Whisky Advocate

New American whiskeys strive for maximum versatility

April 24th, 2012

Some bourbons (and rye whiskeys) are good enough to drink neat or with a splash of water. Others, usually because of their youth and lower cost, are more suitable for cocktails or on the rocks.  Most people put American whiskey into one of these two categories.

Very few whiskeys, for my palate anyway, manage to accomplish both. Arguably, some that might pass the test are Evan Williams Black Label, Sazerac Rye (Baby Sazerac, as it is affectionately know), and Old Forester Signature (100 proof). These are versatile, affordable whiskeys which you can keep in your drinks cabinet and use for many drinks applications.

However, I’ve noticed a lot of new whiskeys that seem to be produced and marketed for this exact kind of versatility. Part of it might be driven by the popularity of cocktails. It might also be that older, more mature American whiskeys are becoming scarcer.

I will also point out that most of these new releases don’t have age statements, allowing the producers more flexibility with their stocks, and some people aren’t very happy about it. (I, too, was a little bummed when Knob Creek Rye was released without an age statement, instead of being released at 9 years old similar to the Knob Creek bourbons.

Recent examples include Wild Turkey Bourbon 81 Proof, Wild Turkey Rye 81 Proof, Knob Creek Rye, and even the private label Breaking & Entering bourbon (which is quite nice, btw). All of them seem, to varying degrees, come across as mature just enough to enjoy neat or with a little water, but youthful and vibrant enough to work well in cocktails without breaking the bank in the process.

And, of course, the more versatile a whiskey is, the more bottles of it will be sold, which won’t exactly hurt the company’s bottom line either.

Have you noticed any whiskeys released recently that fall in this category? Your thoughts on this trend?


No Responses to “New American whiskeys strive for maximum versatility”

  1. JoshK says:

    My first recollection of this versatility trend was with Sazerac Rye (as you mentioned), but that had a 6 year old age statement at least. Producers going to NAS labels makes me think about what is really in the product. And how it may be changing. I keep thinking specifically about the case with Cardhu Single Malt subtly switching to a blend that caused an uproar.

  2. M Lange says:

    I’d add Rittenhouse Rye, Very Old Barton BIB and Weller Antique to the versatile list, though they all need a splash of water.
    I’m excited to try the Knob Creek Rye.

  3. JD1 says:

    How does this “new” Wild Turkey rye differ from the “old” version? I see the new label. Was it 101 proof before? And will they sell both versions, like the bourbon, or is the 101 proof rye going away for good? That would be a shame. I might need to stock up a few bottles before they disappear entirely.

    John, it’s nice to see Evan Williams and the 6yo Sazerac on your “versatile” list… Those are probably the first two I would think of as well.

    • theBitterFig says:

      From Chuck Cowdery’s blog: “However, the 101° proof version of Wild Turkey Rye is not being discontinued. It will, however, be in short supply for probably the rest of 2012 due to the recent surge in rye whiskey popularity, but it is not being discontinued and it will be back. Due to its temporary unavailability, it was expedient for the company to list 81 by replacing 101 in some states.” –

      Also: “If your whiskey monger still has any 101° proof Wild Turkey Rye left, buy it. Campari America promises it will come back next year but what they don’t say is that it will probably have a new label and a new, higher price when it does. In the meantime, try the new 81° proof Wild Turkey Rye, conveniently priced the same as 101° in most places.” –

      • JD1 says:

        Thanks Fig… Good to know! And you also remind me that I need to check Chuck’s blog more often. In the meantime I will keep an eye out for WT 101 rye on the store shelves and be ready to squirrel away a bottle or two.

  4. theron says:

    George Dickel #8!!! TOTALLY VERSITILE! Drink neat or mix it. For $15 you CANNOT do better.

  5. BFitz says:

    Great to see Evan Williams indeed!
    Very Special Old Fitzgerald (no relation) which, like Evan Williams, comes out of Heaven Hill and is very versatile. Weller 7 Year is hard to beat from a value stand point too.

  6. R Scott says:

    I would put Redemption Rye in this category, though I find it a bit too green to enjoy neat. I also recently bought a bottle of Sam Houston, which may also fit this mold (with it’s cardboard cylinder packaging, it also struck me as potentially more presentation/marketing than quality at $25).

  7. Murray eM says:

    For me Makers Mark hits the spot in this category, very drinkable, versatile enough to mix and priced to allow it – although never been a keen on the rocks drinker!

  8. Vince says:

    I would agree with Very Old Barton BIB,Evan Williams Black and any of the Weller Bourbons. I would also add Bulleit bourbon and rye, along with Four Roses Yellow Label. I am not a big fan of distilleries like Wild Turkey reducing their proof in products (Rye) and eliminating age statements. I think it obviously is happening because of demand. Ultimately, you can “sell” that you are making a more “versatile” bourbon or whiskey but in reality all you are doing is diminishing the quality of your product to meet demand.

  9. Texas says:

    John I am guessing you aren’t a big WT 101 fan. I think Wild Turkey 101 neat is fantastic and it is $20, and it does well in drinks. If Old Forester 100 is on your list, surely WT 101 should be?? I agree on Maker’s and also would add Weller Special Reserve. Weller Antique may be a bit high in proof for bartenders to use..

  10. Jordan says:

    Old Grand Dad BiB or 114. Big, big flavors that are good neat, but also give plenty of backbone to a whiskey cocktail.

  11. Whiskylassie says:

    Well, being a Canadian I have to mention and want to bring to your attention: Collingwood which is made and distilled in Canada but bottled by Brown-Forman in Kentucky. It’s inaugural debut was in four states before it even came “home”.

    If ever you have a chance to try it, please do! I personally love it on it’s own, but have also tried it in a cocktail and it was a great “summer” whisky (Canadian spelling, of course!)

    Hope some of you will consider it, it’s like $26/bottle.

    Whisky lassie 🙂

  12. Iskch1 says:

    Agree with both statements. Bacoming popular with coktails and stocks of old bourbon are running low.

  13. Jason Beatty says:

    The local liquor store began to pull out bottles of rye for me to try which came from LDI, and through Strong Spirits. I lost the name of them but they are there to provide something for us mixologists who keep running out of Rittenhouse Rye. In the same building as Strong Spirits is Angel’s Envy, which is still affordable enough to mix with, a personal favorite because I can add bitter elements to complement the port finish.

  14. sam k says:

    Interesting that the Wild Turkey rye label only says “bottled by Austin Nichols.” Wonder who distilled it?

  15. A.J. says:

    Buffalo Trace, drinkable straight and given its price point I have no qualms about putting it on the rocks during the warm summer months or mixing it.

    • I have to agree! I LOVE Buffalo Trace. Smooth on its own, great with a bit of ice for sipping and I’ve even started cooking with it. I found a recipe for Bourbon Bread Pudding and Buffalo Trace is by far my first choice for the sauce! Delish.

  16. Tom says:

    hooker’s house, and one of my favorites for versatility is black maple hill, although its not necessarily new.

© Copyright 2017. Whisky Advocate. All rights reserved.