Have Your Pappy and Your Dickel Too
10 Best Bourbons Not From Kentucky
Anyone who talks bourbon talks water. Kentuckians talk about their limestone karst that filters out the bitter effects of iron; Coloradans talk about pure snowmelt. The rest of us downplay the natural trickles and talk about reverse osmosis and the perks of our own filters. Whatever the talk, the proof comes in the pouring, and as craft distilleries continue to win over tastebuds and awards panels, the more the mindset shifts that Kentucky’s the only place where you can get a good bourbon.
But outside of the Bourbon Belt, we’re seeing the rise of fresh perspectives on American whiskey: it might all be in the water, but there’s enough good H20 to go around. There’s creative interpretation. There’s pushing past the traditions of old. And while a few of these whiskeys don’t stick by the hard-and-fast rules of bourbon production — High West’s a blend, George Dickel filters — they’re close enough. We don’t aim to split hairs here. If it’s an American whiskey, near enough to the bourbon process, and it tastes good going down, it’s on the list.
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In compiling this amalgamation of nationwide spirits, we consulted with Parker Newman, co-founder of Ezra’s Liquor, a craft liquor store in Chicago and online. Newman collaborates with craft distributors to attain labels that are often overlooked or overshadowed by the big names. If you see it in the mainstream, you won’t find it at Ezra’s. But as Parker, who has the lugubrious task of tasting every spirit he sells, can attest, the smaller stills are producing whiskey that deserves recognition — even if they don’t see nationwide distribution.
Maybe these are the apocrypha of the bourbon world, but that doesn’t mean they’re not inspired liquids. Don’t turn away a good glass of the brown stuff because it’s not canonical. Reading beyond the Pappys and the Elmer T. Lees, you’ll find texts that are intricate and interesting, layered and complicated, robust and satisfying. They’re as good as some of the stuff coming out of Kentucky. It’s made on American soil, and it’s damn good bourbon. So drink up.