Five Jim Beam Alternatives for the Patriotic Bourbon Drinker

In case Maker's Mark just isn't the same now that it's owned by a Japanese company

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John Sommers II / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Maker's Mark employees hand dip every bottle of Maker's Mark with their signature red wax at the Maker's Mark Distillery plant in Loretto, Kentucky. January 4, 2011.

On Monday, Suntory Holdings Ltd., a privately-owned Japanese company that produced the country’s first whiskey (and was introduced to many Americans through Bill Murray’s ads in the movie “Lost in Translation”), reached a $13.6 billion dollar deal to acquire Beam Inc., which makes Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, two of the world’s most prominent bourbons. The acquisition—which will make Suntory the third-largest spirits-maker in the world—may come as a shock to American drinkers, but does little to diminish bourbon’s status as the national spirit of the U.S.

Though bourbon has long been associated with the bluegrass fields and limestone caves of Kentucky, the companies that make it aren’t always based there. Though Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and the company’s other American whiskies are distilled in Kentucky, Beam Inc. is headquartered in Deerfield, Ill., outside of Chicago. If the Suntory deal takes the patriotic flavor out of Beam whiskies for you, here are five bourbon-producing distilleries entirely owned and operated in the U.S.:

Buffalo Trace

A national landmark, the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY turns out some of the country’s most sought-after bourbon brands, including the coveted Pappy Van Winkle line. The New Orleans-based Sazerac Company bought the distillery more than 20 years ago and has dramatically boosted the company’s output and profile in recent years.

Woodford Reserve

The Brown-Forman Corporation produces a host of well-known brands, most prominently Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve. While the former is distilled in Lynchburg, Tenn., the latter is pure Kentucky—made at a Civil War-era distillery in Versailles and serves as “the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby,” per an arrangement with Churchill Downs.

Heaven Hill

Elijah Craig, the ubiquitous Evan Williams brand and an eponymous offering are produced by Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc. at their facilities in Bardstown, KY.

Willett

Another Bardstown staple is the simply named Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (formerly the Willett Distilling Company), which produces an array of small batch and single barrel brands, including Willett, Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek.

Angel’s Envy

Founded in 2010, the Louisville Distilling Co. is relatively new to the bourbon scene but clearly remains devoted to the spirit’s Kentucky roots. The company’s flagship brand, Angel’s Envy, takes it’s name from the bourbon that evaporates while aging in its charred-oak barrels, affectionately known as the “angel’s share.” The company plans to open a state-of-the-art distillery in downtown Louisville later this year.

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