These are the times when you might not be able to the find your favorite Bourbon. If that should come to pass, we suggest going out on a limb to one of Bourbon’s kindred spirits, Tennessee whiskey. Connoisseurs will know that Tennessee whiskey is also made with at least 51% corn before being aged in new charred oak barrels, but Tennessean producers go an extra step. They must filter the whiskey through sugar maple charcoal in a step that mellows the spirit.
Luckily for all of us, Tennessee whiskey is finally experiencing its own revival. Here are seven bottles we recommend you seek out.
George Dickel Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky; $46, 95 points. This small-batch Tennessee whiskey is a complex one to savor. The aroma opens with vanilla sweetness; given a few minutes to open in the glass, it expands to old leather and caramel. The palate similarly navigates between richness and dry flavors that suggest an older whiskey is in the blend: gingerbread, toffee and mocha wend into a long, drying finish laced with espresso, leather and black pepper. –Kara Newman
Heaven’s Door Double Barrel Whiskey; $50, 92 points. Look for a mild aroma that marries honey and oak. The palate leads with oak, then toasty vanilla and dried apricot, with a long, warming, peppery finish. Adding water brings out softer honey and chamomile notes. Music-lovers take note: this brand was developed in collaboration with Bob Dylan. –K.N.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey; $27, 92 points. Made with 70% rye, a moderately high amount, this whiskey is brisk and spiced, with plenty of flavor. It also has plenty of alcohol punch on nose and palate, so plan to mix into cocktails or add water to taste, which softens the impact and coaxes out vanilla, lemon peel and allspice notes on the drying finish. Best Buy. –K.N.
Smoky Mountain King’s Creek Tennessee Whiskey; $40, 91 points. Mellow allspice and vanilla aromas lead the nose, coupled with a yeasty whiff. The palate opens with vanilla sweetness up front, drying to leather, espresso and clove on the finish. A splash of water unlocks a rounder, spicier flavor profile, finishing with the faintest hint of dried apricot on the exhale. Aged 9 years. Best Buy. –K.N.
Nelson’s First 108 Tennessee Whiskey Single Barrel; $60, 90 points. A notably dark, ruddy hue signals that this is going to be a robust sip. Aromas suggest deep toffee, dried cherry and oak. Add plenty of water to tame this overproof whiskey’s intense heat, but know that gorgeous toffee dilutes to a mellower vanilla-honey profile. The bold, spicy finish echoes with cherry, cinnamon and clove. –K.N.
Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey; $60, 90 points. Sarsaparilla and vanilla lead the nose and palate. There’s a strong drying feel to the sip, which sizzles with ginger and cinnamon right into the toasty vanilla and almond finish. Made with a blend of 8- to 11-year-old whiskies. –K.N.
Roaming Man Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey; $50, 88 points. Expect a deep amber hue and sweet-savory aromas that channel caramel, coffee, oak and a hint of dried oregano. The fiery, drying palate reminds that this is a cask-strength whiskey. Adding water softens the heat but washes out some flavor, leading to a coconut and almond profile accented with lemony tartness and a hint of cinnamon. Aged three years and two months. –K.N.