There is a persistent myth that has grown rampant in the world - that great bourbon and rye, the great treasures of the imbiber's New World, can only be made and barreled in a small fraction of the land of "amber waves of grain." But just like The Star Spangled Banner, bourbon and rye, and all the wonderful in-betweens of American Whiskey, belong to no man, state or county.
Surely the legends are true, and some amazing drams are distilled and coopered in Kentucky - the folks there have whiskey flowing in their hearts and their multi-generation long memories - and are worth every sip, and even a visit. But just as intrinsic to the American spirit as whiskey may be, so is the tradition of heading West to seek all that is new, exciting and adventurous. To put down new roots, gather new harvests and distill the industrious calling into something the world didn't even know it wanted.
When visitors frequent our shop, we often find ourselves talking about our own favorite bottles - the ones that are always open, the ones that we replace as soon as we finish them. And we noticed a pattern: many of these bottles are West Coast natives. So without further ado - here's a sample of our favorite Whiskies of the West.
Founded in 2010 by a couple of friends yearning to make a serious bourbon in the Pacific North West, the roots of Woodinville are in multigenerational farming. Their knowledge of growing the necessary grains was met with mentorship from David Pickerell, the ex-master distiller of Maker's Mark, and the result is a 5 year bourbon with all the personality of a craft spirit and all the confidence of generations of knowledge.
With all ingredient sourcing, distilling and barreling occurring in Washington state, this is one of the true Washington grain-to-glass whiskies. The sipping experience is that of an ideal High Rye Bourbon (and at 22% rye content on the mash bill, this is high rye indeed!), starting with rich caramel and vanilla notes from the corn, giving way to more savory, spice filled and woody notes. The finish is sweet and warmly lingering.
Made with all the same care and craft of the bourbon, this 100% Rye does not shy away from it's grain flavors. The aging, carried out in the extreme temperatures of Central Washington goes a long way to marry the significant spice notes of the rye to the calmer flavors of the wood. The result is a rye that is approachable to a whiskey new comer but complex and unique enough for a connoisseur. Cinnamon, clove and woody spices dominate the initial sip, but subtle caramel and deep honey notes round out this confident and balanced rye.[Shop Woodinville Whiskey]
An even newer comer than Woodinville, Alley 6 was founded in 2012. Just as dedicated to the grain-to-glass ethos, Alley 6 makes its home in the wine country of Northern California. Healdsburg in the heart of Sonoma County is an area famous for wine (and to a lesser extern beer), but Alley 6 and a handful of other distilleries are doing their best to put it on the map as spirits country as well - and if their Rye is any indication, the current maps should be worried.
A more gentle rye than many, this 78% rye, 22% malted barley mash twice distilled in Alley 6's copper alembic pot stills. Each batch is aged for a minimum of nine months, a process that yields a brighter rye that is surprisingly smooth for not only a whiskey this young, but for rye whiskey in general! But smooth is certainly not boring - the rye spice is very much present, as are complex malty notes that blend seamlessly with lingering flavors of honey and woody oak. This 86 proof bottle is everything a complex yet soft rye should be.
A super interesting development in the American whiskey world is spirit literally going West. One particular distillery, MGP of Indiana, picks spirits off the still and exports them across the US to be aged and eventually bottled as a semi-homeade whiskey. With a handful of these producers around, it’s been fascinating to try whiskey that all began at one place, yet ended up tasting totally different as uniquely sourced oak barrels and vastly different climates play their part.
Lost Republic’s Straight Bourbon is such a whiskey. Based in Healdsburg CA, we love how the aging transforms it into what feels like a California-style whiskey. With sunny warm days aplenty, a heavy and full-bodied whiskey often feels too weighty, certainly for sipping on a hot Sunday afternoon. Lost Republic is loaded with delicious barrel flavors but not a ton of rich wood sugars; the balance feels just right for the NorCal palate. Given the South’s love of desserts, it also feels totally appropriate that the hefty Kentucky whiskies scratch that sweet tooth itch so well.
The mash bill is 75% Corn, 20% Rye, and 5% Barley and the distillate is aged in 53-gallon white oak barrels for at least three years.
Not without a sense of humor - some of the softest whiskies on this list have some of the edgiest names. Slaughter House is another California emigre, though this one came expressly for the wine! The resulting, supremely sipable bottle is the clearest example of what happens when wine makers decide to try their hand at aging american whiskey. This distillate heads directly to the heart of the wine country in Napa, to Orin Swift Cellars. The bourbon style mash (
85% corn, 8% wheat, 6% rye, 1% malted barley) yields a distillate high in caramel notes. This distillate spends 9 years in American Oak, but finishes its aging in Napa, in barrels previously used for a
Napa Valley Bordeaux varietal red wine.
This whiskey is full, rich and sweet, with the fruit notes of the wine perfectly complimenting the sweet woody notes of the oak and the toasty, caramely ones of the grain. One of our favorite bottles to bring to dinner.
Like its sibling above, Straight Edge comes to Napa from outside California. In this case, the whiskey is a blend of several vintages of Kentucky and Tennessee bourbon (aged up to 8 years), that is then aged in barrels that previously held Cabernet Sauvignon. The mash bill is lower on the corn than Slaughter House - showing as
70% corn, 17% rye, 13% malted barley.
This soft edged bourbon with a sharp name is just as pleasant as Slaughter House, but veers more into a long honey finish with a deeper wine influenced character - the fruit laden sweetness is present and welcomed. Overall this is the the most velvety smooth and rich whiskey on this list.
Having made our way to California and Washington, our last West Coast destination takes us to Oregon and Stein Distillery. The oldest distillery on this list, Stein Distillery comes in at 9 years young, but they make a whiskies that show an expertise well beyond their years, and as the first Made-in-Oregon Bourbon, this one is a true pioneer. Like a few other mentions on this list, this bourbon is very much a grain-to-glass production - down to the hand applied labels: this bourbon definitely wears it's micro distillery cred on it's sleeves.
Aged 5 years (up from 2 years of their original releases), the mash can change between batches, but never relies too heavily on any one grain. The result is a bourbon with pronounced yet soft orange and cherry notes. Honey and toffee notes provide a subtly sweet start and finish. The orange notes make this on a perfect fit for an Old Fashioned (though certainly a joy to sip neat).
On the decidedly more spicy side, the Stein 5 Year Rye is lovely to sip by itself, but is also tailor made for a Manhattan. Whereas the bourbon leans into the orange flavors, the rye goes more towards spiced peach notes. Candied ginger, and a citrusy brightness are also present.