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Oct 1, 2009 07:19 PM

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.