We live in the land of plenty, especially where whiskey is concerned. Here in the U.S., we specialize in everything from balanced bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and spicy rye to single malt whiskeys that are raising the spirits bar. For the whiskey admirer and appreciator, this is a fine place and time to be alive.
The market share for whiskey is remarkable, estimated to reach $20.75 billion in 2025 and growing every year. It hasn’t enjoyed the recent surges that things like agave spirits have, but it’s remained a reliable and increasingly popular sipper in America. Makes sense, given the heritage of whiskey in the U.S. and the fine work of some of the most popular whiskey brands in the land.
All bourbons are whiskeys but not all whiskeys are bourbon.
American whiskey (the spelling whisky is reserved for Scottish, Canadian, or Japanese spirits), like most whiskeys, is distilled from a blend of fermented grains and wheat. According to Southern Living, these grains are generally barley, wheat, corn, and rye. The whiskey is fermented, distilled, and aged in hardwood barrels, most often sherry barrels, and then bottled. The characterization of the whiskey is based on the ratio of grains used to make the spirit. Rye whiskey uses a higher percentage of rye in the blend and corn whiskey uses a higher percentage of corn, and so on.
In the case of bourbon, it’s also created from a blend of fermented gains, but the mix must be at least 51% corn. Also, the name bourbon legally can only be used for whiskeys made in the U.S. Another way bourbon is different from other whiskeys is that, according to law, it must be aged in a new, charred white oak barrel. While most people think of bourbon as a Southern thing, it can be made anywhere in the U.S. as long as it meets the legal requirements to be called bourbon.
By law, the only whiskey in the U.S. that has to be made in a specific place is Tennessee whiskey, the most famous example of this being Jack Daniels. Tennessee whiskey, which is not called a bourbon by its distillers, is made the same way as other American whiskeys, but it also must be filtered through sugar-maple charcoal, which many people say gives Tennessee whiskey its distinctive smoothness.
Within the whiskey category, there are some great small-batch producers very much worth exploring. Some of the smallest distillers are making some of the most interesting whiskeys within the genre. But in terms of easy-to-access stuff, or the most popular whiskeys around, there’s some quality to be enjoyed, too. Here’s a breakdown of the most popular whiskeys in the U.S.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
When an American first learns about whiskey, there’s a good chance it’s a brand impression of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. Whiskey would not be what it is today in the U.S. without it. It’s odd, in a way, because America prides itself on bourbon, but it’s Jack’s affordable price, iconic branding, and incredibly smooth profile that make this a quintessential whiskey in America. Ironically, one of the only places in America where you can’t buy Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey legally is at the company’s headquarters and distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, which is located in one of the state’s dry counties.
Jim Beam Bourbon
If it’s not Jack Daniel’s making its presence felt first, there’s a good chance it’s Jim Beam. A brand around since the late 1700s, Jim Beam is a staple on most bars thanks to its consistency and balanced approach to a palate. The portfolio of Jim includes Booker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and Knob Creek, all incredibly popular and delicious whiskeys in their own right.
Wild Turkey’s roots date back to the 1800s, but it was 1940 when it garnered its name. Then in 1954, Jimmy Russell joined the team as master distiller, a position he still holds today with his son, Eddie. Add to the experienced father and son duo actor Matthew McConaughey, who joined Wild Turkey as creative director several years ago. The Wild Turkey brand is a quintessential bourbon brand with a great line of offshoots, like Russell’s Reserve, Rare Breed, and Longbranch.
The Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky could be the oldest continuously operating distillery in the U.S. The distillery is a giant, majestic place, which has earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places. The base bourbon, Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey, is perhaps one of the best bang-for-your-buck bourbons on the market. Buffalo Trace’s portfolio includes incredible expressions like Col. E. H. Taylor, W.L. Weller, and Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve.
Four Roses is a unique distillery in that it creates all of its bourbons from up to 10 recipes. The distillery takes two separate mash bills and uses up to five yeast strains to create its recipes. Those
Old Forester claims to be the first bottled bourbon. True or not, the brand has a huge portfolio of bourbons available. The base is the 86-proof Old Forester Straight Bourbon Whiskey that is soft with vanilla notes. The branding is subtle and streamlined, keeping the labels subtle and classic enough to accompany the whiskey inside.
Another distillery that has earned a National Register of Historic Places designation, Woodford carries itself with a bit of an upscale vibe. The distillery claims more than 200 flavor notes are packed into the classic Woodford Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Whether a drinker can taste all of those is one thing, another is the ease with which the Woodford goes down.
Hudson Whiskey is one of the oldest distilleries in New York, and a recently released Four-Part Harmony, a four-grain bourbon aged a minimum of 7 years, which is the oldest aged whiskey released by a New York distillery yet.
Utah isn’t exactly known for being a booze-loving state. But High West Distillery is putting out some of the finest spirits west of the Mississippi. The American Prairie Bourbon is a gem of a bourbon. But the whiskey that shines through in the world of craft spirits is Campfire, a blend of Scotch, bourbon, and rye whiskey. The smoky, yet light whiskey is worth grabbing if you see it.
Balcones was one of the first whiskies outside of Kentucky to make whiskey drinkers step back and say, “Wow.” Now, Balcones’ Texas Single Malt Whisky is still a bottle people strive to grab and try when they can. But the Waco, Texas-based distillery continues to offer a delightful line of spirits, ranging from Texas Rye to Texas Rum.
Need more proof of great whiskey coming out of the American West? Frey Ranch is making some great offerings, made from estate grains and aged to perfection. If this suits you, check out the work from other Western outfits, like Wyoming Whiskey and Woodinville Whiskey.
There you have it, some of the most popular whiskey brands to be enjoyed here in the U.S. They tend to be larger producers, but they’re still carving their own identities out within the lauded category. We’re excited to see what they turn out in the future.
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