Think Kentucky and Tennessee have a monopoly on making whiskey? Think again. In the last few years, several craft distillers in Virginia and North Carolina have begun producing small batch whiskeys, bourbons, and ryes that have been winning awards and winning over the palates of whiskey aficionados everywhere. Here are five we’re drinking right now.
A. Smith Bowman Distillery • Fredericksburg, Va.
A. Smith Bowman is best known for producing the inexpensive and wildly popular Virginia Gentleman, but in recent years the distillery has developed a line of small batch and single barrel bourbon. For the Bowman Brothers Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the corn, rye, and malted barley are brought in from a sister distillery in Kentucky, but then the whiskey is made by hand in house, using a unique copper still, and aged in charred oak barrels for seven years. (90 proof; $30; asmithbowman.com)
Top of the Hill Distillery • Chapel Hill, N.C.
Top of the Hill is one of only a handful of distilleries in the country making whiskey with wheat, which is more expensive than corn. TOPO’s Carolina Whiskey is 100 percent organic wheat, allowing the distillery to source the materials locally and provide for a young product that tastes smooth beyond its years. Age this wheat whiskey, and you’ll get the same caramel and oak flavors as bourbon in a fraction of the time. Look for an aged version to hit the market next year. (84 proof; $22; topodistillery.com)
Blue Ridge Distillery • Golden Hill, N.C.
Blue Ridge Distillery only makes one product–a single-malt whiskey made from well-water and malted barley that’s ground on the owner’s family farm south of Asheville. Most of us are familiar with single-malt scotch, but Defiant’s version is closer to an Irish whiskey, thanks to the two-row pale ale brewers malt that produces no smoke or peat. The result is a mild whiskey that’s not too oaky. (82 proof; $55; blueridgedistilling.com)
Catoctin Creek Distilling • Purcellville, Va.
Rye is hot right now in the whiskey world, and Roundstone has made waves, winning the Good Food Awards Gold Seal in 2013. Catoctin Creek uses 100 percent locally sourced, certified organic rye (as opposed to blending it with corn) that’s aged for two years in white oak casks. Rye is similar to wheat, in that it ages quicker and produces the caramel tones we all love from bourbon, but this rye isn’t as sweet as others on the market that also use corn in the mash bill. Instead, with Roundstone you get a sharp, dry flavor profile, similar to the ryes produced before prohibition, when cheaper ingredients began making their way into ryes. (80 proof; $39; catoctincreekdistilling.com)
Wasmund’s Single Malt Whiskey
Copper Fox Distillery • Sperryville, Va.
Rick Wasmund hand-malts the barley grown specifically for his distillery, then uses apple-wood and cherry wood to smoke and dry the barley (instead of incorporating the traditional peat found in Scotch). Wasmund distinguishes the whiskey further by using wood chips inside charred barrels to age the single malt in a matter of months. The result is a distinctive single malt whiskey with notes of fruit and smoke unlike most other whiskeys on the market. (96 proof; $38; copperfox.biz)