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The Best American Whiskeys, According To The 2021 World Whiskies Awards

We’re nearing springtime and that means the awards for spirits are just starting to roll out, leading towards a fall crescendo. The first major awards for American whiskey dropped earlier this month when the World Whiskies Awards 2021 announced their favorites in that category.

The process for the judging of these whiskies is pretty straightforward. There are two rounds — in which judges from the international whiskey community narrow down their favorite drams. Finally, there’s a third and final round where all of the “best” whiskeys are judged one last time to pick the absolute best of the best.

The 14 whiskeys below are those “best of the best” American whiskeys, according to the judges of the World Whiskies Awards (you can peruse the rest of the winners here). And while some of these expressions are pretty well known on the awards and general whiskey circuit, a few are new or(relative) unknowns. That’ll mean they might be hard or straight-up impossible to find.

We’ve included links to delivery options where possible. Click on the price if the bottle feels like the one for you. And when needed, we’ve used the tasting notes from the distillers. Let’s get into it!

Best American Blended — Breckenridge PX Sherry Cask Finish

Breckenridge Distillery

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This Colorado whiskey has made a triumphant (albeit limited) return to the scene. The whiskey in the bottle is their standard, three-year-old bourbon that’s filled into Pedro Ximenez sherry casks for a final maturation of four to six months. Those barrels are then married and the juice is brought down to a very accessible 90 proof with Colorado Rocky Mountain water.

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted with notes of very zesty orange marmalade next to bourbon vanilla and a hint of sherry plumminess. The taste is subtle and touches on almost savory figs with a touch of black licorice and soft oak. The end leans into the bourbon more than sherry, with a vanilla and oak roundness.

Bottom Line:

This is solid craft whiskey that’s built to be sipped or mixed. If you can get your hands on a bottle (or you’re in Colorado), give it time as a sipper first, and then try it in your cocktails.

Best American Blended Malt — Virginia-Highland Whisky Port Cask Finished

Virginia Distillery Co.

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This American single malt from Virginia continues to wow. The expression combines 100 percent single malt distilled and aged in Virginia with single malt imported from Scotland. Once those juices are married, the whisky spends at least another year resting in port casks for final maturation.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear essence of honey with walnuts floating in the jar next to a slight savory fruit note. Apple skins arrive with a clear cinnamon-spiced caramel sauce and a little bit of oak leading towards a very subtle and sweet wisp of smoke. That spiced caramel and apple drive the long finish towards an earthy, fruity, and sweet end.

Bottom Line:

This is an old favorite. It’s pretty easily available from coast to coast. It makes a great highball candidate but also works on the rocks just as well.

Best American Corn — Ironroot Republic Hubris

Ironroot Republic Distillery

ABV: 58.9%

Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This 100 percent corn whiskey from Texas is built to be bold. The corn distillate is aged in used European oak barrels that once held bourbon. The whiskey is then bottled straight from the barrel with no proofing or filtration.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Nose: Smoked pear stewed in dark honey and baked into tartlets. Taste: Orange peel candied in an anise, clove, and cassia glaze dipped in dark chocolate. This is decadence.”

Bottom Line:

Ironroot is turning a lot of heads in Texas. Try to get your hands on some before it blows up any further.

Best American Grain — Bainbridge Yama Japanese Mizunara Cask Single Grain

Bainbridge Distillers

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $590 ($450 MSRP)

The Whiskey:

This bespoke Washington distillery tends to hit every expression they release out of the park in both taste and uniqueness. The grain to glass experience starts with locally grown barley that’s left unmalted before it’s milled in-house and fermented with proprietary yeast. The distilled juice is only the prime cuts of the second distillation, which are then filled in Japanese Mizunara casks.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Bright aromatics of mango, vanilla, toasted sandalwood, tropical flowers, marzipan, and star anise. Flavors open on nutmeg and clove, pear and toasty wood notes, settling out to honeyed vanilla and toasted marshmallow. Finish is warm and lingering with fading spice and a pleasant oak grip.”

Bottom Line:

This is one of those rare bottles very few of us whiskey lovers will ever get to sample. That’s a shame as this sounds f*cking delicious and we know the distillery is almost universally doing great work otherwise.

Best American Flavoured Whisky — Bird Dog Peanut Butter Flavored Whiskey

Western Spirits Beverage Company

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $18

The Whiskey:

This is Bird Dog’s standard bourbon that’s been aged with all-natural “peanut butter flavors.” It might be best not to question too much about how the sausage is made.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Nose: Warm peanuts with a hint of wood char. Body: Uniquely smooth peanut butter flavors are presented with traditional caramel and vanilla notes. Finish: A slow, warm, whiskey fades with sweet caramel.”

Bottom Line:

I’ve had peanut butter-flavored whiskey in the past (just not this one). I don’t know. This feels like the glitter in beer and cocktails craze all over again. The one good thing about this booze is that you can get it in 50ml minis for a dollar. That means you can try with no commitment to a whole bottle.

Best Kentucky Bourbon — WL Weller CYPB

Sazerac Company

ABV: 47.5%

Average Price: $840 ($50 MSRP)

The Whiskey:

This is a legitimately unique expression. Buffalo Trace asked the general public to “Craft Your Perfect Bourbon.” Over 100,000 responses later, a clear picture emerged of a wheated bourbon, aged around nine years on the top floors of a warehouse, and bottled between 90 and 100 proof.

So Buffalo Trace did exactly that. This is the result.

Tasting Notes:

Lemon pudding with a touch of vanilla bean and dry oak (not quite firewood) greet you on the nose. The fruit mellows into a stonefruit — almost like a bruised peach floating in honey — as the vanilla builds in creaminess and the oak remains very soft and squarely in the background. The end has a slight peppery warmth and a return of the lemon pudding but is really all about that soft oak and vanilla on a slow fade.

Bottom Line:

This is a very limited release. So it’s going to be hard to find and has gotten way overpriced. Still, it’s a nice one-off sipper that’s as much a conversation starter as its quality dram.

Best Non-Kentucky Bourbon — Hirsch The Horizon

Hotaling & Co.

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Hotaling & Co., started by San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing, is a hell of a blendery. This expression is a mix of two MGP of Indiana whiskeys. The lion’s share (94 percent) is a five-year-old bourbon with a fairly standard mash bill of 75 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and four percent malted barley. That’s married to a six-year-old bourbon with a mash bill of 60 percent corn, 38 percent rye, and four percent malted barley. The whiskey is proofed down to 92 proof and bottled.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“On the nose, The Horizon offers a classic bourbon profile with sweet cornbread and vanilla. The palate is balanced with warm notes of cinnamon and oak, followed by a long finish with slight lingering sweetness.”

Bottom Line:

Hotaling & Co. know what they’re doing with their blends. This is sure to be a whiskey worth tracking down, especially given its accessible price point.

Best American Rye — Redemption Plantation Rum Cask Finish

Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $45

The Whiskey:

Redemption is a Connecticut mainstay that sources its juice from MGP of Indiana. This whiskey MGP’s iconic 95 percent rye mash bill that’s then finished in rum casks in partnership with Plantation Rum. They’re using both Jamaican and Barbadian rum barrels specifically for their Rum Cask Finish.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a mix of rummy molasses that’s spiced with Christmas spices and vanilla, with a hint of tart fruit and sherried jamminess. The taste doesn’t really deviate too much from those notes and holds onto the molasses, spice, and vanilla while a touch of oak arrives late with a note of citrus. The end is short-ish and really leans into the rummy nature of the spices and sweetness.

Bottom Line:

It kind of feels like Angel’s Envy’s rum cask rye was getting all the awards love for awhile and now it’s Redemption’s turn for those same accolades.

Best American New Make & Young Spirit — 291 Colorado Whiskey Fresh

291 Distillery

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $48

The Whiskey:

Distillery 291 has been distilling spirits since 2011 and gathering awards the whole time. Their Fresh expression (made from corn, rye, and malted barley) is their new-make or white dog (or moonshine if you will). It’s a small-batch, unaged whiskey made specifically for mixing.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“It has a distinct flavor for enhancing the traditional cocktail. Crafted to replace vodka, rum, or tequila.”

Bottom Line:

Given the quality of most of the bottles coming out of this little Colorado distillery, this is probably a pretty damn fine clear spirit for mixing.

Best Kentucky Single Barrel Bourbon — Rebel Bourbon Single Barrel 10 Years Old

Luxco

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $75

The Whiskey:

Rebel (formerly Rebel Yell until October of 2020) is a Lux Row classic at this point. This expression is their wheated bourbon that spends ten years aging in oak in the Lux Row warehouses. The barrels are hand-selected, married, and proofed down to 100 proof before bottling.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Hints of caramel and citrus on your first sips. But continue drinking and it morphs into a velvety oak flavor with unabashed spice.”

Bottom Line:

I never really touched Rebel Yell because of the f*cking name (I’ve tasted a dram here and there at conventions). I’m not convinced the rebranding is better. But now that MGP owns Luxco (the company behind this stuff), maybe they’ll do a proper rebrand?

Best Non-Kentucky Single Barrel Bourbon — Tumblin’ Dice Bourbon Single Barrel Barrel Proof

Proof and Wood

ABV: 58.9%

Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This sourced juice comes from a blender called Proof and Wood out in Connecticut. This juice is a four-year-old single barrel high-rye bourbon that they source from a distiller in Indiana.

Tasting Notes:

None available.

Bottom Line:

I’ve honestly never heard of this brand before. I’m guessing this is MGPs high-rye bourbon in single barrel form? Given MGP’s usually high-quality, this should be interesting.

Best American Single Cask Single Malt — Westland Distillery Single Cask #5410

Westland

ABV: 57%

Average Price: Sold Out

The Whiskey:

Westland, like most craft distillers, starts off by making a solid ale to distill into whiskey. In this case, the beer was made using five types of malt with Belgian Saison brewer’s yeast. The spirit made from that beer was then aged for around six years in a combination of Westland’s own used casks, ex-bourbon casks, and French oak that aged Syrah before marrying and bottling as is.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Nose: Honeysuckle, light maple syrup, faint peach. Palate: Graham cracker crust, caramel sauce, maraschino cherry liqueur.”

Bottom Line:

This was only available to Washington State residents and it’s sold out. That’s a shame. It sounds pretty solid.

Best American Single Malt — Westland Distillery Garryana Edition 5

Westland

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $183

The Whiskey:

Westland’s Garryana Edition is becoming a player in peated American single malt conversations. Their version partially spends its time mellowing in hyperlocal Garryana oak, or Garry oak, imbuing the whiskey the Pacific Northwest’s terroir down to its core.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a real sense of an orchard full of trees with a green leaf earthiness at play next to a slight buttermilk biscuit body and hints of cinnamon and dark chocolate. The taste holds onto the chocolate and spice and then veers into a smoky territory but more like a smoked porter with a real sense of an old brisket smoker with years of fat, pepper, salt, and smoke baked into the walls. The end lingers fairly long, with notes of burning sweet wood wafting the aforementioned smoker smoke over a fatty piece of salted meat.

Bottom Line:

This is smoky in a way that feels more like Texas than Scotland. In fact, this is a great bottle to take over to your next smoke out.

Best American Wheat — 291 Colorado Whiskey E Colorado Whiskey Batch #7

291 Distillery

ABV: 60.5%

Average Price: Sold Out

The Whiskey:

Distillery 291’s Experimental expressions are always tiny limited releases (only one barrel that made 160 bottles this time) just for their fans in Colorado. This batch was a wheated bourbon that was aged for in 291’s own rye barrels. They then added aspen staves into the whiskey as it matured, which is their signature move when aging their juice.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“The aroma hits you with loads of butterscotch, cream soda, and honey. Floral and aromatic notes of baby’s breath, mint, and eucalyptus mingle with apricot and a crisp pilsner beer. Butterscotch first hits your palate, with the apricots and eucalyptus soon following. There is an almost effervescent quality to the mouthfeel as the whiskey seems to dance on the tongue. As the lengthy finish fades, you’re left with lingering apricot preserves on a pastry, toasted oak, and the pilsner that has reemerged. A fascinatingly sweet and light whiskey, even at its substantial 121 proof.”

Bottom Line:

This is another whiskey that’d it’d be nice to try one day. But we all know that that is never going to happen. Cheers to the lucky few Coloradans who did get to try it.


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