Whisky was one of the earliest spirits to be produced in America, and is now a point of pride and heritage across the country. Thanks to its unmatched versatility, American whiskey can be taken neat or in a variety of cocktails, with drink masters creating new and exciting renditions on the regular.

Here we’ll discuss the history of American whiskey, its main types, and the many ways you can enjoy it.

History & Origins

While whisky has been distilled in various forms throughout Europe–primarily Britain–since the Middle Ages, most historians agree that the amber elixir hit American shores in the 18th century, with Irish settlers producing the earliest varieties in Kentucky and Tennessee. By 1791 the distribution of rye whisky was widespread among the eastern states, prompting the president to levy new taxes on the brewing and sale of the product, which in turn led to the infamous Whisky Rebellion.

By 1870 whisky had become an American staple, with many previous US presidents such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln holding liquor licenses of their own. While laws were put into place to ward off counterfeiters and illicit trading, sealed and labeled bottles were the only way to ensure a product’s authenticity. The “Bottled in Bond” act was instated in 1897, under which all distillery-produced whiskies had to follow a seasonal schedule of production, contain 50& alcohol by volume, and be stored in a federally bonded warehouse under government supervision for a minimum of four years.

The onset of prohibition, while certainly wreaking havoc amongst law enforcers, did little to quell the consumption of whisky. When the repeal was passed in 1933, many distillers looking to reenter the business found themselves with limited supplies and spirit reserves, thus inspiring the whisky blending tradition still practiced today.

By 1964 whisky, specifically bourbon, was regarded as an all-American spirit and point of pride. Since the Bottled in Bond act, countless regulations have been updated and passed to ensure the quality of grain, ageing, and proofing.

How Is American Whisky Distilled?

As there are several notable types of American whiskey, distillation methods can vary slightly. Typical American Whiskey is made from a mash of corn, rye, wheat, and barley distilled in column stills and aged in charred-oak barrels, with each distillery producing its own unique flavour profile.

What Are The Different Types Of American Whisky?

Early American settlers were met with all the raw materials they needed for whisky distillation: an abundance of corn, clean lime-rich water, and wood for barrel ageing. Bourbon and sour mash would go on to become the two defining types of American Whiskey, with the latter still primarily produced in Tennessee.

1. Bourbon

Arguably the most prevalent of American whiskies, Bourbon gets its name from Kentucky’s Bourbon County, in honour of the French royal family who helped America win the war of independence against England. `

While bourbon doesn’t strictly have to be produced in Kentucky, let alone Bourbon County, U.S. regulation states that bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn. Other grains can consist of wheat or rye, rye being the more favoured, with a small amount of malted barley typically added to assist with fermentation.

2. Tennessee Whiskey

Similar in many ways to bourbon, Tennessee whiskey differs slightly in flavor and colouring due to its sugar-maple charcoal filtration. In order to carry the name, Tennessee Whiskey must consist of at least 51% corn and be produced in the state of Tennessee.

3. Rye Whiskey

As with bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, rye whiskey must contain a minimum of 51% rye, with the remainder usually consisting of malted barley, wheat, or corn. While rye whiskey can be produced anywhere in the world, only rye whisky distilled in America can join the class of American whiskies.

4. Blended

A blended whisky refers to the blending of several different types of whiskies, usually from differing distilleries, along with neutral grain spirits, flavours, and colours, into a single whisky product. Usually one or more high-quality single malt whiskey is blended with a less expensive variety.

How Should I Drink American Whisky?

American whiskey is both smooth in flavour and highly versatile, which allows it to be consumed a number of ways. While most diehard devotees insist that at least high-proof whisky should be taken neat, it’s entirely acceptable to sip your whisky with some added water, which will open the flavours up.

American whiskey can also be poured over ice for a gradual release of flavour notes. While there seems to be some debate concerning the merits of whisky stones, there’s no denying their aesthetic appeal, and are perfect for those who wish to enjoy their whisky undiluted.

American whiskey is ideal for cocktails (examples listed below), thanks to its unique adaptability.

Classic American Whisky Cocktails To Try


Bourbon Classic Sour

Stephen Myers
There's nothing like a refreshing Whisky Sour, and bourbon is the spirit of choice where most reputable bartenders are concerned.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Servings 1


  • cocktail shaker
  • cocktail strainer
  • chilled glass


  • 1.5 ounces Bourbon
  • 1 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 tsp Sugar
  • 1 Orange Slice
  • 1 Maraschino Cherry


  • Mix the Bourbon with the lemon juice in the cocktail shaker
  • Add the sugar to the cocktail shaker mix
  • Add ice
  • Shake and strain into a chilled glass
  • Garnish with the orange slice and cherry
Keyword whisky, whisky cocktail

Tennessee Highball

The highball is still one of the most popular ways to consume whisky, and this modern take is something of a crossover between a classic highball and Dark n' Stormy.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Servings 1


  • cocktail shaker
  • cocktail strainer
  • chilled glass


  • 2 ounces Tennessee Whisky
  • 1/2 ounce Lime juice
  • 3 drops Orange Bitters
  • 3 ounces Ginger Beer/Ginger Ale
  • 1 slice Lime


  • Add the whisky, lime juice and bitters to the cocktail shaker
  • Add ice and shake
  • Strain into the chilled glass
  • Add the ginger beer/ale
  • Add the slice of lime to garnish
Keyword american whisky, tenessee highball, whisky, whisky cocktail


Hailing from New Orleans, the Sazerac was created in the 19th century as a way to spruce up rye whisky.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Servings 1


  • chilled glass
  • Mixing Glass
  • Muddling Spoon


  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • 3 drops Bitters
  • 2 ounces Rye Whisky
  • 1/4 ounce Absinthe
  • 1 Lemon Twist


  • Fill your drinking glass with ice and leave to chill
  • In a mixing glass, soak the sugar cube in the bitters and gently muddle.
  • Add the rye whisky and stir
  • Dispose of the ice in your drinking glass
  • Rinse your glass with absinthe by swirling the liquid and discarding once done
  • Pour your rye mixture into the absinthe washed glass
  • Add your lemon twist to garnish
Keyword american whisky, Rye, whisky, whisky cocktail