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Best American spirit - rye - bourbon??

For a gift for an Englishman who just has gained American citizenship, I'm looking for an especially fine American spirit to demonstrate the USA is the equal (or better!) of UK in spirit terms .
He likes Islay single malts esp Laphroaig, so he can take the strong stuff. but also appreciates smoothness, depth .. 1792 bourbon??...Thomas Handy rye....?
Any ideas appreciated - thank you!

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    1. re: doclaw88

      I agree, just make sure it's single barrel or small batch. Their standard blended bourbon is okay, but not as good as the single barrels/small batch.

    2. I'd go with a quality, well-aged American straight rye whiskey, which is purely American, rarely seen in the UK, and the equal of the Islay malts in character and complexity. A few ideas:

      If you can find it, Black Maple Hill 23 Year, about $120. Coveted by collectors, so hard to find. Widely rated one of America's finest ryes.

      Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye. Bottled at barrel strength (132 proof), amazing stuff, about $130. This will make a big impression; it's reminiscent of some small-producer single-malts I've sampled in the UK.

      A bit more widely available: Hirsch Selection 22 Year: super smooth, about $120.

      Easy to find: Old Potrero 19th Century, made from 100% rye malt, only about $60, a bit rougher and spicier, a good sipping whiskey, unique among straight ryes in that it is effectively a single-malt. This won't blow away a refined Scotch lover, but it's a uniquely American spirit.

      Rittenhouse 21-Year. Easy to find, another super smoothie among the long-aged straight ryes. About $150.

      Avoid: (ri)1, an attempt by Jim Beam to imitate super-premium vodka marketers by putting a mediocre whiskey in a fancy bottle and charging $50 for it.

      I tend to use rye mainly in cocktails, love its place in American spirits history: George Washington distilled rye, it was America's favorite whiskey prior to Prohibition (which nearly killed it off), and it's the spirit originally used in many classic cocktails like the Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, and Scofflaw. I keep my home bar stocked with Rittenhouse 100 Proof, Sazerac 6 Yr, Old Overholt, and Hudson Manhattan (from a NYC-based small producer). These are all relative bargains for straight ryes, and make great cocktails.

      Good luck!


      4 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        I'd add the Sazerac 18-year to that (again, if you can find it) and note that when I've bought both it and the Thomas Handy, they were only $60. That info's at least a year old. But I have a hard time imagining they've jumped to $150 in the current economic climate.

        1. re: ted

          You're right, Ted: the barrel-strength Thomas Handy Sazerac can be found far cheaper. The first place I saw it online had it at that $100+ price. I like the Sazerac 18, too, but the Baby Saz (6 Yr) fits my budget better.


        2. re: MC Slim JB

          Mmmm, Hudson Manhattan Rye. or any of the Tuthilltown products.

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Excellent suggestions, in my opinion. I have nothing really to add. My particular favorite on that list is the Thomas Handy Sazerac. In fact, any of the antique collection out of Buffalo Trace would be nice and all very American. (Although, I rather like (ri)1... not a bad effort in my opinion).

            If you don't want to shell out the bucks, don't be afraid of Wild Turkey 101 Rye and Russel's Reserve 6yr Rye. Both have done quite well in recent competitions.

            --Neal (Proof66)

          2. Lots of good suggestions here, particularly Handy and Sazerac 18. Here are some other American whiskies that rival (but taste different than) anything Scotland puts out.

            Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 year old Bourbon.
            Parker's Heritage Collection Bourbon (the 2007 edition if you can find it)
            William Larue Weller Uncut and Unfiltered (in the tall bottle)
            Four Roses Single Barrel
            Eagle Rare
            George T. Stagg (a new one will be out this month)
            Any of the rye whiskies bottled by High West in Utah

            1. An interesting one would be an American single malt whiskey produced by Wasmund's in Virginia. Instead of peat smoke to flavor and dry out the the malt, they use apple and cherry wood. They also use apple and cherry wood (as chips) inside the oak barrels for aging. Their product scored a 93 by the Beverage Testing Institute, and I believe the price point is around $40/750 mL


              Otherwise, I do second the George T. Stagg Bourbon recommendation.

              1. The folks below have certainly got the very high end nailed.

                There are also a few more modest tipples I would throw into the mix:

                Maker's Mark Bourbon

                Jim Beam Black Bourbon

                Thought I do agree with MCSlimJB that the most American of whiskeys is a Rye whiskey.

                1. thank you everybody for the ideas- food - or better yet - drink - for thought!
                  In Boston (downtown I dont have car but can take T) any particular shop likely to have the best range of these drinks mentioned?
                  Also settle a bet; what exactly is the difference, relationship , between bourbon, rye, whiskey?
                  Thank you!

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: angelaangel

                    I don't know Boston, but Julio's in Westborough is a great whiskey store.

                    Here's a brief primer on whiskey:

                    Whiskey is a general term for a spirit distilled from grains and aged in wood. Scotch, Bourbon, rye, Irish Whiskey etc. are all types of whiskey (or "whisky" in the British spelling).

                    Bourbon is an American whiskey which is made from at least 51% corn (though most contain much more). There are other requirements about its proof and the type of barrels it is aged in, but the corn is what is important.

                    Rye is an Ameircan whiskey made from at least 51% rye. It is the same concept as Bourbon but the primary grain is rye.


                    1. re: sku

                      About the spelling variations:

                      Whisky / whiskies: Scotland, Canada, Japan
                      Whiskey / whiskeys: USA, Ireland

                      Handy mnemonic: "Unites States of America" and "Ireland" also have an "e" in them.

                      Exceptions to "e in the States rule": Early Times (bourbon), Maker's Mark (bourbon), and George Dickel (Tennessee sour mash), spelled without an "e" as a nod to their Scottish heritage.


                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        That's right, and actually, the US Code of Federal Regulations uses the whisky spelling, but whiskey is still the customary US spelling.

                        And just one picky correction, Early Times isn't Bourbon (anymore). It is aged in used barrels so it is now calls itself a "Kentucky Whisky."

                    2. re: angelaangel

                      I like Blanchard's in Allston at Harvard and Brighton.

                      1. re: angelaangel

                        If you're near the financial district:

                        Brix has a pretty good range of higher-end bourbons. And price tags to match.

                        Federal Wine & Spirits has an even better selection, along with much higher price tags.

                      2. Templeton Rye. Nothing says America's finest like the choice of Al Capone.

                        1. Bourbon....I can give you my top 10, but next week I would want to fiddle with the numbers....
                          Rye..........I enjoy the Thomas H. Handy
                          Sleeper....Old Grand Dad Bonded. Heavy on the Rye flavoring grain! A good Value too!


                          1. Blantons Gold
                            Pappy Van Winkle -20 year
                            Eagle Rare

                            Just about any thing produced by Buffalo Trace.

                            1. Good luck with that!

                              I've taken Maker's Mark to Finland, Russia, and England. The Finns were appalled and wouldn't touch it, the Russians were dubious and unconvinced, and someone stole the bottle out of my luggage between Philadelphia and Heathrow.

                              1. There are so many good suggestions here.

                                I ran across this discussion of Old Potrero: