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The Best Bourbon and Whiskey According To The International Whisky Competition

Recently, I published an article breaking down The Best Age-Statement Scotch According To The International Whisky Competition. As such, it seems only fitting to do the same with bourbons and American whiskeys. 

Of course, the range of age statements in bourbon and American whiskey is not as diverse as with scotch. Most bourbons and whiskeys are aged for only a few years due to the differing climates and maturation speeds in Scotland and the USA. 

As such, I thought I would break down the winners of each bourbon and American whiskey category at the 2023 International Whisky Competition. 

Best Bourbon Whiskey

George T. Stagg won gold in the Best American Whiskeys (All Categories), as well as two other awards. Credit: Buffalo Trace

 

GOLD MEDAL WINNER: George T. Stagg – 95.3 points
Tasting Notes: Cinnamon, cherry cola, leather, chocolate, vanilla frosting
BUY NOW: $899.99
Runners Up: Stagg – Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – 94.4 points, William Larue Weller – 93.28 points 

A classic expression from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has become an icon of the bourbon world. This is evidenced by its numerous awards and accolades, such as a gold medal at the American Whiskey Masters 2023

This bourbon has been an annual release from Buffalo Trace since 2002, and its named for George T. Stagg. Stagg contributed greatly to the so-called ‘Gilded Age of Bourbon’ as one of the custodians of O.F.C. Distillery, which was later renamed the George T. Stagg Distillery in his honour. 

The 2023 expression of George T. Stagg was distilled in 2008 and aged for just over 15 years before being bottled at 135 proof. Each year a very limited number of bottlings are released, making these expressions sought-after by whiskey fans around the globe. 

The George T. Stagg was also awarded 1st place in the category of Best American Whiskey (All Categories) at last year’s International Whisky Competition. It is also the winner of the Best Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey (Full Proof) category, as you will see below. This is truly an expression to be beaten. 

Best Bourbon Whiskey 10 Years and Over 

Credit: Buffalo Trace

GOLD MEDAL WINNER: Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – 90.5 points
Tasting Notes: Toffee, orange peel, herbs, honey, leather, oak, candied almonds, rich cocoa
BUY NOW: $39.99
Runners Up: Eagle Rare 17 Year Old – 90.3 points, Sazerac 18 Year Old – 90.2 points 

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old gets a lot of time in the limelight. However, the younger expression of Eagle Rare is equally deserving of praise and accolades. Paul Pacult, in his Spirit Journal, calls the whiskey “[e]asily one of the most tactile yet assertive and expressive bourbons I’ve tasted in the last two years; fasten your seat belts.”

Each cask of Eagle Rare is matured for a minimum of ten years. The brand’s flagship expression is, according to Buffalo Trace Distillery, “a bourbon that lives up to its name with its lofty, distinctive taste experience”. 

Originally produced in 1975 for Seagram’s, Eagle Rare has been produced at several facilities in its lifetime, including the Old Prentice Distillery. Following Sazerac’s acquisition of the George T. Stagg Distillery in 1992, it was renamed Buffalo Trace. Eagle Rare has been produced there ever since. 

Best Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey (Full Proof) 

GOLD MEDAL WINNER: George T. Stagg – 95.3 points
Tasting Notes: Cinnamon, cherry cola, leather, chocolate, vanilla frosting
BUY NOW: $899.99
Runners Up: Stagg – Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – 94.4 points, William Larue Weller – 93.28 points 

I could wax lyrical here about the magic of George T. Stagg. However, I think that being the winner of no less than three categories in the same competition speaks for itself. 

Best Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey 

1792 pays tribute to the year that Kentucky officially became a US state. Credit: Barton 1792 Distillery

GOLD MEDAL WINNER: 1792 Small Batch – 90 points
Tasting Notes: Black pepper, sesame, charred oak, cinnamon, caramel, clove, cardamom, rye, citrus, vanilla
BUY NOW:  $23.95
Runners Up: Good Trouble Bourbon – Small Batch – 89.13 points, Jefferson’s Very Small Batch – 89.1 points 

1792 was the year that Kentucky became a state. Hence, 1792 Kentucky Bourbon is an homage to the home of the distillery, and the home of bourbon. 

This small batch expression is produced at the Barton 1792 Distillery. Established in 1879 in Bardstown, Kentucky, it is the oldest working distillery in the town. 

Other expressions produced at the distillery include a 12 Year Old (which won World’s Best Bourbon at the 2024 World Whiskies Awards). Varying mash bills produce Sweet Wheat and High Rye expressions. Single barrel, full proof, Bottled In Bond, and Port finish expressions round out the portfolio. 

The distillery has remained somewhat obscure despite its enormous campus and award-winning bourbons. Perhaps 2024 will be the year that we see 1792 boom in popularity. Watch this space. 

Best American Blended Whiskey 

GOLD MEDAL WINNER: Five Trail Cask Finish – 91.6 points
Tasting Notes: Biscuit, roasted nuts, caramel, toffee, tobacco, vanilla pudding, apple, candied dates, almond, oak tannins, black tea, cinnamon crumb cake, ginger
BUY NOW: $76.99
Runners Up: Five Trail Barrel Proof – 89.5 points, Bardstown Bourbon Company Discovery Series #10 – 88.8 points 

Created by the Coors Whiskey Company, Five Trail Cask Finish is an expression comprised of four aged whiskeys finished in Imperial Porter barrels. The aged whiskeys are as follows: 

  • 4 Year Wheated Bourbon from Indiana – 47% 
  • 4 Year Four Grain Bourbon from Kentucky – 36% 
  • 4 Year Single Malt from Colorado – 12% 
  • 7 Year Rye from Indiana – 5% 

The company brings together whiskey experts to create bold and rich blended whiskeys. According to the Five Trail website, this practice proves that “the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts”. 

So far, Small Batch, Barrel Proof, and flagship expressions have all been released. We will have to wait and see if another Cask Finish expression will join the portfolio in 2024. 

Best Barrel Finish/Special Cask Whiskey 

Stranahan’s is a driving force in the American Single Malt category. Credit: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

GOLD MEDAL WINNER: Stranahan’s Sherry Cask – 93.33 points
Tasting Notes: Raisins, figs, dates, honey, grape syrup, jam, candied fruit, Montmorency cherries, blackcurrant, nutty brine, walnut, buttery caramel, whipped creme, brown sugar, smoked cayenne.
BUY NOW: $64.99
Runners Up: Olde Stogie – Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in Armagnac & Tawny Port Casks – 92.8 Pts,  Olde Raleigh Whiskey Society Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in a Honey Barrel – 92.75 Pts

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is a pioneer of the American Single Malt category, producing 100% malted barley whiskey in the foothills of the Rockies. At the International Whisky Competition in 2023, special praise was awarded to the distillery’s sherry cask expression: their classic single malt finished in Oloroso sherry and PX casks. 

The expression has won numerous awards including medals from the World Spirits Competition and the Denver International Spirits Competition. 

In a world with endless possibilities when it comes to the composition of mash bills, Stranahan’s is going back to basics and producing some fantastic single malt expressions. 

The distillery has quickly become a single malt lover’s destination, bolstered by the opening of their new Whiskey Lodge in Aspen

Best Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey 

The Maker’s Mark Private Selection program is the first of its kind. In 2023, the Mustang’s #5 was named Best Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey at the International Whisky Competition.

GOLD MEDAL WINNER: Maker’s Mark Private Select Mustang’s #5
Tasting Notes: No official tasting notes found
BUY NOW: $58.94
Runners Up: Paul Sutton Bourbon – 91.3 points, Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel – 87.8 points 

The Maker’s Mark Private Selection program is the first of its kind. Partners of Maker’s Mark from restaurants to retailers are offered the chance to purchase a barrel of whisky, selecting a spirit that best suits their tastes and reflects their brand. 

It was one such expression that won Best Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey at the International Whisky Competition last year: the Maker’s Mark Private Select Mustang’s #5. 

According to my research, the Mustang #5 was privately selected by William Oliver’s Public House in Fort Collins, CO. In June 2023, the last 100 bottles of this whisky were available. Are there any left? Who knows? 

Maker’s Mark is a legendary whisky brand in the United States. Having been founded in 1953, the brand is billed on the website as “the world’s first premium bourbon”. 

Best American Single Malt Whiskey 

GOLD MEDAL WINNER: Stranahan’s Sherry Cask – 93.33 points
Tasting Notes: Raisins, figs, dates, honey, grape syrup, jam, candied fruit, Montmorency cherries, blackcurrant, nutty brine, walnut, buttery caramel, whipped creme, brown sugar, smoked cayenne.
BUY NOW: $64.99
Runners Up: Olde Stogie – Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in Armagnac & Tawny Port Casks – 92.8 Pts,  Olde Raleigh Whiskey Society Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in a Honey Barrel – 92.75 Pts

Stranahan’s Sherry Cask picked up yet another gold medal at the International Whisky Competition in this category. This is certainly one to watch. 

Best American Corn Whiskey 

Weldon Mills Distillery is experimenting with corn whiskey. If this award is anything to by, it is certainly going well. Credit: Weldon Mills

GOLD MEDAL WINNER: Rockfish Whiskey
Tasting Notes: Caramel and vanilla
BUY NOW: N/A
Runners Up: No other entrants 

Produced at The Weldon Mills Distillery in North Carolina, Rockfish whiskey is a small batch American whiskey that has certainly made a splash in the industry. 

According to the Weldon Mills website, Rockfish “is an American Whiskey that drinks similar to an Irish whiskey, with notes of vanilla and caramel”. 

Weldon Mills was founded by Bruce Tyler and Michael Hinderliter who set out to become “the most accomplished distillery in North Carolina”. 

As well as Rockfish, Weldon Mills has a line of bourbons including The All Malt, the Weldon Mills Reserve, and the Weldon Mills Select, all of which have previously won awards are various competitions including the San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge in 2022.  

Best Rye Whiskey 

The Uncle Nearest brand is named for the man who taught Jack Daniel to make whiskey. Credit: Nearest Green Distillery

GOLD MEDAL WINNER: Uncle Nearest Single Barrel Rye Whiskey
Tasting Notes: Caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, leather, nuts, toffee
BUY NOW: Available exclusively at the Nearest Green Distillery
Runners Up: Uncle Nearest Uncut & Unfiltered Straight Rye Whiskey – Batch 001 – 87.18 points, Uncle Nearest Straight Rye Whiskey – 86.55 points, Defiant 100% Rye Whisky – 86.55 points 

Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green is credited as the man who taught Jack Daniel to make whiskey. The African American distiller’s story has been somewhat lost to history in the wake of Jack Daniel’s success. The Nearest Green Distillery is changing all of that with its Uncle Nearest expression, honoring Nearest’s legacy. 

This single-barrel rye expression is widely lauded and is available exclusively at the Nearest Green Distillery in Tennessee. 

Other expressions from the distillery include the Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey, which won World’s Best Tennessee Whiskey at the World Whiskies Awards 2024

Beth Squires

Beth joined Mark Littler Ltd full-time in October 2020 following the completion of her university degree. Since then she has gained wide-ranging knowledge of all things whisk(e)y, and has written extensively for both company and external publications. Beth is passionate about industry innovation, marketing, and sustainability. With a particular affinity for independently bottled rare scotch, Beth is also a whisky bottle investment specialist.

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