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whiskey is any grain spirit that is distilled in the U.S. and then aged in oak barrels. Popular styles of American whiskey include bourbon, rye, single malt, and Tennessee whiskey.

Where does American whiskey come from?

As the name suggests, American whiskey can only be made in the United States. Much of the whiskey made in the U.S. comes from Southern states, including Kentucky and Tennessee. But bourbon, single malt, and rye can be made anywhere in America. Tennessee whiskey can only be made in the state of Tennessee. The expertise to begin the American whiskey industry came with settlers who were originally from Ireland, Scotland, and France. They used leftover beer from local grains and distilled in small pot stills. By the way, the word whiskey comes from the Gaelic (Irish) word uisgebaugh (pronounced weez-ga-boch), which means "water of life."

How is an American whiskey made?

Each style of American whiskey has its legal requirements as to the composition of the grain mashbill, maximum proof when it goes into the barrel, and aging time. But bourbon, rye, and Tennessee whiskey all start as grain that is mixed with pure freshwater, fermented, then distilled, aged in barrels, and possibly blended before bottling. Corn whiskey goes into uncharted barrels, and American single malt whiskey must be made with malted barley.

Bourbon Rules:

  • The mixture of grains must be 51% corn
  • It cannot be distilled to more than 180 proof
  • It goes into the barrel at no more than 125 proof
  • It ages in new charred white oak barrels
  • It's bottled at no less than 80 proof
  • No additives like coloring or sugar are permitted

Rye Whiskey Rules:

  • The grain mixture must be 51% rye
  • It cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof
  • It goes into the barrel at no more than 125 proof
  • It ages in new charred white oak barrels
  • It's bottled at no less than 80 proof

Tennessee Whiskey Rules:

  • It must be made in the state of Tennessee
  • The grain mixture must be 51% corn
  • It cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof
  • After distilling it's filtered through maple charcoal
  • It goes into the barrel at no more than 125 proof
  • It ages in new charred white oak barrels
  • It's bottled at no less than 80 proof

Want to learn more about the differences between whiskies? Visit our Whiskey vs. Whisky Guide!

What is a good American whiskey?

There are many choices when it comes to American whiskey, including carefully crafted single malt, Tennessee whiskey, bourbon, and rye. The best way to find a good whiskey is to try the different styles and see which one you prefer.

Looking for a whiskey or bourbon gift? Check out our Best Whiskey and Bourbon Gifts page!

What is American whiskey called?

American whiskey can be called by more specific names, including bourbon whiskey, single malt, American rye whiskey (or just rye), corn whiskey, and Tennessee whiskey. Each of these whiskies are made according to similar methods, but with slight differences in the grains used as the base of the spirit and how it's handled after distillation.

What is the most popular whiskey in the U.S.?

Jack Daniels is the most popular U.S. whiskey according to sales figures. In 2017, the Tennessee whiskey captured 24 percent of the domestic market for American whiskey.

What is the difference between American whiskey and bourbon?

American whiskey and bourbon are closely related, though they're not always identical. As the popular bourbon industry rule states: all bourbon is American whiskey, but not all American whiskey is bourbon. That's because bourbon must be made with a mash bill that is at least 51% corn, it can't be any higher than 120 proof going into the barrel for aging, and it must be aged for at least two years in new charred white oak barrels.

Why is Jack Daniels not a bourbon?

That's a question of some debate since Jack Daniels is made according to very similar methods as bourbon. However, since the company does the additional step of filtering their American whiskey through maple charcoal after distillation, Jack Daniels is Tennessee whiskey.

Looking for the best whiskey from Tennessee? Check out our list to see the Best Tennessee Whiskey!

What is the smoothest whiskey?

All American whiskeys are quite smooth, but depending on your taste, you may prefer one over another. Typically, bourbon and Tennessee whiskey tend to be more sweet and smooth, thanks to their high corn content, while rye is spicier than it's brethren.

Does whiskey expire?

There's no expiration date on whiskey or any other distilled spirit; they can keep for 100 years. They usually expire when the bottle is empty.

What is American straight whiskey?

A straight whiskey must be aged in charred new oak barrels for two years. It can come from one distiller or be a blend of whiskeys that are made in the same state. Corn whiskey is an outlier since it can be aged in used or uncharted barrels.

Here are some other legal requirements for straight rye, bourbon and Tennessee whiskey:

  • It cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof
  • It goes into the barrel at no more than 125 proof
  • It ages in new charred white oak barrels for at least two years
  • If any of the spirits in the blend are less than 4 years old, the ages of the respective whiskies must be disclosed on the label

What is the oldest whiskey in America?

The oldest whiskey in America depends on whom you ask since a few brands lay claim to that distinction.

  • Jack Daniels is the oldest distillery registered since 1866
  • Old Overholt, which began in 1810, says it's the oldest continually operating distillery
  • Evan Williams distillery dates to 1783 when they made moonshine rather than bourbon

How do you drink American whiskey?

You can enjoy your whiskey any way you like. Some people prefer it neat with a little water or with one large ice cube or ice sphere, while others like to mix American blended whiskey with a soft drink. The goal is to appreciate the taste, layered aromas, and flavors in the whiskey without diluting it too much.

What are popular American whiskey cocktails?

There are so many ways to use American whiskey in cocktails, starting with the simple favorite of pairing it with cola or ginger ale.

When you're ready to try something with a few more ingredients, check out one of these classics:

What are the popular brands of American whiskey?

Total Wine & More stocks all the popular brands of American whiskey. You're sure to find your favorites and a few new discoveries in our wide selection of rye, bourbon, single malt, and Tennessee whiskey. Some of our favorite makers are:

Check out our full selection of American whiskies and take home a couple of bottles of bourbon, rye, Tennessee whiskey, or single malt. Really focusing on bourbon? Check out our list of 10 Bourbons You Have to Try!

Want to learn more about American whiskey?

Visit our Guide to Small-Batch Bourbon, Guide to Tennessee Whiskey, or Guide to Rye Whiskey to learn more about all the best styles of whiskey from around the United States.