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We Tasted Award-Winning Bourbons Blind To Find A Favorite

Scores of awards are handed out to various elite bourbons throughout the year. More and more each year — as new contests appear on the scene. It’s a seemingly endless cycle of medals, trophies, and new bourbon whiskies to keep up with. Meaning it’s a heck of a lot to navigate.

Well, friends, I’m here to help. I taste the vast majority of the awarded bourbons every year both as a tasting leader in the industry and as a judge at competitions. I can help you sort through all the static and find that one bottle of award-winning bourbon to actually put on your home bar cart.

To do that, I’m conducting a blind taste test of 15 award-winning bourbon whiskeys from this year’s spirits award competitions. I’m only going for the top awards though — double gold, double platinum, and best in shows — from a few different contests. If I started including gold, silver, and bronze placers from all the competitions worldwide, we’d be here until the end of 2023.

As for the ranking aspect, I’m going on taste alone. These are all award-winning bourbons. We know they’re well-made, nuanced, deep, etc. I will do my best to stay objective and simply find the best overall taste regardless of whether I know what’s in the glass. This is simply about what tastes good.

Our lineup today is:

  • Pursuit United Bourbon Batch 2
  • Kentucky Owl Wiseman
  • Penelope Private Select Barrel Strength
  • Smooth Ambler Old Scout
  • Nashville Barrel Company Single Barrel
  • Stellum Bourbon
  • George Dickel Bottled In Bond Spring 2007
  • Barrell Bourbon Batch 030
  • Blue Note Juke Joint Uncut
  • Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A122
  • Redemption High Rye Bourbon
  • Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
  • Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel
  • Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion #6
  • Boulder Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon

Let’s dive in!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months

Part 1: The Tasting

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Taste 1

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Christmas cake and almost sour mulled wine mix with a hint of honey and dark chocolate on the nose. The palate leans into the honey with a hint of burnt sugar next to a spicy chocolate tobacco vibe next to a twinge of orange oil and maybe some dry cedar. The orange and chocolate become more apparent on the backend as a soft holiday cake spiciness warms the palate.

This was a nice place to start. It’s complex yet very approachable. It’s pretty lush as well.

Taste 2

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

The nose is a little hard to pick through. I get notes of sweetgrass, toffee, a touch of salt, some circus peanut, and a dash of cumin with some allspice. The palate holds onto the toffee as cornmeal, vanilla beans, and a hint of sweet raspberry sneak in. Wet cedar leads the mid-palate toward a finish full of leathery pouches full of tobacco with a hint of mint and more allspice.

“These are not the droids you’re looking for.” I found this nice. But, it just wasn’t quite what I wanted in a glass of whiskey. That said, I could see using this as a funky/spicy foundation for a spicy cocktail paired with some South Asian food.

Taste 3

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Cornmeal and apple pastries lead to mulled wine spices, brown sugar, and a little note of wet cedar bark on the nose. The taste leans into heavy brandy-soaked cherry vibes as waxy dark chocolate with a sour edge leads to apple fritters, winter spices, buttery crust, and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce. The finish leverages the brandy cherries against old dry wicker with a dark spiced chocolate tobacco chew.

Hell yes. This is damn nice.

Taste 4

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Corn tortillas and taco seasoning pop on the nose with a hint of dark chocolate and maybe some vanilla bean. The palate veers away toward cherry tobacco and dry straw with a more cinnamon-infused chocolate vibe. The end is sweet with a hint of marshmallow next to caramel and more cherry tobacco.

Well, that’s nice but a little all over the place. That taco seasoning (cumin, oregano, chili) isn’t off-putting but does leave you scratching your head for a moment. That said, I bet this is great with a plate of hard-shell tacos.

Taste 5

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

The nose draws you in with still warm and salted kettle corn with a hint of cotton candy in the background while Hostess Cherry Pies mix with salted caramel, old jacket leather, and a hint of orange oil. The taste amps up the warmth with a mix of cinnamon, allspice, anise, and clove next to a lush nutmeg/eggnog creaminess that leads to Almond Joy and more salted caramel with a whisper of dry sweetgrass. The end is old and leathery with sweet cedar, dried fruits, and plenty of wintry spices.

This is a contender. It’s f*cking great.

Taste 6

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Holiday cake spices with nuts and dried fruit draw you in the nose with a hint of honey and tart apple. The palate mixes vanilla cake with dried chili flakes next to blackberry jam with a line of cinnamon and nutmeg throughout. The end is part winter spice and part soft and creamy honey with a light vanilla tobacco buzz on the end.

I dig this. It’s really tasty but kind of middle of the road compared to some of the tastes above.

Taste 7

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

There’s a sweet almost oaty vibe to the nose with a hint of apple fritter with pecans next to old leather gloves and a hint of woody maple. The palate leans into the apple and pecan with a dry chocolate pudding sachet next to cherry Necco Wafers with a hint of health food store vitamin aisle. The cherry turns candied as the finish leans into browned butter, soft apple pie filling, plenty of dark and woody spices, and a hint of sweet oak.

There’s no question this is a Dickel product, thanks to that Necco Wafers vibe. Still, this is pretty goddamn tasty all around.

Taste 8

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Plum jam with plenty of dark spices mingles with candied fruit and citrus next to a hint of nuts and an almost dark rum vibe. The palate shifts towards brambles full of blackberries and blueberries that are tart, sour, sweet, and earthy. The fruit stews toward a pie filling as lines of vanilla cream, sharp cinnamon, smoked chili in dark chocolate, and walnuts arrive. The end gets creamy and full of that chocolate and nuts with a hint of earthiness.

This was a lot. It was all good but I feel like I need a rest after getting through all of that.

Taste 9

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This has a classic bourbon nose. Caramel, vanilla, oak, orchard fruit. The taste leans into the dark and woody spices with a touch of creaminess thanks to nutmeg and vanilla. The finish is part Red Hots and part vanilla tobacco with a twinge of cedar.

This was actually a nice break. It’s so easy drinking yet classic and familiar.

Taste 10

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with a hint of sourdough doughnuts dusted with cinnamon and pecans next to floral honey, caramel, and candle wax with a vanilla feel to it. The taste rolls through soft leather and singed marshmallows toward vanilla cream and cinnamon sticks with a touch of cedar. The end is all about the lush eggnog with dry braids of cedar bark leading to cinnamon-apple tobacco pipe tobacco with a warming old leather pouch wrapped around everything.

This is another classic with a great profile. I don’t know where it’ll land, but it’ll be high on the list.

Taste 11

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Vanilla and orange lead to red and slightly tart berries with a mix of brown spices on the nose. The palate is more about chocolate-dipped cherries with black pepper, clove, root beer, and a hint of lemon zest. The end has an old glove feel with a lemon pepper sharpness that leads chocolate-cherry note on the slow yet warm fade out.

I feel like this is the fifth or sixth pour where I’ve said, “yup, that’s sure nice. We’re deep in this tasting and this is a solid entry.

Taste 12

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

The nose of this feels lush with creamy vanilla, soft Christmas cake, gentle candied fruity, soft nuts, and a whisper of old cedar. The palate brightens the fruit toward a red berry with floral notes leading to soft marzipan and a hint of an old leather boot. The end lets the cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg merge into soft pipe tobacco that’s just touched with vanilla and red berry with a twinge of sourness lurking underneath it all.

Damn, this really is good. This is top tier for sure.

Taste 13

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Dark fruit leather and vanilla wafers mingle with applewood and a good dose of salted caramel on the nose. The taste adds to that with layers of dark cherry tobacco, sharp winter spices, suede, and a hint of cotton candy with cedar bark lingering in between. The end comes around with notes of Blackberry Hostess Pies, soft leather, chewy yet fruity tobacco, and moldy wicker furniture.

Damnit, this is going to be impossible to rank. This is so damn good too.

Taste 14

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Honey and apple break out on the nose with a bit of the apple core, vanilla pod, and caramel. There’s a warm spicy note to the taste that leads to walnuts dipped in maple syrup with a buttery apple pie crust next t some sweetgrass. The end has a woodiness to it that’s part wintry spice and part sweet oak with an underlying cherry tobacco vibe.

This is very good but feels a little more middle of the pack than “OMFG!”

Taste 15

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This is all fruit on the nose with tropical fruits really popping next to a hint of vanilla and caramel. The palate feels like a pineapple-forward and slightly spicy rum drink with a hint of sticky toffee pudding next to a dried apricot. The finish is pretty sweet with a cotton candy vibe next to more sweet fruit and a hint of dark chocolate.

This reminded me of a hazy IPA. That’s fine, I guess.

Part 2: The Ranking

Award Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

15. Boulder Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon — Taste 15

Boulder Bourbon
Boulder Spirits

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

This Colorado bourbon is a bit of an outlier. The juice is made from a mash bill of 51 percent corn, 44 percent malted barley, and only five percent rye. That makes this one almost closer to a grain whiskey from Ireland or Scotland than a standard bourbon. The whiskey ages for four years before blending, proofing, and bottling in the Rocky Mountains.

Bottom Line:

That fruity nose and body just aren’t for me in this one, especially on this panel. Had this been up against other crafty bourbons with little barrel time, it would probably rise to the top. But that’s not why we’re here today.

Awards:

Double Gold 2022 SFWSC

14. Blue Note Juke Joint Uncut — Taste 9

Blue Note
Blue Note

ABV: 62.25%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

This sourced whiskey comes from Kentucky. The juice is a blend of 70 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and nine percent malted barley whiskey that’s aged for up to four years before proofing and bottling.

Bottom Line:

This was good, fine, well-made. It just didn’t grab me as a great sipper. I’d mix a killer cocktail with this in a heartbeat though.

Awards:

Double Platinum 2022 Ascot Awards, Double Gold 2022 SFWSC

13. Smooth Ambler Old Scout — Taste 4

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon
Smooth Ambler

ABV: 49.5%

Average Price: $48

The Whiskey:

Old Scout is MGP’s classic high rye bourbon — 60 percent corn, 36 percent rye, and four percent malt barley — that’s aged for five years. The juice is batched in small quantities and proofed down with West Virginia’s Appalachian water.

Bottom Line:

This was good, albeit it was a little funky. I liked the funk but it didn’t propel the pour to any heights against this lineup.

Awards:

Double Platinum 2022 Ascot Awards

12. Kentucky Owl Wiseman — Taste 2

Kentucky Owl Wiseman
SPI Group

ABV: 45.4%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This new-ish release from Kentucky Owl is meant to be an affordable and accessible Kentucky Owl from the otherwise elite brand. The juice is a blend of contract distilled whiskey from Bardstown Bourbon Company and sourced barrels from around Kentucky that are four to eight years old.

Bottom Line:

This was a little funky, which helped it stand out but didn’t really elevate it amongst the pours in this particular tasting.

Awards:

Double Gold 2022 SFWSC

11. Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion #6 — Taste 14

Bardstown Bourbon Company

ABV: 48.95%

Average Price: $64

The Whiskey:

Bardstown Bourbon Company is one of the best blenders/distillers around. Their Fusion Series #6 release marries 56 percent three-year-old high-ish rye bourbon with 30 percent 11-year-old low-rye bourbon and 14 percent three-year-old low-rye bourbon to create this mix. Both three-year-olds are from Bardstown’s own still with the 11-year-old being sourced juice.

Bottom Line:

I hate to say it, but this felt a little basic today. Not bad, at all. It was just very “this is damn good whiskey, so… who’s next?”

Awards:

Double Gold 2022 SFWSC

10. Redemption High Rye Bourbon — Taste 11

Redemption High Rye Bourbon
Redemption

ABV: 52.5%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

These bottles are the masterwork of chef-turned-master-blender David Carpenter. The juice is hand-selected MGP single barrels that provide a classic bourbon base that then leans a little softer on the palate.

Bottom Line:

I felt like this could have been anywhere between 12 and five on this list. It is quality juice that really depends on my mood where I’d place it. On one hand, I’d really love this over a single rock to let it bloom a little. On another hand, I can see using this for a great Manhattan.

So.. here we are.

Awards:

Double Platinum 2022 Ascot Awards

9. George Dickel Bottled In Bond Spring 2007 — Taste 7

Screen-Shot-2021-08-19-at-4.35.35-PM.jpg
Diageo

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This year’s release is a whiskey that was warehoused in spring 2007. 13 years later, this juice was bottled at 100 proof (as per the law) and sent out to the wide world where it received much adoration.

Bottom Line:

I knew this was Dickel. That said, today it landed a bit like an outlier. It was 100 percent solid but didn’t grab my attention like some of the others on this list.

Awards:

Double Gold 2022 SFWSC

8. Stellum Bourbon — Taste 6

Stellum Bourbon

ABV: 57.49%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

The juice in that bottle is a cask-strength blend of whiskeys from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This whiskey is all about the blending process that Stellum (part of Barrell Spirit Company) employs to make this special and award-winning juice. Basically, the process is a sort of hybrid reverse solera technique where the blend gets more juice to keep the proof high and the blend consistent in flavor as the batch is drained off.

Bottom Line:

This was the perfect “middle of the road” bourbon for this list. It’s refined and tastes great but hits very classic notes and that’s about it.

Awards:

Double Platinum 2022 Ascot Awards

7. Barrell Bourbon Batch 030 — Taste 8

Barrell Bourbon Batch 030
Barrell Craft Spirits

ABV: 57.94%

Average Price: $93

The Whiskey:

2021’s Barrell Batch 030 launched the brand’s awesome blends into a new direction by adding Wyoming bourbon alongside Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee whiskeys. The final mix ended up being a blend of five, six, nine, ten, eleven, and 15-year-old bourbons that were bottled at barrel proof.

Bottom Line:

This is another great outing from Barrell Craft Spirits. This pour was well-rounded and engaging. There was also a lot going on and I was starting to look more for comforting than challenging in this tasting.

Awards:

Double Platinum 2022 Ascot Awards, Double Gold 2022 SFWSC

6. Pursuit United Batch 2 — Taste 1

Pursuit United
Pursuit United

ABV: 54%

Average Price: $65

The Whiskey:

As mentioned above, this is a vatted from 40 total barrels from three different states. While the team at Pursuit United doesn’t release the Tennessee distillery name, we know the juices from Kentucky and New York are from Bardstown Bourbon Company and Finger Lakes Distilling, respectively. This final release of 2021 from Pursuit United put 9,342 bottles on the market in six states (Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, and Kentucky).

Bottom Line:

This was a pretty easy whiskey to rank high on this list. It’s complex yet 100 percent approachable as an everyday sipper.

Awards:

Best Bourbon 2022 John Barleycorn Awards

5. Penelope Barrel Strength — Taste 3

Penelope Bourbon
Penelope Bourbon

ABV: 59.1%

Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This whiskey from Penelope really helps solidify the brand as a powerhouse in blending. The whiskey in the bottle is a blend of three bourbon mash bills (one is 21 percent rye, another 90 percent corn, and a 45 percent wheated bourbon — all from MGP), which create a four-grain (corn, wheat, rye, and barley) bourbon. All of this is to say that this is a masterful blend of four to five-year-old barrels into something bigger than the individual parts.

Bottom Line:

This was pretty damn good today. It stood out. It was complex and delicious. The only reason it’s a little lower is that I could have used a single cube to calm it down and let it bloom a little.

Awards:

Best of Class Small Batch Bourbon Up to 5 Years 2022 SFWSC, Best Blend of Straight Bourbon 2022 Ascot Awards

4. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A122 — Taste 10

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A122
Heaven Hill

ABV: 60.4%

Average Price: $130

The Whiskey:

This year’s first drop is a 12-year-old whiskey made from Heaven Hill’s classic bourbon mash of 78 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and a mere ten percent rye. Those barrels are masterfully blended into this Barrel Proof expression with no cutting or fussing. This is as-is bourbon from the barrel.

Bottom Line:

This felt both classic and bold. Moreover, it was just really good juice from top to bottom.

Awards:

Double Platinum 2022 Ascot Awards

3. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit — Taste 12

Wild Turkey

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $64

The Whiskey:

Jimmy Russell hand selects eight to nine-year-old barrels from his warehouses for their individual taste and quality. Those barrels are then cut down ever-so-slightly to 101 proof and bottled with their barrel number and warehouse location.

Bottom Line:

Buy this bottle. It’s great. Plus, it’s actually fairly available still. That won’t last forever.

Awards:

Double Platinum 2022 Ascot Awards

2. Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel — Taste 13

E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel
Sazerac Company

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $132

The Whiskey:

These whiskeys for E.H. Taylor, Jr. are aged in the famed Warehouse C at Buffalo Trace from their mash bill no. 1. While the exact parameters of that bill are undisclosed, this is the same recipe as Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, and Stagg. In this case, the barrels are picked for their Taylor flavor profile and bottled one at a time with a slight touch of water to bring them down to bottled-in-bond proof.

Bottom Line:

I flipped back and forth on this and the next entry for a while. Both are pretty fantastic all around. I think this feels a tad more classic and that’s it. Otherwise, this is pretty much perfect whiskey.

Awards:

Double Gold 2022 SFWSC

1. Nashville Barrel Company Single Barrel — Taste 5

Nashville Barrel Co. Bourbon
Nashville Barrel Co.

ABV: Varies

Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

Nashville Barrel Co. is doing some of the best work in the bottling game, full stop. They’re sourcing incredible barrels (a lot from MGP) and bottling them as-is without any cutting, filtering, or fussing — they let the whiskey speak for itself and it’s kind of magical. This expression tends to be five to eight-year-old barrels that will vary slightly in the flavor profile while always leaning into bold and distinct flavors.

Bottom Line:

This was both a surprise and kind of not one at all. These single-barrel picks from the team at Nashville Barrel Company are some of the most revered in the industry right now. Why? They always taste great. This was both an instant classic and took me somewhere new.

Awards:

Best in Class Single Barrel Bourbon Up to 10 Years 2022 SFWSC

Part 3: Final Thoughts

Award Winning Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

This was way harder than I thought. While there were bottles that appealed more to my palate than others, a lot of it was great. Honestly, 14 through 6 all could have been a tie.

That said, I stand by the top five on this list. Those bottles all have a great flavor and depth that are worth seeking out. Obviously, some of them will be harder to get than others, but it’s worth hunting a few expressions down to a) have a great bottle on your bar and b) enjoy something really, really good, 3) see what resonates with award voters.

Enjoy!

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