Tristan Stephenson hosted the Class American Whiskey Academy at Oriole, where he unveiled a new vision for categorising this growth sector

Thanks to the emergence of hundreds of whiskey distilleries across America, can we – and should we - now codify regionality identity?

As with any regional categorisation, it would make the category easier to understand. It can be used as a signifier of style or identity; hone flavour profile or production technique; and can provide a framework for brands to adhere to.

There are downsides too: no regional framework is foolproof (there are always outliers and exceptions), regionality doesn’t put flavour first and a regional code could curb creativity. But let’s try.

While there are local and state-wide styles, broadening out and looking for commonality, here are the six areas that currently share identity.


CORN BELT (Michigan, Ohio, W Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa)
■ Column or pot distilled
■ Predominantly corn-based spirits
■ Little or no wheat
■ Mostly fits the mould of a classic bourbon

APPALACHIAN (Both Carolinas, Virginia, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, New England, Rhode Island, Maine, North Jersey)
■ Pot distilled
■ Locally sourced cereals with a focus on rye and malted barley, but any cereal works
■ Cool maturation
■ Strong links to farming

PACIFIC (Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona)
■ Little or no rye
■ Pot distilled
■ Locally sourced cereals, with a focus on wheat and malted barley on the Pacific side
■ Strong links to brewing and beer

MOUNTAIN (Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona)
■ Pot or column distilled
■ Greater focus on rye and corn
■ Wild West themes
■ Mostly fits the bourbon mould

BORDER (New Mexico, Nevada, Texas)
■ Pot distilled
■ Typically corn-based spirits with some malted barley being used
■ Little or no rye
■ Use of wood smoke to flavour cereals
■ Hot maturation, rapid extraction of wood flavour

MOONSHINE BELT (underdeveloped states where there is no clear whiskey-making identity)
■ With a few exceptions, little established whiskey-making