11 delicious American craft whiskies I tried for the first time this year

Whiskey has been a relatively new hobby of mine, something I only just discovered over the last few years. It didn’t take much time along the way to discover how much overlap there is between people who love golf, and people who love whiskey.

Every week — on Wednesdays — I take a break from my customary slate of golf content to talk about whiskey. But with the year coming to an end, I thought I’d go a little deeper. Throughout the week I’ll be highlighting different types of whiskeys that I’ve enjoyed, and I figured we could start off with American craft whiskies. These are smaller, independently-owned companies that either make their own whiskey or source it from elsewhere. It’s a burgeoning scene that’s been pumping-out a bunch of great whiskies in recent years, and I’ve had the pleasure of trying some of them for the first time this year…

1. Barrell Craft Spirits

An independent whiskey blender based in Louisville, Kentucky, that specializes in sourcing unique whiskeys and rums, I had the pleasure of trying three of Barrell’s spirits: Its bourbon line, its rye, and my personal favorite (and the one pictured above) the delightful “Dovetail” expression.

I got a series of deeper, sweet notes of molasses, chocolate and dark cherry with a hit of spice for good measure. Put a sneaky few drops of water into the glass, and I found the spice mellow and a note of orange come through instead.

Learn More about Barrell Craft Spirits here.

2. Sweetens Cove Spirits Company

If you’re a golfer looking for a bourbon to spark a conversation, there’s no better option than Sweetens Cove’s signature spirit. An endeavor from Peyton Manning and Andy Roddick, overseen by Master Blender Marianne Eaves (formerly of Woodford Reserve) and named after the sought-after 9-hole course by the same name, the stuff isn’t the easiest to get, but it’s a treat if you do. I tried the foursome gift set — which is currently only for sale in Tennessee, but includes its more widely-available signature 14-year single barrel Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey (pictured above).

It’s bottled at cask strength, so it has a bit of a bite, but loosen it up with some water and you’ll get long notes of caramel vanilla, and lots of oak.

Learn more about Sweetens Cove Spirits here.

3. The Clover Whiskey

Speaking of whiskeys-for-golfers, 2020 also marked the first year I tried the Bobby Jones-inspired “Clover” whiskey. Named for Jones’ tradition of enjoying three fingers of the the good stuff after a victory, The Clover is popping-up in an increasing number of clubhouses across the country, its 10-year aged bourbon features sweet maple and caramel notes.

Learn more about The Clover here.

4. Chicken Cock Whiskey

The “famous old brand” Chicken Cock was one of the most recognizable whiskey brands in the Kentucky region before it sadly gave way to history when its distillery burned-down in the 1950s. The brand has been revived in recent years, and its bourbon is an easy sipping whiskey with sweet, caramel notes that also serves as a great option for mixing.

Learn More about Chicken Cock here.

5. Traverse City Whiskey Co.

2020 also marked the first time I ever tried whiskey from Michigan, and first time I had ever tried cherry whiskey. Both came at the hands of Traverse City’s range of craft whiskeys. Its cherry whiskey is steeped in cherries grown in the Cherry State on the family who owns the whiskey’s farm. It’s a whiskey first and foremost but features a creative hit of cherry that everyone can have fun enjoying, especially those who may be new to whiskey. Its Barrell Proof Bourbon features strong chocolate notes followed by spicy rye and sweet dates, all of which open even further when with a few drops of water.

Learn More about Traverse City Whiskey here.

6. Westward Whiskey

Another state’s craft whiskey I tried for the first time in 2020: Oregon’s Westward city. The company experiments with a number of different cask finishes, including an interesting Pinot Noir finish where the grapy flavors come through the spirit. But I’m a sucker for rich, chocolate-y whiskies like its Stout Cask finish. Aged in casks that previously held stout beer, it has richer, cocoa notes that make it a delicious after-dinner option.

Learn more about Westward Whiskey here

7. Virginia Distillery Co.

An American Single Malt featuring Malted Barley and spring water from the Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, its signature “Courage & Conviction” line tastes like a classic Speyside scotch with an American flair. Sweet notes of butterscotch and fig compliment a spicy, barrel note.

Learn more about Virginia Distillery Co. here

8. Still Austin Whiskey Co.

The Texas-based distillery’s signature whiskey — a straight bourbon called “The Musician” — is a melding of rye, barley, and a 100 percent Texas-grown corn made in a Scottish-made still. An easy, breezy sipping whiskey with light vanilla and sweet caramel notes.

Learn more about Still Austin Whiskey Co. here

9. Sagamore Spirit

I hadn’t tried many rye whiskeys before this year, but I was lucky to sample a range of them in 2020, Baltimore-based Sagamore Spirit’s Cask Strength Rye chief among them. Rye — rather than corn in bourbon or barley in scotch — is the predominant grain in these whiskeys, which gives it a spicier note than its counterparts.  That’s enhanced by Sagamore’s cask strength expression (which means they don’t dilute it with water before putting it in the bottle), and its hearty cinnamon, black pepper and clove notes make it a fine rye whiskey for special occasions.

Learn More about Sagamore Spirit here.

10. Wheelhorse Whiskey

If you’re rye-curious as I was and looking for to try it without breaking the bank, you won’t find many better options than Wheelhose’s Rye Whiskey, which I also had the pleasure of trying for the first time this year. Bottled at 101 proof, the oak from the barrel cuts matches-up with rye spice, which you can enjoy neat, with ice or in an old fashioned cocktail (my preferred option).

Learn More about Wheelhorse Whiskey here.

11. Breckenridge Distillery

Tucked atop Colorado’s Breckenridge mountains, the distillery claims to be the “world’s highest distillery.” Its signature bourbon is a high-rye whiskey that’s been widely-regarded by Whisky Magazine, and has been aged for three years in charred oak barrels, which gives it pleasant butterscotch and sweet orange notes.

Learn more about Breckenridge Distillery here.

Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Director of Game Improvement Content at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role he oversees all the brand’s service journalism spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University and in 2017 was named News Media Alliance’s “Rising Star.” His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.