There’s a lot of whiskey in the world. Hell, there’s a lot of whiskey made right here in America. Kentucky and Tennessee alone offer thousands of expressions to choose from. Then you have 48 other states in which distilling traditions are being reborn and craft distilleries are reinventing the game wholesale.
It’s a great time to be a whiskey lover, fam. Maybe the best time.
One of our favorite aspects of regional or state-by-state whiskey tasting is learning the little tweaks and odd quirks that local distillers and blenders utilize. Special water sources, locally grown grains, unique wood staves, and artsy aging techniques all come into play to create truly one-of-a-kind whiskeys. Which makes throwing down the ultimate gauntlet and naming the “best whiskey in all 50 states” a daunting task.
With our livers pickled and our eyes bleary, we’re here to report: the job is done. These are the bottles that stand out to us right now. Of course, this list isn’t the be-all and end-all of American whiskey. Tastes differ. Palates shift. And picking just one bourbon from Kentucky is a fool’s errand. Still, we stand by these picks. We’re ready to ruffle some feathers and get attacked in the comments and social media.
Alabama — JOHN EMERALD JON’S ALABAMA SINGLE MALT WHISKEY
This single malt stands out from the crowd by being imbued with pure Alabama flavors. The barley used in the mash bill is kilned using smoke from pecan and peach wood, giving the smoky whiskey a distinctly southern feel.
Tasting Notes: Smoke comes through but with a nice dose of spice and bright fruit. There’s a clear and deep burnt cream sweetness next to the fatty pecan nuttiness. At the end of the sip, the smoke gets dialed back as the spice and creaminess lead to a warming alcohol finish.
Alaska — PORT CHILKOOT WRACK LINE RYE
This 70-percent Alaskan rye focuses on organic grains, double distilling, and expert aging in newly charred American oak. This is Alaska in a glass while embracing American whiskey tactics.
Tasting Notes: There’s a brightness to the spice here. It’s light yet full of floral notes, oaky vanilla, and peppery rye spices. A thin line of sweetness comes in late that leads right back to a spicy warm finish.
Arizona — ARIZONA DISTILLING COPPER CITY BOURBON
AZ Distilling’s award-winning bourbon is a superb non-Kentucky bourbon to seek out. It’s corn-based with a mix of rye and barley filling out the mash bill. The whiskey is then aged for just under four years in new American oak before hitting the bottle.
Tasting Notes: Bourbon vanilla is upfront. Next, you’re going to feel a rich and buttery caramel sweetness with a hint of rye spice. There’s a beautiful balance here between the wood, spice, vanilla, and corn sweetness that just works.
Arkansas — ROCK TOWN SINGLE BARREL BOURBON WHISKEY
This was 2015’s micro whiskey of the year according to The Whisky Bible. The whiskey is made from locally grown Arkansas corn, red winter wheat, and a dash of malted barley. The booze is distilled and then goes into a barrel until it’s just right. Then, the bourbon is bottled right out of that single barrel. There are no blending barrels here.
Tasting Notes: This is pure bourbon. A confluence of vanilla, wood, spice, and caramel combine in a perfectly balanced sip. If you like your bourbon’s even-handed with some dark berry and toasted caramel notes, this is your jam.