The smoothest whiskey is impossible to determine. Smoothocity is a very subjective, personal thing. You don’t taste the smoove. You feel the smoove. But also, taste contributes to the smoothness of a whiskey and also the ABV contributes to the smoothness. And also your childhood memories and the humidity in Bangalore, and how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin the day you sip the whiskey you think is so fucking smoove.
Which is not about to stand in the way of me making broad, sweeping pronouncements on the smoothest whiskey.
But first, let’s define smooth
It’s something you sense, not something you taste. It’s not even something you feel. It is a numinous, frail, fragile impression of physical quality—but it isn’t physical. It is a fleeting suspicion of something flawless, unblemished, and perfect. You can say this is the smoothest whiskey to your friend, but when your friend asks why all you can do is hand her the bottle, let her try it. Then she’ll know. But words? They can’t get there. There’s no smoothalicious mash bill kind of receipt a distiller can point you to. It’s just there or it’s not, and you know it or you don’t. So let’s just get started, shall we?
The Smoothest Bourbon to Drink Straight
You’re already correcting me with “It’s neat, not straight,” but I can’t hear you because I’m drinking my bourbon straight like a Goddam man. It’s ok to say neat; go ahead, I’m not your dad. But doesn’t that imply that drinking bourbon any other way is messy? Can you walk up to a bar and say, “I’ll have a bourbon—untidy”? Sure. You can. But duck because that bartender is legally required to fuck your shit up for being a tool.
Let’s just go ahead and discuss the Buffalo in the room because it’s hard to get a good sipping bourbon better than Buffalo Trace’s world-renowned nearly flawless bourbon. Their Colonel E. H. Taylor Jr. won best of show in the 2020 International Spirits Competition in the Bourbon vertical. That’s the deep grass in the field. If you’re not in the right pocket to drop $150 on a bottle of whiskey, then regular old Buffalo Trace is a very smooth, affordable sipping bourbon.
But Buffalo Trace can’t be everywhere all the time. For just a little less scratch, you can pick up a bottle of Four Roses Bourbon, a historic blended whiskey (and a favorite of a few characters from T.C. Boyle’s collection of extraordinary short stories, If The River Was Whiskey).
The Smoothest Rye Whiskey
High West Rendezvous Rye received high praise from the 2020 I.S.C. as much for its rye forward grain bill as for its balanced flavor. If you can get your hand on a bottle from before 2018, carry it to your grave because you hold in your hand a unicorn whiskey.
Their grain ticket is a blend of rye mash bills from MGP and their own spirit production, and they won’t tell you what it is, but the long line of distinguished awards and lauded reviews indicate a damn good rye. And it’s not their only one. High West Distillery is working hard to turn their Utah rye into America’s preferred fireside spirit by putting out wild limited release blends. Their Midsummer Night’s Dram looks like a fairy tale whiskey, another proprietary blend of straight rye but finished in charred French port barrels.
If you can’t get your hands on a Shakespearian spirit, don’t worry. Whistle Pig’s got you covered. Their 10 Year Aged Rye is freaking delicious. I can forgive them for using a cache of lost Canadian rye barrels. Whatever. It’s bottled in Vermont. But for a truly Ron Swansian rocking chair by the fire under a blanket reading Steinbeck experience, you want their 12-year-old Old World Rye, and I can’t even explain it. I’ve had this whiskey at a critical Chicago dive bar I won’t tell you the name of, where the bartender knows his shit. I didn’t want to leave, ever. I just wanted to sit there at the bar drinking Whistle Pig while I turned into amber.
The Smoothest Corn Whiskey
You can’t beat Heaven Hill’s Mellow Corn. It is a true corn whiskey (80% or more corn mash bill) made by the same distillery as Larceny, Rittenhouse, Old Fitzgerald, Evan Williams, and Elijah Craig. They know what they’re doing, and they’re doing corn whiskey right. Mellow Corn is a bottled-in-bond corn whiskey, meaning it follows the strict guidelines of the distinction. Heaven Hill claims Mellow Corn is the only extra-aged, Bottled in Bond (BiB) corn whiskey available. That means it’s the product of one distillation season and one distiller at a single distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years, then bottled at 100 proof. Heaven Hill ages Mellow Corn in barrels used for their other whiskies, so it has a distinct flavor profile of the distillery. This whiskey is cheap ($12), and it’s sold everywhere as a bottom shelf whiskey, so you may have overlooked it when shopping at your local liquor store because your eyes were fixated on $300 limited edition bottles. But it’s been on those shelves since World War II—and for a good reason: it is a remarkably delicious, easy sipping corn liquor. It tastes like the Midwest.
If you’re looking for something higher on the retail wall, try Balcone’s True Blue 100 Proof Straight Corn Whiskey, which is insane. It’s made from nothing but blue corn grown by Balcone’s, distilled by Balcone’s, aged by Balcone’s, and bottled by Balcone’s. It’s a unique experience that’s worth the $55 tag.
The Smoothest Single Malt Whiskey
FEW’s Single Malt Whiskey is made from malted barley, smoked with cherry, mesquite, and apple woods, then aged in their custom handcrafted rye barrels. Not enough people are writing about American Malted Whiskey, which is too bad because it is damn good. If you’re a Scotch freak, you’ll appreciate the smokiness but may be baffled by how different it is from peated whiskies. The cherrywood smoke on the malt gives the nose and the palate a delightfully smooth experience. It is definitely a sipping whiskey for the discerning sipper.
The Smoothest White Whiskey
This may be tough because white whiskey is more or less moonshine, and you don’t really associate shine and smooth. But recent distillers getting into the white whiskey game have made a hell of an effort to turn out shine that’s easy on the tongue. Hudson NY Whiskey makes Hudson NY Corn Whiskey. It’s smooth and tastes like movie popcorn.
The Smoothest Moonshine Whiskey
Old Smoky Mountain Original is somehow closer to bourbon than corn whiskey. It is very smooth and will knock you on your ass if you’re not vigilant. This is moonshine, plain and simple. They skirt just under the legal limbo bar, but don’t be fooled. Any shine runner in 1925 would recognize this spirit. Drink it with caution, but drink it.