The anglicization of the word “whiskey” comes from the Gaelic phrase “uisce breatha,” literally meaning “water of life,” first given to the distilled alcohol by Irish monks of the early Middle Ages. It stands to reason that whiskey and water go hand-in-hand, and when it comes to distilling the spirit, the source and purity of the water used in the process make all the difference.
Kentucky distillers often make the argument that quality bourbon can only be derived from their limestone water. Of course, this is an accepted fact – one that’s ruled the roost of bourbon distillation over the course of the spirit’s history. Recently, however, we’ve seen a resurgence in small-batch bourbon production outside of the Bluegrass State utilizing their own unique water sources in distillation. While Kentucky devotees may scoff at the thought of Colorado, New York or even Texas bourbon, that doesn’t mean we can’t attempt to show others the possibility of quality non-Kentucky whiskey.
Sure. There may not be anything like Pappy anywhere else but in Kentucky, but that isn’t to say that these bourbons are any less American. They’re still distilled on American soil, with American water and drunk by American bourbon lovers. So before you write off anything that doesn’t find its roots in limestone, take a look at these 12 bourbons not from Kentucky that keep the tradition alive in a transcontinental manner. Cheers.
Rough Rider Straight
Distillery: Baiting Hollow, NY
Odds are anything that pays tribute to Teddy Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” is going to be a great find. In fact, we’re pretty sure that if the Volunteer Calvary were still around today, you could bet on finding this bourbon on deck at their campsite. It’s initially aged in charred oak and finished in merlot and chardonnay casks from local Long Island wineries that provide each bottle with a distinct nutty flavor profile peppered with sweet cereal and vanilla. There’s also a bit of clove and allspice on the palate as well thanks to the high-rye mash bill.
Old Hickory Black Label
Distillery: Nashville, TN
Drawing their water from the deep glacial aquifers of the Ohio River basin this Tennessee distillery pulls its name from the former US President and colonel of the Tennessee militia. Their Black Label, which at one point won gold in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, is bottled at 80 proof and offers aromas of dark fruit and nuttiness, following through with a finish of toffee, dried cherries, and honey.
Distillery: Princeton, MN
It’s not surprising that Minnesota offers their own form of warmth for those frigid months most of us couldn’t bear to handle. Broken Bell Small Batch is a variant of the Broken Bell name and is billed a legitimate bourbon for crafting fine cocktails on a winter’s night. The nose is filled with vanilla and sweet butterscotch with hints of anise, with a spicy wood profile alongside dry fruit and corn.
High West American Prairie Reserve
Distillery: Park City, UT
Here’s a blended bourbon that honors the pioneering spirit of the American West. Based out of Park City, Utah, High West was the first legal distillery in Utah after Prohibition ended in 1933. The whiskey itself is one of a series of releases from the distillery and is a blend of two straight bourbons that pair nicely together releasing an aroma of sweet vanilla and toasted spices. On the palate, you’ll also find pleasant notes of a nutty citrus, vanilla, and a finish of subtle dry berries.
Distillery: Pine Island, NY
Acquiring its namesake from the dark, fertile soil left from an ancient glacial lake that used to cover the thousand of acres of upstate New York, Black Dirt Bourbon is distilled from a high mash bill of authentically grown Black Dirt corn and aged for several years in charred American oak barrels. The nose features an aroma of breakfast cereal and vanilla/caramel notes followed by a bit of chocolate on the palate with a bit of citrus before returning to a smooth cocoa finish. No doubt worth the hunt to find a bottle.
Hudson Baby Bourbon
Distillery: Gardiner, NY
Sometimes the best bourbons are indeed the simplest. Hudson Baby Bourbon is just that: a 100 percent corn whiskey aged in charred American oak barrels. The distillery is based in the Hudson River Valley of New York, allowing the temperate and changing seasons to age the bourbon in a special manner, unlike its southern counterparts. The result is a defined taste featuring a warm finish complimented by notes of roasted corn and marzipan. Uniquely New York in taste and presentation.
Distillery: Little Rock, AR
Based out of Arkansas comes a small batch bourbon that previously won double gold and gold in the San Francisco World Spirit Competition. They may have rebranded a bit from the previously known Arkansas Young Bourbon but all the essentials are still in the bottle. Drinkers will attest to the smooth and balanced profile of corn, vanilla, dark fruit, and a hint of oak that brings everything together in an enjoyable sip.
Distillery: Evanston, IL
Hailing from the windy city, FEW bourbon packs a punch full of vanilla, clove, toffee and warming spices to keep you toasty on those cool fall and winter nights. On the nose, you’ll find notes of caramel and clove, followed up by a sweet and spicy combination of toffee and cardamom on the palate leaving a lasting yet warm finish sip after sip. A spicy yet enjoyable bourbon indeed.
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Understanding that great whiskey comes from quality water, Widow Jane utilizes the pure water of the Widow Jane Mine in Rosedale, NY for their distillery in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Each batch is a ten-year bourbon that drinks like a 20-year vintage thanks to its tasting notes of dark fruit complimented by a tannic finish from the charred oak barrels in which this straight bourbon is aged.
West of Kentucky Bourbon
Distillery: Rohnert Park, CA
West of Kentucky may be an understatement. Situated across the country in California, Sonoma County Distilling cranks out this American bourbon that takes on a distinctly California approach to whiskey. Utilizing American yellow corn in their mash bill, West of Kentucky boasts a golden straw color with an aroma of baked buttery bread and oak, offering a palate full of honey and clove with subtle hints of vanilla and caramel. The finish is refreshing, with just enough woody spice notes to remind you that this is still bourbon in all its glory.
W.H. Harrison Governor’s Reserve
Distillery: Brazil, IL
Bottled at Barrel Proof, this 113 proof bourbon boasts a high-rye mash while remaining within the legal boundaries of American bourbon. The bourbon is distilled from Indiana limestone water and honors William Henry Harrison, the early Governor of Indiana Territory and former US President. It toasts those individuals both bold and smooth with its high ABV and robust upfront profile followed by a smooth and delightful finish. Who knew the Hoosier State could produce such a quality spirit?
Garrison Brothers Straight
Distillery: Hye, TX
As a micro-distillery based out of Hye, Texas, you wouldn’t think this straight bourbon would compare to anything else on the market. However, after one sip you may, in fact, appreciate the efforts those in the Lone Star State have made in producing a quality American bourbon. It’s both smooth and rich with a nose full of vanilla, butterscotch and caramel, followed by a revealing finish that’s smooth on the palate filled with caramelized sugar that lingers into the next sip.