I previously reviewed The Bourbon Tasting Notebook by Susan Reigler and Mike Veach, which gave us honest reviews of nearly 350 bourbons. Now, following on the success of those tasting notes, Reigler and Veach have joined forces again for The American Whiskey Tasting Notebook, covering American Whiskey except bourbon. And, like their earlier collaboration, these American Whiskey tasting notes are provided without the drama of rankings, stars, or other scoring; that’s up to the reader.
Rye whiskey and other spirits (especially rum, gin, and brandy) have all made a run at being “the next bourbon,” and generally-speaking, those efforts get a little traction and then fizzle. But American Whiskey is where distillers can innovate. It’s almost a test kitchen for spirits. Whereas bourbon is strictly defined and must follow specific rules (which only gets stricter for “Straight Bourbon Whiskey” and “Bottled in Bond”), distillers have room to experiment with blends, unique grains, flavored grains, and more. (However, as Reigler and Veach note, “Rye Whiskey,” “Wheat Whiskey,” and “Corn Whiskey” all have their own specific rules and regulations. The real freedom comes with the basic “American Whiskey” designation.)
The breadth of this book is astounding. I never would have been able to tell you that there were over 230 non-bourbon American Whiskeys, and most of my experience there is limited to American Rye Whiskey. The book’s only notable absence is Charbay, the California distillery with popular rum, brandy, and flavored vodka, but known especially for revolutionizing whiskey by distilling bottle-ready craft beer. Hopefully Charbay’s full hop-flavored whiskey lineup is included in a future Volume II.
It was interesting to see Reigler and Veach’s distinct palates and preferences shine through in their respective tasting notes. Only three of the whiskeys had a genuine “don’t buy this” vibe—notes like “rotten fruit” and “scented dishwashing soap” make the warning pretty clear. But that’s a good thing because the disciplined point of The Tasting Notebook isn’t to persuade, it’s to educate and to let the reader decide; each page has space for the reader’s own thoughts and impressions.
Because I’m a big proponent of knowing which brands are sourced and cutting through baloney when brands imply or leave an impression that they distilled what they’re selling, I appreciated that The Tasting Notebook pointed out numerous brands that source their whiskey (Old Carter, Old Henry Clay, and Kentucky Owl, for instance), but I paused at all of the Michter’s entries. Sourcing wasn’t mentioned for Michter’s, so hopefully that gets updated too.
Reading The Tasting Notebook inspired me to rummage through my shelves and to try many of these non-bourbon whiskey beauties, which helped me understand that the lesson is to not get bogged down in bourbon. Experience the creativity of other American Whiskeys. And let The American Whiskey Tasting Notebook be your guide.
The American Whiskey Tasting Notebook is timed perfectly for the holiday season and would make a great stocking stuffer for the whiskey fan in your life.
Acclaim Press (2019)
$19.95 on Amazon