Whiskey has likely been around for some of your most memorable late-night shenanigans in the barracks or downtown. If there’s anything America’s airborne paratroopers know, it’s how to fight and how to drink good whiskey.
So we talked to four Airborne-qualified master distillers who took their well-researched opinions and made some of the best whiskeys out there. Although they make good whiskey, remember that you have gone too far if you find yourself in the brig. Drink responsibly.
First, a brief history of whiskey in America
In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, America was struggling to pay off its war debt (ah, the good ol’ days when America cared about keeping the nation’s debt under control). Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton proposed a tax in the late 1700s on domestic liquor as a means of paying it off — which was met with opposition from whiskey makers in Pennsylvania.
The Whiskey Rebellion that resulted was short-lived, but it was not the last time whiskey would be involved in war. The brown elixir fueled soldiers throughout the Civil War, especially the North, who were paid better and could afford it.
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant slammed Old Crow whiskey, and President Abraham Lincoln allegedly likened the General’s success on the battlefield to his liquor consumption. The New York Herald reported in a Sept. 18, 1863 edition of the newspaper that Lincoln was approached by a group calling for Grant to be removed from his position, claiming he was a drunk.
The tall hat-wearing president allegedly responded with a quirky quip, asking the group if they knew what Grant was drinking.
“If I can only find out, I will send a barrel of this wonderful whiskey to every general in the army,” Lincoln allegedly said. Historians contest the legitimacy of the quote because of the anonymous sources, but the legend lives on to this day.
Whiskey’s relationship with soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen is not a coincidence, in Derek Sisson’s opinion.
“I think whiskey is kind of a product of risk-takers and patriots,” said Derek Sisson, the founder of Merica Bourbon. Sisson served in the Marine Corps for four years and was assigned to the 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company, deploying twice before receiving his DD-214.
Sisson learned how to make whiskey from a family member while growing up, and it was always at the back of his mind while serving. He said when he got out, he took his experience to guide his process of making whiskey and who it is for.
“When you’re an E-3, if you’re drinking, you’re drinking the cheapest stuff you can find, and it’s usually garbage,” Sisson said. “So I wanted to make this product a good quality product at a good price that even an E-3 could afford.”
Like Sisson, all the masterminds behind the recommended whiskeys below have been there and done that when it comes to airborne operations.
Merica Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Featured in Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal, and US Weekly, Merica Straight Bourbon has hints of caramel, vanilla, and oakiness with every sip. Sisson took the knowledge his Grandpa passed on and said he is proud to keep this whiskey at an affordable price for anyone while still maintaining a good quality build.
“Once you make that decision to jump, the best thing you can do is hope for the best and do everything you’ve been told and stay dedicated to the cause,” Sisson said. “For me, that’s what a whiskey symbolizes.”
Sisson wants every service member to be ready to rock the next day regardless of how much whiskey they drink, and that’s only possible when the whiskey is made with quality ingredients.
Sisson said his “back porch drinking bourbon” has no GMOs and is made of 78% corn that’s locally sourced in Texas. Sisson donates the corn mash to local ranchers after the distilling process is done. Overall, this is an affordable and great-tasting whiskey — perfect for a barracks get-together or cheers-ing the first night home post-deployment.
A 750ml bottle of 90-proof, 45% ABV Merica whiskey will run you $29.99.
Willie’s Distillery Devil’s Brigade Whiskey
Distilled in both Montana and Canada, Devil’s Brigade Whiskey takes two whiskies and blends them together in Ennis, Montana. This whiskey’s tasting notes of citrus, toasted oak, and vanilla make for a perfect salute to your fellow paratroopers.
The blend percentage of 60% American Bourbon and 40% Canadian Whiskey pays homage to the percentage of American and Canadian men assigned to the Devil’s Brigade in World War II.
“Das dicke Ende kommt Noch!” is the ominous warning that adorns the back label of the bottle. Translated to English, it means, “The worst is yet to come.” This is the warning that was written on ‘death cards’ placed on dead Nazis by members of the First Special Service Force.
Each bottle sold is a donation to the Special Forces Association Chapter XXVII, a non-profit “Devil’s Brigade Chapter” based in Montana.
A 750ml bottle of 82 proof, 44% ABV Devil’s Brigade Whiskey costs $69.99 — and it’s worth every penny.
Hooten Young American Whiskey
The Hooten Young American Whiskey is made with rare distillation and barrel aging practices and aged for 12 years. This American Whiskey packs tasting notes of maple, vanilla, and ripe apple. It’s made with a mash bill of 99% corn and 1% barley, which creates a long smooth finish that accompanies every sip.
“It’s just a great all-around sipping whiskey,” Norman Hooten said. “And I haven’t had anybody say that they don’t like it.”
Hooten, well known because of Eric Bana’s depiction of him in the Hollywood blockbuster “Black Hawk Down,” said he and his partner and friend, Tim Young, decided to come up with a whiskey that paired well with their cigars. The effort resulted in a 12-year American Whiskey that is Hooten’s favorite whiskey — though their newly released Rye Whiskey is a close second.
If you’re a fan of a good cigar and whiskey, Hooten recommends smoking a “Ma Deuce” cigar along with your Hooten Young American Whiskey.
A 750ml bottle of 92 proof, 46% ABV Hooten Young whiskey costs $89.99, and for the quality, we think that’s a bargain.
Three Rangers Premium Rye Whiskey
This single-barrel Rye Whiskey was born out of a purpose to support the Three Rangers Foundation, which provides transition services for the men and women of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
The foundation’s motto is to “Recognize, honor, and celebrate those who serve and sacrifice.” That ethos pairs well with the words from the Ranger Creed printed on the label of the Three Rangers Premium Rye Whiskey, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
This whiskey packs tasting notes of toasted oak, butterscotch, vanilla, cinnamon powder, and clove. Every sip is complete with a smooth, sweet finish. Every bottle sold raises money for the Foundation.
A 750ml bottle of 84 proof, 42% ABV Three Rangers whiskey will run you $59.99, and yes, it’s Rangeriffic.
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