What makes a bourbon a bourbon? It’s a common assumption that bourbon can only be produced in Kentucky, but that’s actually a misconception: In fact, the all-American whiskey can be made anywhere in the United States. There are other restrictions that govern the production of bourbon – from using new charred oak barrels to including a minimum of 51 percent corn in the mash bill – but creative distillers around the country are putting an exciting spin on the classic American spirit. We’ve picked five of our favorite bourbons in the U.S. that aren’t from Kentucky. Cheers!
Hudson Whiskey in Gardiner, N.Y. has the distinction of being the first company to ever make bourbon in New York state (and the first to make aged whiskey in the state since Prohibition). Founded in 2001, the distillery makes handcrafted, small-batch spirits. Their mellow and easy-sipping Baby Bourbon is made from 100 percent locally sourced corn, giving it a sweet, caramel-like flavor profile, while the rich and peppery Four Grain Bourbon blends corn with rye, wheat and barley for a complex palate.
Smooth Ambler hasn’t been around long – the distillery was founded in 2009 – but this West Virginia outpost is already crafting some truly exceptional spirits. The distillery takes an artisanal approach to its products: grain is milled on site and water is sourced from its Greenbrier Mountain surroundings. Smooth Ambler’s Old Scout is a perfect go-to bourbon, ideal for sipping neat or as the foundation in a range of cocktails.
So, Balcones doesn’t technically produce a bourbon, according to the governmental restrictions. But what it does make – Texas corn whiskey distilled from atole, or meal made from blue corn that’s native to the state – is good enough to have earned it the title of Craft Distiller of the Year from Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky awards. Its True Blue spirit, an over-proof whiskey that clocks in at 50 percent alcohol by volume, is both complex and also highly approachable.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Watershed was founded in 2010, but its slightly off-kilter techniques – like aging its spirits in much smaller barrels to increase the surface exposure and thus speed up the maturation – have produced bourbons that are full and flavorful in as little as two years.
Billed as the world’s highest distillery, the Colorado-based Breckenridge Distillery also makes use of Rocky Mountain snow melt for its water source. The resulting spirit is rich and tongue-coating, a luscious bourbon whose richness belies its minimal aging time.
(Main image: © Balcones Distillery)
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