The 2022 American Whiskey Masters Award bourbon and rye winners are here. What makes these awards so unique is that they’re tied to a publication based in the U.K., giving us a bit of an outsider’s perspective on American whiskey from a world dominated by Scotch. To add an extra layer to that, I decided to call out the top of the top and provide my own tasting notes for each bottle.
The American Whiskey Masters Awards are part of The Spirits Business (the aforementioned U.K. publication), which is where industry insiders get all their spirits business news pretty much daily. The Spirits Business (SB) runs a vast awards program that covers whisk(e)ys by region — we’ll get to the Scotch whisky winners next. The whole competition is run by SB Editor, Melita Kiely, who assembles a team of industry pros to judge whiskeys from their London base.
So far, this is a pretty straightforward spirits competition. The biggest difference is the award structure. Instead of the standard bronze, silver, gold, double gold, best in show (or some variation of that), it goes silver, gold, master, and taste master (with an emphasis on “master” as the higher award and the “taste master” as the best in class). All of that aside, we’re looking at another spirits competition that has a unique POV worth paying attention to. So let’s just dive in and see which bourbons and ryes they picked.
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Rye Ultra Premium ($52+) — 291 Colorado Whiskey Finished with Aspen Wood Staves, Barrel Proof Single Barrel
Average Price: $108
291 uses a quick aging process. For this single barrel expression of rye whiskey, they added Aspen wood staves into the barrels to accelerate the aging process while adding depth to the spirit. Once those barrels hit just the right flavor profile, they were bottled as a single barrel expression with no fussing, filtering, or cutting.
The whiskey opens with a bold sense of wet pine with a pitchy vibe next to maple syrup over sourdough pancakes with a hint of sour apple and toffee in the background. The palate has a grassy nature that’s supported by an echo of vanilla, more resin, and woody/warm winter spices with a hint of cherry lurking somewhere in there. The end leans into sharp and warm spices with a focus on Red Hots and maybe even some nasturtium with a wet oak sweetness and a twinge of bitter espresso bean.
This is a pretty solid (albeit fleeting) whiskey. I tend to pour this over a rock to calm it down a little and let this nice creamy honey vibe loose.
Rye Aged up to 7 years — Russell’s Reserve Rye 6 Years Old
Average Price: $51
Russell’s Reserve is where we really dive into the “good stuff.” This expression is a collaboration between Jimmy and Eddie Russell, who search through the center cut of barrels in their rickhouses for the exact right minimum-six-year-old ryes to create this expression. The end results are a window into the Russells’ shared palate for whiskey.
This is subtle rye with hints of crusty rye bread soaked in apple honey paired with a hint of vanilla. The rye spiciness isn’t overdone, allowing more of a sweet Christmas cake full of dried fruit, nuts, and spicy rum to shine through than, say, black pepper. The oakiness shines late as the spice, sweetness, and vanilla fade away, leaving you with a sense of sour cherry tobacco, mulled wine spices, and lush vanilla cream with an echo of old wicker.
This is a great everyday pour. That said, this really feels more like a great cocktail base than a sipper.
Rye Single Barrel — Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye
Average Price: $71
This hand-selected single barrel expression hits on some pretty big classic rye notes (“classic” is becoming a theme here, as anticipated). The juice is selected from the center cuts of the third through fifth floors of the Wild Turkey rickhouses. There’s no chill filtering and the expression is only slightly touched by water for proofing.
White peppery spice greets you with a sense of an old barrel, worn leather, and soft vanilla, with a light touch of sweetness from orchard fruit. The mouthfeel is svelte with fresh tobacco leaves accenting that hot chili pepper and cinnamon with a minor note of lush vanilla and toffee mellowing everything out. There’s a musty barrel edge that leads towards a cedar box full of cigars, vanilla beans, and toffee on the long fade.
The ABVs are low enough to drink this neat all day long, but it does benefit from a drop or two of water (or a rock) to get the creamier flavors. Either way, this is a great sipper to have around.
Bourbon No Age Statement — WL Weller C.Y.P.B. (Craft Your Perfect Bourbon)
Average Price: $899
This is the most interesting expression from Weller. A few years back, Buffalo Trace asked hardcore Weller fans to “Craft Your Perfect Bourbon.” C.Y.P.B. was born according to those fans choosing their favorite bourbon recipe, proof, warehouse location, and age. A consensus shook out that pinned the ideal whiskey to a wheated bourbon aged on the highest warehouse floors for eight years that’s then bottled at 95 proof. Today, that manifests yearly as a very limited release that’s part fan service and part special limited edition bourbon for all of us to enjoy.
The nose opens with dried orange peels that have been loaded into an old cedar box and left in the back of a cupboard for years. Then this creaminess arrives that’s kind of like the halfway point between a vanilla flan with caramel sauce and spicy sasparilla on the nose. As the taste rolls towards the back of your mouth and settles in, you get this warming sense of eggnog spice next to soft tobacco leaves and dark chocolate-covered marzipan. The end marries that soft tobacco with spiced orange dark chocolate with a hint of espresso and vanilla.
This is a brilliant pour of whiskey. It does need a little water to help it bloom, but that’s about all it needs.
Bourbon Ultra Premium ($52+) — Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $94
This year’s Remus Repeal Reserve V is a hell of a whiskey. The MGP of Indiana signature bourbon is comprised of 9% 2005 bourbon with a 21% high-rye mash, 5% 2006 bourbon with a very high-rye mash of 36% of the sticky grain, 19% 2006 bourbon with the same 21% high-rye mash, 13% 2008 bourbon with that 21% rye mash, and 54% 2008 bourbon with the 36% high-rye mash.
The nose on this is brilliantly fruity with touches of fresh raspberries, strawberries resting in dry straw, candied cherries, freshly peeled tangerines, apple cores and stems, and a touch of caramel malts. That caramel sweetness merges into a fresh honeycomb next to Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda vanilla and pep while the fruit dries out, leaving you with meaty dried figs, dates, and prunes driving the midpalate toward the finish. A touch of candied ginger spices things up as a fruity but dry tobacco leaf rounds out the end with the faintest touch of walnut shells.
This is another killer whiskey. If you can find it, buy two.
Bourbon Aged over 8 years — WL Weller 12 Year Old (Taste Master)
Average Price: $298
This expression of Weller rests in the warehouse for 12 long years. A fair amount of juice is lost to the angels during that stretch. In the end, the whiskey is vatted from the barrels that survived and then proofed down to a soft 90 proof.
There’s a deep, creamy sweet corn note on the nose that gives way to old wool sweaters and vanilla pancakes rolled around in soft marzipan. The palate has a warm biscuit vibe with hints of buttery toffee syrup and old cutting boards that still smell of dark spices and dried fruit. The end takes its time and touches back on the cakey vanilla, buttery syrups, soft marzipan, and old, fruit-stained wood as it gently fades away.
This won “Taste Master” which is the best-in-show American whiskey for this category of awards. And that feels right. This is a wonderful whiskey that lives up to the hype (but maybe not the aftermarket price).
In case you’re looking for more great whiskeys, I’ve listed all the Gold Medal winners from each American whiskey bourbon and rye categories below.
Bourbon Premium (0 to $30) — Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
Bourbon Premium (0 to $30) — Four Roses Straight Bourbon
Bourbon Super Premium ($31‐$51) — High West American Prairie Bourbon
Bourbon Super Premium ($31‐$51) — Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
Bourbon Super Premium ($31‐$51) — Four Roses Small Batch Select Bourbon
Bourbon Super Premium ($31‐$51) — Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Barrels
Bourbon Ultra Premium ($52+) — Eagle Rare 17 Year Old
Bourbon Ultra Premium ($52+) — Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon
Bourbon No Age Statement — Stagg Jr.
Bourbon No Age Statement — WL Weller Antique
Bourbon No Age Statement — Elmer T Lee Single Barrel
Bourbon No Age Statement — Colonel EH Taylor Jr Small Batch
Bourbon No Age Statement — WL Weller Single Barrel
Bourbon No Age Statement — WL Weller Full Proof
Bourbon No Age Statement — Colonel EH Taylor Jr Single Barrel
Bourbon No Age Statement — Early Times Bottled in Bond
Bourbon No Age Statement — 291 Colorado Bourbon Whiskey Finished with Aspen Wood Staves, Small Batch
Bourbon Aged up to 7 years — George Remus Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Bourbon Aged up to 7 years — Bently Heritage Estate Distillery Bourbon Whiskey
Bourbon Aged up to 7 years — Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
Bourbon Aged over 8 years — Eagle Rare 10 Years Old
Bourbon Aged over 8 years — Russell’s Reserve Rye 10 Years Old
Bourbon Single Barrel — Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
Bourbon Single Barrel — Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon
Bourbon Single Barrel — Russell’s Reserve Rye 13 Year Old
Bourbon Cask Strength — A Smith Bowman Cask Strength
Tennessee Super Premium ($31‐$51) — Uncle Nearest 1884 Premium Small Batch Whiskey
Tennessee Super Premium ($31‐$51) — Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey
Tennessee Super Premium ($31‐$51) — Daddy Rack
Tennessee Ultra Premium ($52+) — Uncle Nearest Master Blend Edition Batch No.001
Rye Super Premium ($31‐$51) — High West Double Rye
Rye Super Premium ($31‐$51) — Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye
Rye Ultra Premium ($52+) — High West Rendezvous Rye
Rye Aged up to 7 years — Wild Turkey 101 Rye
Rye Aged up to 7 years — Rossville Union Master Crafted Straight Rye Whiskey
Rye Aged up to 7 years — Rossville Union Master Crafted Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Strength
Rye Aged up to 7 years — Bently Heritage Estate Distillery Rye Whiskey
Rye No Age Statement — Yellow Rose Rye
Rye No Age Statement — Whistlepig Piggyback Rye
Rye No Age Statement — Colonel EH Taylor Jr Straight Rye