A lot of whiskey writers have the habit of talking about American craft whiskey in the future tense. They write enthusiastically about what new distilleries are working on and producing, and look forward to the day, years from now, when that whiskey "reaches its full potential." I've fallen into this trap myself; when distillers are doing something unique and different, it's easy to get excited about it and yearn for the far-off day when that whiskey will actually be in bottle.
Others in the whiskey world are harsher, and argue that American craft whiskey can't hold a candle to the established traditional producers in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. They say that craft whiskies are no good because they aren't aged long enough, or because they're aged in small barrels, or because they're flawed in other ways. I'll be the first to admit all of these are real issues. The whiskey business is tough, and most new distilleries face huge pressure to release whiskey as soon as they can. Around 90% of the distilleries in the United States opened in the last ten years. Waiting for whiskey to reach a certain age and flavor profile requires more than just patience; it requires money, which is usually in short supply for a new distillery. Many do end up releasing whiskey that has not yet reached "its full potential," even in the eyes of the distillers themselves.
But that's not the whole story. It's true that many craft distilleries don't (yet) offer the same complexity and quality as their traditional counterparts, and will continue to improve over time. But there are also a large number of craft distilleries with truly excellent whiskies that you can buy and enjoy now. Whiskies you can sip, on their own or in a cocktail, and you won't think to yourself, "Well, this whiskey has potential someday," but simply "Wow, this tastes delicious. More please!" There are more and more of these distilleries every year. Of course, not every distillery will appeal to every palate, but if you look, you can find an American craft whiskey that will appeal to yours.
Here are, just off the top of my head, eleven American whiskies that are amazing right now. None of them are sourced, and most are under $60.
Westland Peated Single Malt (Washington)
Balcones Brimstone (Texas)
Ragtime Rye (New York)
Cedar Ridge Bourbon (Iowa)
FEW Rye (Illinois)
Peerless Rye (Kentucky)
Sea Fog Single Malt (Rhode Island)
McCarthy's Single Malt (Oregon)
Whiskey Del Bac Dorado Mesquite-Smoked Single Malt (Arizona)
Colkegan Mesquite-Smoked Single Malt (New Mexico)
St. George Baller Single Malt (California)
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Honestly, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I could add another dozen names to the list just from other distilleries we’ve visited, and there are many more great whiskies out there that aren’t as widely known.
Stop thinking about American craft whiskey only in the future tense. American craft whiskey DOES have huge potential, and it will be even better five years from now. But American craft whiskey is also good RIGHT NOW. You don't have to wait any longer. You just have to know where to look.