You may have heard whiskey snobs says that American whiskey lacks variety and that compared to single malt scotch it is less refined and more “one note.” That couldn’t be easier to disprove. Just head to your local liquor store and have yourself your own tasting. American distilleries aren’t locked into tradition the way some overseas establishments are, giving them the freedom to experiment with whiskey in a way no one else is trying. Most of these experiments are coming from one of the first large waves of new distilleries the industry’s seen in a long time and all of them are worth keeping on your radar. Here are a few of our personal favorites.

watershed

Watershed Distillery

Located in Columbus, Ohio, Watershed is part of the recent trend of shaking off the notion that great bourbon can only be made in Kentucky. Watershed Bourbon is small batch and is distilled from corn, wheat, rye and spelt before aging in charred American oak casks, following most of the standards for bourbon, just not in the traditional state. It might be the most popular whiskey on this list, an assumption we’re basing on the fact that we’ve been seeing it pop up in more and more bars. Thought the name might be familiar to you thanks to their bottled old fashioned. They were one of the first distilleries to show a bourbon not from Kentucky or a bottled cocktail was actually worth your time and money.

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rangercreek

Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling

San Antonio’s Ranger Creek’s distilling arm is all about craft whiskey. Their Small Caliber Series includes Ranger Creek .44 Texas Rye, a 100% rye whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrels; Ranger Creek Rimfire Mesquite Smoked Texas Single Malt Whiskey, a scotch-style whiskey made with smoked mesquite instead of peat moss; and Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Whiskey. Since the series is so small, Ranger Creek can afford to experiment with each year’s release, making it one of the more experimental series out there.

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garrisonbrothers

Garrison Brothers Distillery

Another Texas distillery, Garrison Brothers consider themselves to be the outlaws of the whiskey world, or at least as much of an outlaw as you can be when you’re distilling whiskey legally. Their flagship offering is Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a bourbon, they claim, was bottled the first day they tried it and decided it was the best bourbon they’d ever had. Another one of their popular whiskeys, Cowboy Bourbon, was named American Micro Whiskey of the Year in 2014 by famed whisky writer Jim Murray.

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unionhorse

Union Horse Distilling Company

Founded in 2010, in Kansas City, Missouri, Union Horse prides itself on crafting high-quality, small batch whiskey (and vodka, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now). Their main whiskeys are Reunion Straight Rye Whiskey and Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey, two flavorful, drinkable whiskeys perfect for sipping or mixing (like most whiskeys). Union Horse also makes Long Shot, an unaged white whiskey. So legal moonshine. And we have to say, we’re fans of moonshine. It’s like the rowdier, well-meaning but destructive cousin of a refined whiskey.

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balcones

Balcones Distilling

The third Texas distillery on this list, Waco’s Balcones is quickly making a big name for itself in the American craft spirits market. This award-winning distillery is home to a handful of amazing whiskeys, including Texas Single Malt Whiskey, Baby Blue Corn Whiskey, Brimstone (“Texas Scrub Oak Smoked”), Texas Blue Corn Bourbon, True Blue Cask Strength, True Blue 100 Proof, FR.OAK Texas Single Malt as well as a pair of single barrel releases.

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corsair

Corsair Distillery

Corsair’s rather prominently displayed motto is “Booze for badasses.” To be fair, we’re not sure what qualifies as a badass and they don’t go into a hell of a lot of detail on the subject, but they make some damn fine whiskeys, so that’s not really what we’re concerned with. The Nashville craft distillery has made headlines with its unique whiskeys, including Quinoa Whiskey (made with quinoa and wheat), Ryemageddon (rye whiskey), and Triple Smoke (three kinds of barley, each smoked by a different fuel—cherry wood, beech wood and peat moss). As much whiskey as we drink, it never occurred to us to turn a Trader Joe’s health food into a spirit. Shows you how much we think about quinoa.

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stillwrights

Flat Rock Spirits Distillery

Located in Fairborn, Ohio, Flat Rock Spirits makes the Stillwrights line of spirits. The Stillwrights Bourbon was awarded the Gold Medal by the American Craft Spirits Association in 2015 and takes one of the longer journeys to the bottling plant. Where most whiskeys are poured into a barrel and left in the same place for five years (or much, much more), Stillwrights has a few steps to its aging process. First, it’s aged for two years in 15 gallon casks. Then they move it to 25 gallon barrels for one more year of aging, finally finishing in 53 gallon barrels. Changing barrels changes the way the whiskey ages and the flavors it picks up in the process, so people who love dissecting the nuance of whiskey flavors will find a lot to love.

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clearcreek2

Clear Creek Distillery

Steve McCarthy needed a way to use all of the fruit that was being grown on his family farm. That’s why, in 1985, he founded the Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Oregon. The distillery might be well-known for its Eaux De Vie and Brandies, but it is also home to McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey. McCarthy channeled the great Scotch whiskey makers on Islay to create this peated, malted barley whiskey. It could easily be confused for one made by Lagavulin, Laphroaig or Ardbeg, and we like that we don’t need to cross an ocean to get at the source.

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westlandpeated

Westland Distillery

The folks at Westland don’t believe that single malts can only be produced in Scotland and we happen to share that belief. The Seattle-based distillery is home to some amazing, hand-crafted whiskeys, including American Single Malt Whiskey, Peated Single Malt Whiskey, Sherry Wood American Single Malt, Single Cask Reserve and Cask No. 606 Cask Strength. That’s a formidable lineup for an up and comer, so if they can keep that energy up, they won’t stay small for long.

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housepirits

House Spirits Distillery

Portland’s House Spirits Distillery is well known in the craft spirits industry for its gin, aquavit, vodka and whiskey. Its Westwood Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey is inspired by traditional Irish whiskeys, but inspiration’s about where that ends, because the process is a distinctly American one. Made from Oregon two-row barley, this whiskey is aged in double-charred new American oak casks for two years.

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