Finding the best bottle of American whiskey is no easy task. Liquor store shelves are over-stuffed with label after label. It’s easy to see why folks get confused or frustrated with so many bottles of brown juice in front of them. One way to wade through the weeds is to follow the awards circuit (the best way is to follow us). And that season is certainly ramping up.
This week, the International Wine & Spirits Competition released its 2021 winners list of the best American whiskeys, seemingly timed for the 4th of July. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that bourbon dominated the list of whiskeys that won the top award, “Gold Outstanding.” After all, bourbon’s boom is tough to deny and its charms are many.
The gist of gaining that top honor at IWSC is pretty easy to get a handle on. The cumulative score for the whiskey had to be 98 or higher out of 100 points. Only seven whiskeys out of 113 made that cut. Only one American whiskey scored an almost perfect 99/100.
Below, we’re providing our take or tasting notes on all seven American whiskey expressions that grabbed the “Gold Outstanding” at the IWSC. We’re relying on two tasting note entries from the IWSC, as two of the winners were very limited special releases that haven’t come across our desk yet. You can click on the prices if you want to give any of these award-winning American whiskeys a shot this 4th of July weekend.
98 Points — Redemption 9-Year-Old Barrel Proof
Average Price: $100
This sourced whiskey from Indiana (MGP) is one of the best examples of how a unique shingle can make whiskey shine. Redemption’s team painstakingly searches the warehouses for just the right barrels to meet their taste requirements. In this case, that was a nine-year-old single barrel of bourbon with a mash bill of 75 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and four percent malted barley.
The nose really gives you a sense of oily vanilla pods with touches of wildflower honey, rich and buttery toffee, and a hint of dark roasted espresso beans. The palate holds onto those notes as the vanilla and honey both become creamy while adding a slight black pepper spiciness with a hint of salty smoked bacon fat lurking far in the background. The end is medium-length and touches back on that vanilla, toffee, pepper, and bitterness on the fade.
This is a phenomenal bourbon. While it feels like a special occasion bottle, we fully support this taking a center spot in your regular bar cart rotation.
98 Points — Maker’s Mark Private Select Black Bourbon Society Whiskey
Average Price: $80
This is the official collab between Black Bourbon Society’s Samara Rivers and Beam’s Maker’s Mark. The bottle is part of Maker’s Private Select program which allows whiskey experts to finish and release their own Maker’s Mark by using a combination of finishing staves in the whiskey. In this case, Rivers finished the juice by adding Roasted French Mendiant staves to bring about the nuttier and more chocolate-forward side of the wheated bourbon.
Tasting Notes (from the IWSC):
“Terrific Kentucky whiskey typicity with an intense nose of coffee, walnuts, and sweet malty complexity. Bold with upfront stone fruit, licorice, and nutty spice with elements of caramel, tobacco, and toastiness. Developing balanced cherry characters with a seemingly limitless finish.”
While we haven’t tried this yet, we’re big fans of Rivers and Maker’s Mark. We can’t imagine this not being awesome, especially given the love it’s receiving on the awards circuit.
98 Points — Parker’s Heritage Collection Heavy Char 10 Year Bourbon
Average Price: $150
Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage Collection is pretty tough to track down but is always worth the effort. The key to this expression is that “heavy char,” wherein the barrels are charred with fire for a full 90 seconds, compared to the usual 40 seconds most barrels get. The rye-forward bourbon is then allowed to rest in those barrels for ten long years in a specific location in a specific warehouse. Finally, the best 102 barrels are married and bottled as is.
Tasting Notes (from the IWSC):
“Black Forest gateau with chocolate malt and burning vanilla embers. Strong rye with hints of peach, dill notes, and some menthol highlights. Well-integrated, rocket leaf meets cola cubes with balanced heat intensity, bready dryness, and an entirely moreish finish.”
Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage drops remain some of the most refined and sought-after whiskeys full stop. While we’ve yet to try this year’s release, we’re always astounded by what this line brings.
A quick note, the IWSC listed last year’s edition as the winner but listed the details of this bottle underneath it. Surely, that was a simple typo since this is the release Heaven Hill sent out to be judged this year.
98 Points — Blanton’s Gold
Average Price: $440
This single barrel masterpiece is made for the international market but now available widely in the U.S., albeit for a hefty price. The juice is all about the refinement of the single barrel aging process, with masterful finishing to bring this down to a very drinkable 102 proof.
There’s a big greeting on the nose with notes of spicy tobacco leaves next to honey, dark berries, and orange oils. The palate carries those notes forward while leaning into the tobacco and amping up the rye pepperiness, then balancing it with a bit more honey and caramel.
This whiskey takes its time fading out as notes of vanilla, spice, and oak linger — with a final billow of pipe tobacco popping on the very end.
I’m going to be honest. I was hesitant about Blanton’s hype for a long time. But now, I’m fully on board. This juice is some of the finest stuff Buffalo Trace puts out and this bottle is hard to deny as a classic.
98 Points — Bulleit 10
Average Price: $50
This is classic Bulleit Bourbon that’s sourced from an unknown but very, ahem, floral distillery (*cough* Four Roses *cough*). It’s been aged for ten years before being masterfully blended by the Bulleit team. There’s really not much more to say than that those extra years really dial this bourbon into something unique and very tasty.
This is bourbon with a capital “B.” There are rushes of Christmas spices next to savory herbs, butter-soaked sourdough, and cinnamon-baked apples in maple syrup. Hints of vanilla, toasted oak, and maybe even dried flowers lurk beneath the surface as all that spice, buttery toffee, and soft-yet-sweet fruit fill your senses.
You really can’t go wrong with this expression. While I rarely reach for Bulleit at the moment, I’ve gone through phases of drinking a lot of this exact expression due to its dialed flavor and easy drinkability.
98 Points — William Larue Weller
Average Price: $800
This wheated whiskey from 2008 eschews the more common rye and adds in North Dakota wheat. The juice is then barreled and stored in two warehouses where 73 percent of the whiskey is lost to the angels. Finally, the whiskey is bottled untouched and unfiltered.
There’s soft bourbon vanilla that leads towards almond-encrusted toffees inside a pine box with a dark chocolate bonbon hidden somewhere inside all that nutty toffee. The sip leans into a cherry and dark chocolate bespeckled ice cream with a solid vanilla bean base and a dusting of crushed-up walnuts and maybe even peanut. The end is slightly dry and leans more towards cedar and straw with spicy cherry tobacco buzz.
I mean, this is one of my all-time favorite bourbons (and whiskeys in general). It’s also one of the few high-priced bottles I think just might be worth it.
99 Points — Redemption 10 Year Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon
Average Price: $100
10-year Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon took home the top award as both the highest-scoring bourbon (99/100) and top-rated American whiskey this year. Redemption has a knack for sourcing some of the best barrels from MGP in Indiana. This multi-award-winning bourbon starts off with a base mash bill of 60 percent corn, 36 percent rye, and four percent barley. After ten years of maturation, the barrels are expertly vatted to make a highly sippable bourbon experience. That marriage of bourbons then goes into the bottle — uncut and unfiltered.
There’s woody vanilla and floral honey vibe on the nose with a touch of almost burnt toffee and worn leather. Espresso beans mix with a dab of smoky bacon fat that leads towards a slightly bitter black peppercorn. Slight creamy vanilla leads towards a hint of soft cherry sweetness as the pepperiness edges towards lemon pepper soaked in honey, with a slight note of green reeds at the end. The finish dries out and amps up the spiciness as a hint of dark chocolate lingers on the very end.
I’m on the line as loving this bourbon. It’s a killer sipper that needs no water or ice to enjoy. It also feels classic while taking you somewhere new and fun in the taste.
As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.