Part 2 – Chasing the American Dram
The whiskey industry in America. Full steam ahead. There are currently more than 2000 companies producing whiskey in the United States. And every state has at least one. Now, many of these companies aren’t actually making their own stuff. They let distilling giants like Midwest Grain Products do all the work. Today, though, we want to take a look at the craft distillers that are in the business of actually making whiskey. And there are lots to choose from.
So where do we start? At the beginning, of course. And that means all the way back to the early days of Tennessee whiskey and what’s now known as the Lincoln County process. That’s where whiskey gets charcoal filtered before going into the cask. Most non-bourbon American whiskey makers use this process. But not many people know its origin. For that, we go into the history of the Jack Daniels distillery and a man called Nathaniel “Nearest” Green. Uncle Nearest, as he became known, is officially recognized as the first African American master distiller, and the mentor to a young Jack Daniels. In honor of his legacy, in 2017, the Nearest Green Distillery was founded. Within three years, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has been sold in all 50 states and 12 countries. To date, it has won more than 15 awards throughout the whiskey community. How’s that for a craft whiskey success story?
What other cool stuff is out there? Well, let’s look at some not-so-traditional-locations. Like on the Hawaiian Island of Ohau, where the Ko’olau Distillery makes Old Pali Road Whiskey from locally sourced corn and rainforest water. Or the Arctic Harvest Distillery, located in North Pole, Alaska. Since 2017, they have been making Moonlit Winter Malty Whiskey from locally sourced ingredients. North Pole? I wonder if there are elves involved…
Further south, at the Kentucky Artisan Distillery, Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon is put into casks for a unique aging experience. It all started in 2012, when three casks of Jefferson’s Bourbon got loaded onto the research vessel M.V. Ocean for a four year trip around the world. The unique constant-motion aging process was a success to the point where casks are now loaded on various ships for at-sea aging. An average batch crosses the equator four times. A well travelled dram, for sure.
If you think that all Bourbon is made in the rolling countryside, then consider Widow Janes in the heart of downtown Brooklyn, New York. You’re probably thinking – maybe the New York municipal water system isn’t the best for making whiskey. And you’d be right. So, the distillery brings in water from a limestone mine 100 miles away. The same mine where the stone for the Empire State Building came from. Wow! Big shoes to fill.
Hopping west to the California coast, the Savage and Cooke Distillery on Mare Island uses Napa Valley wine casks to finish their Burning Chair whiskey. And up the coast in Oregon, the Clear Creek Distillery is making McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt from smoked barley imported from Scotland. Aged for three years in Oregon Oak casks, it is truly a gem of a dram.
To finish our little craft whiskey tour, let’s go back to Kentucky. The Rabbit Hole Distillery, located in the Nulu neighborhood of Louisville, is a modern architectural masterpiece. Built in 2012 by a retired clinical psychologist (which may be a clue to the company name), it produces some of the finest craft bourbon in the country. Using four-grain recipes, Japanese casks, and ex-sherry finishing, these whiskeys are changing the face of Kentucky Bourbon.
Meanwhile, over in Lexington, the Bluegrass Distillery is producing Blue Corn Bourbon, made with a 75% blue corn mash sourced from local farmers. As well, they have a philanthropy barrel program, where specially selected barrels are bottled and sold, with $20/bottle going to local charities. Seems like a winning combination.
With so much great whiskey to choose from, your challenge is to find more great stories and to try the best of what American craft whiskey has to offer. And challenges just don’t get any better than that. Cheers and enjoy!