Guide to American Whiskey

When it comes to American whiskey, which has grown ever more popular in recent years, the first step towards appreciation begins with understanding the various types that exist.

Easily the two most popular and famous of the American whiskey varieties are bourbon whiskey and Tennessee whiskey, which most people will recognise thanks to the globally renowned brands Jack Daniels and Jim Beam.

Many other types exist, however, including:

  • Malt whiskey
  • Rye malt whiskey
  • Rye whiskey
  • Corn whiskey
  • Wheat whiskey

Each of these types have a number of conditions that must be met before a distiller can call their product one of these whiskeys, which we will explore in greater detail below.

For additional information on American whiskey, we recommend you consider this article.

Bourbon Whiskey

Bourbon Whiskey Production Process

In order to call your product a bourbon whiskey, some of the rules include that it must be made with at least 51% corn, be aged in new charred oak barrels, must be bottled at 40% alcohol and must, of course, be produced in America.

Please note, however, that these rules are held differently depending on the country you’re in as in America, for example, bourbon must also indicate the age of the whiskey in the bottle if aged under four years, which is not the case in Australia, where no age statement is required.

For this reason we always encourage people to consider local laws in place around product packaging and labelling requirements.

A common held myth surrounding bourbon whiskey is that it must be produced in the US state of Kentucky, however, this is not true and bourbon distilleries exist all over the country.

That being said, Kentucky still exists as the true home of bourbon whiskey, thanks, in part, to its natural terrain, which lends itself perfectly to the production of beautifully crafted bourbon whiskey.

Map of Kentucky Whiskey Distilleries

Due to the mandated requirement that any bottle of bourbon whiskey must be made with at least 51% corn, although most are made with much higher percentages of the grain, the resulting product has a unique sweetness to it that is a defining feature of any bourbon that you will try.

Where the distiller really separates their product from other producers, however, is in the types and percentage amounts of grains other than corn that are used during the production process.

Makers Mark, for example, uses wheat during their production process, which results in their product being sweeter and richer than most other types of bourbons, whilst Bulleit uses greater amounts of rye grain during the distillation process to create a far more spicy and peppery whiskey.

Tennessee Whiskey

Tennessee Whiskey Production Process

Next to bourbon whiskey, Tennessee whiskey exists as one of the most easily recognisable products to ever come out of America thanks to the internationally renowned brand Jack Daniels.

Other distilleries in America producing Tennessee whiskey include George Dickel, Benjamin Prichard, and Nelson’s Green Brier and Corsair.

Actually an off-shoot of bourbon whiskey, Tennessee whiskey must be made with at least 51% corn and in the exact same process as bourbon made elsewhere in the country except only in the US State of Tennessee.

What makes Tennessee whiskey distinct from bourbon, however, is not just it’s place of origin but also its completely unique maple tree charcoal filtering process known as the “Lincoln County Process”, which every Tennessee whiskey must undergo before being placed into barrels for ageing.

Map of Tennessee Whiskey Distilleries

The fact that it is so close in its production method to bourbon means that Tennessee whiskey is very similar in taste and appearance to bourbon, as it’s often sweeter than whiskeys made elsewhere around the world.

It is important to note, however, that the mandated requirement of the charcoal filtration process makes the resulting whiskey more mellow and slightly smokier than bourbon and other American whiskey varieties.

Malt, Rye, Corn, Wheat, & Rye Malt Whiskey

Whilst there are many different names for what is seemingly the same thing - whiskey - they matter a great deal in this instance as not only are the names, and what they mean, protected by law, the flavours inherent in the resulting product vary depending upon the name and therefore ingredients used during production.

American Whiskey Types Defined by Grains

Malt whiskey must be made with at least 51% malted barley, whilst rye whiskey uses at least 51% rye with the remaining blends of both being made up of other grains.

Rye Malt whiskey uses at least 51% malted rye in conjunction with other grains, and corn whiskey must be made with at least 80% corn.

Finally, wheat whiskey uses 51% wheat during production and is a much rarer type of whiskey to find, usually only produced by smaller micro-distilleries.

Whilst all of this talk of grains and percentages may seem a bit superfluous to most of us it matters a great deal to the flavour profile inherent in the whiskey produced.

To discover more on the different types, read this article, which explains a bit more about each of the types mentioned above.

Which American Whiskey to Choose?

Feeling spoilt for choice? Evidently, there is a lot to know about American whiskey so when it comes time to selecting which bottle to pick there are few markers to look for.

For those preferring sweeter style whiskies that are typically more supple, gentle, and approachable consider trying bourbon, Tennessee, or Corn whiskey. Examples include Makers Mark and Jim Beam Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

If you prefer whiskeys that are more bitey with a peppery spice to them then be sure to try those whiskeys with a higher rye content, including Wild Turkey 101 and Bulleit Bourbon.

Similar to scotch whisky, we encourage everyone to enjoy their preferred style of American whiskey neat with a splash of water or over ice as this will allow you to truly appreciate the craftsmanship inherent in each bottle.

Depending upon where you are on your whiskey journey and what your taste buds prefer there is a whiskey out there for everyone.

Pairing Food with American Whiskey

Although the idea of pairing your favourite American whiskey with food may seem peculiar to some, it is a highly recommended way of really enhancing your drinking experience.

When it comes to pairing food with Tennessee whiskey, the higher concentration of sweetness mixed with the mellow smokiness tends to match very well with strong dark chocolate or aged cheddar cheese as both of these foods compliment the flavour profile of the whiskey.

Pairing Food with American Whiskey

For bourbon whiskey, be sure to pair these with steaks that have a lower fat concentration, almost any kind of chocolate, or a sweet apple pie.

Finally, for those whiskeys that have been produced with a higher concentration of rye, be sure to drink them alongside milk chocolate, blue cheese, smoked salmon, or fattier dishes of meat, such as meatloaf.

There's a bottle of American whiskey out there for everyone. Here are some of the brands and bottles that we recommend you look out for the next time you're browsing whiskey online or in-store.

Legent Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Tasting Notes
Made by Japanese & American distillers, this smooth, subtly sweet, & high alcohol whiskey is ideal for special occasions.


Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Maker's 46 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Tasting Notes
Crisp in its style, this whiskey has plenty of bold pepper & cinnamon spice flavour, & only subtle amounts of caramel sweetness.

Maker's 46

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

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