Whiskey Review: Chemist Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey

Asheville is a vibrant and growing city in North Carolina, and feels very much like Austin did about ten or fifteen years ago — from the artists to the musicians to the delicious restaurants, there’s something for everyone there. And of course there’s a distillery or two, too! Continuing my tour of North Carolina distilleries, today we’re going to sample the American Single Malt Whiskey from Chemist Spirits.



Danielle Word Donaldson graduated from Furman University with a degree in chemistry and, after completing graduate school in 2014, was working through her residency at Asheville VA Medical Center to become a pharmacist in Asheville, North Carolina.

Over the years, Donaldson’s mother Debbie Word had become fascinated with the local history of that region of Appalachia — and specifically, the moonshining tradition that was popular there. That curiosity eventually prompted Word to ask her daughter the fateful question: “how hard is distilling?”

Together with Donaldson’s technical background in chemistry and Word’s historical knowledge about the area, the pair began moonshining in their garage. Donaldson bought her mom a “cute little five gallon still” for Christmas in 2014 as their passion started to grow, and eventually the pair decided that this was something that they wanted to investigate as a family business. While Donaldson finished up her residency, her mother traveled to Perthshire, Scotland to work with a local distillery and learn everything she could about the business.

In 2018, the mother-daughter duo opened the doors to Chemist Spirits in Asheville. The business pays homage to the important role that chemists and pharmacists play in our society, and lean into that early 20th century chemist vibe with their marketing and branding.

Originally focusing on gin production, the distillery has also expanded into whiskey and other distilled spirits but definitely remains more well-known for their gin. Their product line includes a collaboration with the Biltmore Estate to create a rose gin, and the quality of their spirits led them to be chosen as the official gin for the 2022 Daytime Emmy Awards.


Learning more about what went into this bottle, I started to get the impression that this wasn’t just a slapped-together product — some serious effort and thought went into the contents of this bottle.

As with any single malt whiskey, this spirit starts out with malted barley as the raw material. Specifically, the barley is sourced from the local Riverbend Malt House in Asheville, which also supplies some of the breweries in the area. The team at Chemist selected not one but three specific strains of malted barley for their spirit (Southern select, dark Munich, and crystal malts), which are blended together, cooked, and fermented to create the mildly alcoholic distiller’s beer.

From there, the liquid is distilled in one of the copper pot stills in their facility, selectively capturing the elements that they want and concentrating the alcohol content, to create the crystal clear new make whiskey. That spirit is then placed into new charred oak barrels for a period of three years before being proofed down and bottled for sale.


The vibe that this team is going for is turn-of-the-century pharmacist, and I think they hit the nail on the head.

It starts with the bottle shape, which is reminiscent of the medicine bottles from that time period: large round bodies, short necks, and capped off with a wood stopper. The brand name “CHEMIST” is embossed into the shoulder of the bottle, which is a delightful touch and nice attention to detail.

Moving on to the label, I don’t think they could have done a better job. The style is period perfect, with metallic gold ink outlining the black lettering and a stylized Bowl of Hygieia (daughter of Asclepius, the god of medicine, whose image is associated with pharmacists) at the top of the label. It seems like the way that Chemist distinguishes their brands is with a belly band around the bottle — in this case, a blue colored band that identifies this as a Single Malt Whiskey.

10/10 on the design.



There’s a beautiful rich color to this spirit, like a rusty gold. There really isn’t any orange to the edges of the liquid like you’d expect with a bourbon, instead it’s just shades of delicious brown.

Coming off that glass is a deliciously fruity aroma that I really just want to curl up into and enjoy. It’s filled with dark and dried fruits like plums, dried apricots, dried apple slices, and dried figs, all of which are enveloped in a sweet caramel and vanilla aroma. Around the edges I can also see some of those sourdough notes and a bit of floral honey that are typical for a single malt spirit, but not nearly as prominent as you might expect from a Scottish version.

My first thought when taking a sip: this is everything I ever wanted a highlands scotch to be. Scottish spirits tend to be more floral or smokey, but this goes straight up the middle and turns the fruity and sweet flavors up to eleven. It has a deliciously deep saturation of those dried fruits we saw in the aroma, but now they’re also accompanied by walnuts, nutmeg, and coffee. That last note is particularly strong on the finish — it’s almost like I took a sip of black coffee in the morning, but with just a hint of dark chocolate as well.

On Ice

Interestingly, the aroma coming off the glass shifts to be more citrus-forward once some ice gets added to the mix. It still mostly reads as dried fruits, but now I think I can see some shades of orange peel as well. Not that I’m complaining — it’s delightful, to be honest.

Unfortunately, the ice seems to have done a disservice to the other flavors of the spirit. There’s still some good stuff going on here — dried figs, apricots, and apples are still the first things that I can taste, but now there’s more of the sourdough or brown bread flavor that I associate with malted barley. From there, the only other flavor development I can detect is a bit of that coffee flavor on the finish, still coming through to make this as interesting as it can.


Overall Rating

The tagline on this spirit is “elegantly smooth and complex” and, in a rare turn of events, I completely agree with the marketing department of a distillery.

Through their careful selection of raw materials, attention to detail during the distilling process, and care during the maturation process, this small local distillery has created one of my favorite single malt whiskies I’ve ever had.

There’s such an interesting depth and richness to these flavors that I could happily sip a glass of this all evening long. Everything from the dried fruits to the chocolate and coffee finish is exactly what I have always wanted from Scottish spirits, but never quite found.

Chemist Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey
Produced By: Chemist Spirits
Production Location: North Carolina, United States
Classification: Single Malt Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $59.95 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 5/5
One of the best single malt whiskies that I have ever had. Rich, fruity, and flavorful.


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