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The Best Single Barrel Bourbon According To The International Spirits Challenge 2023

The International Spirits Challenge (ISC) will be back in July 2024. 

In 2023, the ISC completed over twenty days of blind tastings, with thousands of beverages in various categories being judged by a group of 75 industry experts. One such category was single-barrel bourbons. 

Single-barrel bourbon has grown in popularity since its introduction to the market in the 1980s. Blanton’s Bourbon, the brainchild of Elmer T. Lee, was the first single-barrel bourbon to be marketed in the USA in 1984. Since then, numerous distilleries across the country have tried their hands and bottling from a single barrel.

Part of the appeal of a single-barrel bourbon is that there will always be a subtle variation in the final profile of the spirit from cask to cask. Two barrels filled with the same distillate can experience maturation very differently depending on the rick they are on in the warehouse, for example. 

With so many different single-barrel bourbons and profiles, the judges at the 2023 International Spirits Challenge certainly had their work cut out. 

Of all of the single-barrel bourbons entered, these six stood out. These are the Gold and Double Gold medal-winning single barrel bourbons from the International Spirits Challenge 2023. 

Keep one eye on The Whiskey Wash where I will bring you the 2024 results in the summer. 

Henry McKenna Single Barrel 10 Year Old

MEDAL: Double Gold
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, caramel, oak, herbs, spice, honey
BUY NOW: $54.86 

Also named ‘Best In Show’ at the 2023 TAG Global Spirits Awards, the Henry McKenna Single Barrel really does seem to be “perfectly balanced” as the Heaven Hill website would suggest. 

The single-barrel bourbon is named for an Irish immigrant who moved to Kentucky in 1837. Through careful study of the grain types in Kentucky (very different from those in Ireland), Henry McKenna meticulously adapted his family’s whiskey recipe to best reflect the quality of American grains. 

The bourbon whiskey is aged for 10 years in a single barrel to create a silky, smooth profile for easy drinking. 

Heaven Hill, the distillery that produces the brand, was recently named Distiller of the Year for the second consecutive year. 

1792 Single Barrel 

Tasting Notes: Butterscotch, caramel, fruit, toffee
BUY NOW: $31.99 

This single-barrel bourbon is produced at the Barton 1792 Distillery in Kentucky. Named for the year in which Kentucky officially became a state, the brand is passionate about its Kentucky heritage. Barton 1792 is also the oldest working distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. 

Each cask chosen to fill a bottle of 1792 Single Barrel is hand-selected from the warehouse and subjected to taste tests. Only the most “exceptional” casks are chosen for bottling. 

This expression has won multiple awards since it hit the market in 2016. Now it can add Gold at the International Spirits Challenge to its list of accolades. 

Other expressions from Barton 1792 include the 12 Year Old (which was named World’s Best Bourbon at the World Whiskies Awards 2024), and the Small Batch (named Best Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey at the 2023 International Whisky Competition). 

Benchmark Single Barrel 

Tasting Notes: Toasted oak, baking spice, caramel, citrus
BUY NOW: $17.77

With our next medal winner, we move firmly into the territory of Buffalo Trace Distillery. Buffalo Trace is one of the largest whiskey producers in America. This is evidenced by the fact that each remaining whiskey on this list is produced by Buffalo Trace. 

This is the Benchmark Single Barrel. Bottled at 95 proof, only the best barrels are selected to be part of this range. 

Benchmark saw a new lineup introduced in 2020. Since then, the brand has been growing from strength to strength. And, at less that $20 per bottle, you cannot go wrong. 

Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel 

Tasting Notes: Toasted oak, dried figs, butterscotch, tobacco, dark spices
BUY NOW: $195.95

Matured in the famous Warehouse C at Buffalo Trace Distillery, this expression is named for Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Taylor owned the O.F.C (Old Fire Copper) Distillery and prided himself on traditional distilling methods. He also commissioned the building of Warehouse C in 1881 as part of an experiment into climate-controlled warehousing. His influence can still be felt at Buffalo Trace today. 

Each bottle of the Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel is bottled from a single cask at 100 proof. The casks are carefully selected for quality. 

This expression is, as you will notice, quite a lot more expensive than some of the other bourbons listed above. However, according to the judges at the International Spirits Challenge 2023, it is well worth the price. 

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel 

Tasting Notes: Clove, vanilla, old leather, fruit, honey, spice
BUY NOW: $199

The Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon is often overlooked in favor of Lee’s creation, Blanton’s. However, this namesake bottling is equally deserving of praise. 

The standards that Elmer T. Lee, Master Distiller Emeritus, put into place when creating Blanton’s bourbon still serve as a benchmark of quality today. 

As such, each cask of Elmer T. Lee is carefully selected prior to bottling at 90 proof. The resulting bourbon is rich and complex, making it a fitting tribute to Lee, who gave his life to the distillery in the pursuit of great bourbon. 

W.L. Weller Single Barrel Straight Wheated Bourbon Whiskey


Tasting Notes: Cherry, mint, vanilla, caramel, baking spices, cocoa, cinnamon, coffee, pepper
BUY NOW: $499.99 

Last but not least (but certainly the most expensive) we have the W.L. Weller Single Barrel Straight Wheated Bourbon Whiskey. 

The expression is named for William Larue Weller. Weller was a pioneer of wheated bourbon, replacing rye with wheat in the mash bill which resulted in a silky smooth texture. 

Again, this expression is often overlooked in favor of the Antique or Full Proof expressions. This may well be because the single barrel bourbon is more expensive. However, the consistent praise for this expression (including at the 2023 ISC) amongst whiskey critics means that this may be worth a little monetary investment. 

The International Spirits Challenge 2024 

The International Spirits Challenge 2024 will be held in July, with results expected in August. 

As always, keep an eye on The Whiskey Wash for some more of my awards articles. I will be updating the site with whiskey competition results as and when they come in.

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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