“It’s nice to be free,” says legendary barman Dale DeGroff, founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail. He’s talking about whiskey. Or rather, the folks who make whiskey here in America. Of the non-bourbon variety, that is. “There are lots of rules in bourbon production,” DeGroff continues, “and at some point a bunch of really talented people decided, ‘Hey, I don’t care if I get to call my whiskey bourbon,’ I just want to make it the way I want to make it.”
These maverick distillers harbored no illusions of ever outselling iconic bourbon brands such as Jim Beam or Maker’s Mark, but they relished the opportunity to carve out their own niche without restraint.
In DeGroff’s estimation, the American whiskey revolution began in 1993 when Fritz Maytag of San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing opened a micro-distillery and released a wonderful small-batch rye whiskey called Old Potrero. “Now here we are two decades later,” says DeGroff, “and there are more artisanal whiskeys made in America than you could sample in a lifetime.”
Of course, it can’t hurt to try. Not if you’re responsible about it, anyway. Here are five fabulous artisanal whiskeys made right here in the U.S. of A.