottest flavors in the food and beverage world are currently salted caramel and flavored whiskey. Launched in 2017, this salted caramel version marries both and manages to appeal to those that are new to the whiskey world, as well as cocktail fans and foodies. Distilled from a blend of 100% corn whiskeys including two-year aged bourbon selected by master blenders, the all-natural caramel flavors are added during the blending process. The first sip brings forth robust caramel aromas and flavors which are followed by bourbon notes with hints of oak and spice and a finish of subtle, buttery sweetness. This flavored whiskey can be enjoyed by itself whenever the mood hits, as an after-dinner liquid dessert or mixed in cocktails such as a caramel sour or caramel s’mores martini.
> For more information, visit the Duke and Dame official website.
3. 8-Ball Chocolate Whiskey
Origin: San Diego, California, USA
Suggested retail price: $30 for 750 ml
For those that love chocolate and whiskey, this is a match made in heaven, as the flavors of both combine in every sip. But even those who love only chocolate will find a lot to like, as the chocolate flavor bursts forth and dominates in every sip. Founder/CEO Paul Thomas during his global pursuits discerned that the two most beloved flavors worldwide were chocolate and whiskey, and over the course of two years formulated countless batches of chocolate and whiskey combinations until 8-Ball Premium Chocolate Whiskey was born.
All-natural ingredients sourced from Madagascar, Indonesia and Mexico combine with Kentucky bourbon aged for two years in charred American Oak barrels. The result is a combination of subtle notes of oak, maple and vanilla merged with full-on chocolate flavor. This first American 100% all-natural chocolate-infused bourbon whiskey weighs in at 66 proof and is recommended to be sipped straight or in cocktails such as mudslides or spiked hot cocoa.
> For more information, visit the 8-Ball Chocolate Whiskey official website.
Origin: Clermont, Kentucky, USA
Suggested retail price: $40 for 750 ml
This Kentucky bourbon/whiskey is redefined by the art of Japanese blending. Legent is a collaboration between two whiskey legends: Jim Beam’s seventh-generation Master Distiller Fred Noe and Suntory’s fifth-ever Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyu. Distilled in Kentucky from a mash bill of 77% corn, 13% rye and 10% malted barley, and aged in new charred American oak barrels, a portion is again aged in sherry and red wine casks where it picks up several unique flavors. Fukuyu then meticulously blends the secondary-finished spirit with more Kentucky straight bourbon, resulting in added layers and complexity.
Adding to the uniqueness is the fact that bourbon is not a spirit that is blended often, and this marriage of East and West brings flavors including candy sweetness and dark fruit with some spice thrown into the mix.
> For more information, visit the Legent official website.
5. Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon
Origin: Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, USA
Suggested retail price: $35 for 750 ml
American entrepreneur and TV personality Jon Taffer is renowned for transforming bars from the brink of closure into profitable businesses, so for sure he knows a stand-out spirit when he tastes one. It was while producing one of his many episodes of Bar Rescue that Taffer and his chefs were experimenting in the kitchen after a long day of production and a concept came to him, a way to fuse an indulgent favorite ingredient — browned butter — with the bold complexity of whiskey. “When the idea of marrying the flavor profiles of whiskey and browned butter hit me, I knew we were onto something unique and special. We challenged ourselves to turn this creative inspiration into a premium version of the idea that would appeal to not only those new to the spirit, but serious whiskey lovers as well,” says Taffer.
The final result is a mix of bourbon and natural flavors with an inviting aroma of toasted caramel, which upon sipping brings forth sweet notes of vanilla and toffee without being overly cloying. Although it presents as a very pleasant drink on its own, the company provides several cocktail recipes on its website, such as an espresso martini, and it’s even been used as an ingredient in a decadent steak sauce.
> For more information, visit the Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon official website.
6. Westward American Single Malt Whiskey
Origin: Portland, Oregon, USA
Suggested retail price: $74.95 for 750ml
First released in August 2017, this is produced at House Spirits in Portland, Oregon. This American Single Malt whiskey is distilled from local two-row pale malted barley that was fermented with ale yeast. It is double pot-distilled and aged in new, lightly charred American Oak barrels. Each bottling is comprised of several single barrels, typically five to six for each batch. The whiskey is non-chill filtered and bottled at 45% ABV.
The whiskey has a robust and fruity aroma with creamy vanilla and brown sugar notes followed by tobacco and leather. Flavors are well balanced, showing baking spice, stone fruit, sweet malt and dark chocolate evolving into a balanced and lingering finish.
> For more information, visit the Westward Whiskey official website.
Reviewed by Dirk Smits, GAYOT Wine & Spirits Editor