The best bourbon, according to the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2024

Four straight bourbons took top honors in the first round of the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) recently concluded in London. Five other American whiskeys also took top honors. The judging was the first round of a two-step process, which includes one round of judging in London in May and another in September in Kentucky.

The best bourbons, all the gold medal winners were a who’s who of American whiskey. Sazerac dominated the results, winning five of the nine top prizes.

The highest rated American whiskey in the London judging round was Sazerac, 18 YO, Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, 45% ABV, 750 ml.

Sazerac’s 18 YO rye whiskey expression is one of the world’s greatest rye whiskeys and is a perennial medal winner at international spirits competitions. The IWSC judging panel described the whiskey as:

Juicy fruit, wonderful balance and extraordinary clarity of taste. Oranges, leather and toasted bread with a hint of cloves. The finish is classic and easy to drink, bottled with good density.

The three highest-rated bourbons, all from Sazerac with 95/100 points, read like an honorable roll of American bourbon: Eagle Rare, 17 YO, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 50.5% ABV, 750 ml; George T Stagg, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 67.5% ABV; and WL Weller, Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 57% ABV, 750 ml.

These three whiskeys need no introduction to American bourbon lovers. They are the three greatest bourbons in the world, among the brands that pushed the Sazerac to the top of American whiskey. They have become expensive and hard to find lately. If it’s been a while since you’ve tasted one of these American whiskey icons, it might be time to indulge.

The IWSC panel of judges described Eagle Rare 17 YO as:

The rich aromas of new leather, lager beer, honey and menthol lead to a wonderful fragrant bouquet. On the palate, it offers a nice weight and balance with a good fruit profile. The finish is quite jammy and satisfying.

George T Stagg described the judging panel as:

Juicy aromas of peach and stone fruit combine beautifully with hints of kirsch and Black Forest gateaux. Rich, earthy notes give way to a fiery finish, revealing a delightful array of dried mango, pineapple, apple, pear and apricot.

While the judging panel described WL Weller as:

Surrender to the comforting aroma of orange, oak and nuts. Enchanting palate with a perfect balance of rose, cinnamon and blackberry. The finish is warming and satisfying.

The fourth gold winner in the bourbon category, also an icon of American whiskey Four Rose, the original pure bourbon whiskey.

The IWSC jury described Four Roses bourbon as:

Juicy dark fruits, caramel and cream tempt the senses. Fragrant oak and dried tropical fruit on the nose. A perfect example of an American whiskey with depth of character. Smooth finish.

The second best-rated rye whiskey, also from Sazerac, was Thomas H Handy, Straight Rye Whiskey, 62.5%, 750 ml.

The mash receipts for Sazerac 17 YO Rye Whiskey and Thomas H Handy Straight Rye Whiskey, both part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, are the same. Both whiskeys use Buffalo Trace rye mash, commonly referred to as Mash Bill #2. This mash is believed to contain approximately 51% rye, 39% corn and 10% barley malt.

While the porridge accounts are the same, the main difference between them lies in their aging and standing. Sazerac 17 YO is aged for 17 years and is usually bottled at 90 proof, while Thomas H Handy Jr. is barrel proof, uncut and unfiltered.

The IWSC Judging Panel described Thomas H Handy Rye Whiskey as:

Tomato Leaf and Bakewell (a type of British pudding or cake) are harmoniously intertwined with the rich vanilla bean. The classic flavors of rye are elegantly balanced. Luxurious notes of roasted coffee beans, Belgian waffles and double cream lead to a luxurious, pleasant finish.

The highest rated Tennessee Whiskey is Chattanooga Whisky, Experimental Series 033 Triple Peat Blended Whisky, 55.5%, 750 ml. A Tennessee-inspired blend of peated American whiskey seems out of place among these historic icons of American whiskey. This highlights how significantly the American whiskey scene has changed since the innovations of today’s craft distillers.

The IWSC judging panel described Chattanooga Whiskey as:

Aromas of bacon fat and chili spices, complemented by notes of cola cube and tomato leaf. Strong and aromatic, with a smoky and fruity smell. Intense smokiness leads to forest flavors, and ends with the characteristic finish of an old coal stove.

It is an American whiskey with a superb taste Revel Stoke, Shellshocked Pecan Flavored Roasted Scotch. The IWSC judging panel described the whiskey as:

Indulge in the rich aromas of chocolate, nuts fried in honey, cereals and cotton candy. Enjoy the sought-after, nutty sweetness with a long, lingering finish. Notes of nutty chocolate, sweet almonds and balanced smoothness continue long after the last sip.

Finally, the top ranked American Single Malt whiskey is Balcones, Montilla Single Malt Whiskey, 53% ABV, 750 ml. Balcones is the leader in the American Single Malt category. The IWSC judging panel described the whiskey as:

The taste is a mixture of ripe dark fruits and strawberries, with notes of nettle and dried berries. The complex fruit-inspired finish leaves a satisfying impression.

The first round of the IWSC’s American Whiskey Awards showcased some classic American whiskey icons. More to come from the second round of evaluations in Kentucky this September. Until then, it’s a good opportunity to re-taste some of these American whiskey classics.

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