If you’re looking for good bourbon, we have you covered! Last Friday, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition closed out its 2022 awards at a ceremony in San Francisco, where the “best in class” bourbon winners were announced (in part by me!). The bourbon whiskeys awarded the “best in class” for their categories are considered the best of the best.
Bar none. This is the end of the very long SF Spirits Awards medal rollout.
To get this high-level award, the bourbons had to go through three rounds of double-blind tastings with three sets of judges all unanimously agreeing that the pour deserved to move up the ranks towards the finals and compete for “best in class.” That’s a lot of hoops for any spirit to get through. There were 5,000 total spirits entered this year and nearly 1/5 of those were whiskeys. So for a single bourbon to rise to the top, it has to be very distinct and absolutely delicious.
I’m going to be providing my own tasting notes on the “best in class” bourbon winners from each category below. Hopefully, those notes can help you decide whether it’s worth adding any of these bottles to your own bar cart at home. Let’s get into it!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months
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- We Tasted Bourbon Whiskeys ‘Double-Blind’ And Tried To Guess Each Bottle
- All The Double Gold-Winning Straight Bourbons From This Year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Best of Class Straight Bourbon — 1792 Full Proof
Average Price: $100
This bourbon is around eight years old, though there’s no age statement. The juice is bottled as-is at 125 proof without the usual chill-filtration that 1792 goes through.
This is hot on the nose with a supporting act of classic bourbon notes of vanilla, toffee, and booze-soaked oak. The palate delivers on those promises while adding in notes of cinnamon sticks soaked in mulled wine, grilled corn cobs, and dried cherries soaked in brandy and covered in dark chocolate. The mid-palate is just hot, hot, hot as a sense of Irish Spring soap arrives next to sweetgrass, vanilla tobacco, and a pile of firewood on the finish.
This is always a solid pick for any burgeoning bourbon lover. The Barton 1792 juice is part of the famed Sazerac portfolio (which includes things like, you know, Pappy and Weller), making it a refined bottle of whiskey. I personally like this one over a rock or two or mixed into a killer Manhattan, but it works really well neat too.
Best of Class Small Batch Bourbon, Up to 5 Years — Penelope Private Select Bourbon
Average Price: $60
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.
You get a sense of dry cornmeal on the nose next to apple crumble, plenty of wintry spice, a hint of mulled wine, wet brown sugar, and a thin layer of wet-yet-sweet cedar. A hint of brandy-soaked cherries arrives on the palate with a dusting of dark chocolate powder next to more apple pie filling, spice, and buttery crust alongside a sweet, toffee-heavy mid-palate. The end arrives with a dry wicker vibe, cherry tobacco chewiness, and a hint of that dark chocolate.
This is just straight-up good. It’s unique, deep, and yet very accessible and kind of fun. I pour it over a rock to let it bloom in the glass a little.
Best of Class Single Barrel Bourbon, Up to 10 Years — Nashville Barrel Co. Single Barrel Bourbon
Average Price: $90
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.
Depending on which bottle you come across, expect a nose full of cotton candy, buttered popcorn, vanilla beans, freshly baked cherry pie with a lard crust, and plenty of caramel sauce, mild leather, hints of oak, and a dollop of orange oil. The palate will lean into the spice with plenty of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice with maybe a hint of anise and sweetgrass before a mid-palate of Almond Joy and salted caramel candies take over. That sweet mid-point will give way to a finish with nutty dark chocolate clusters with hints of dried fruits, old leather, sweet oak, and plenty of wintry spices.
This is one of the funniest and best whiskeys on the list. It’s just a classic pour all around that delivers more and more depth the more you nose and taste it. But at the same time, it’s also a fun and easy drinking experience that you can just go with. It’s a great balance.
Best of Class Special Barrel-Finished Bourbon — TX Texas Straight Bourbon Finished in Cognac Casks
Average Price: $65
This Texas bourbon is made at Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company with an undisclosed mash bill. What we do know is that this whiskey spends two years maturing under the hot Texas sun before it’s transferred into Cognac casks for a final 17-month rest.
Apricots and floral honey mingle on the nose as a hint of raw oats, soft leather, and plum pudding round things out. The palate leans into the spices from the wintry plum pudding with plenty of lush vanilla and salted caramel sweetness on the mid-palate. The finish ramps up the dark brown spices with a Red Hot vibe as the floral honey returns with a hint of grape seeds and skins on the dry backend.
This was one of the biggest surprises of the night. The Texas whiskey beat out some stiff competition in a very wide (and growing) category. That all said, this is a super easy sipping experience with a nice and fruity vibe that’s as good for beginners as it is for hardcore bourbon stans.
Best of Class Wheated Bourbon — W. L. Weller 12 Year
Average Price: $350
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 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 was a no-brainer. I had a dram or two yesterday of this and, yeah, it’s just freaking great. It’s so easygoing while delivering a big flavor profile. It’s classic through and through.
Best of Class Tennessee Whiskey — Jack Daniel’s 10 Year
Average Price: $400
This new age statement released from Jack Daniel’s feels like a throwback to a bygone era in Tennessee Whiskey. The whiskey is aged for at least ten years. During that time, the barrels spend time in the “Buzzard’s Roost” at the top of the rickhouse. Once they hit the right flavor profile, those barrels are moved to the bottom floors of other warehouses to slow the aging down. Finally, the whiskey is vatted, proofed, and bottled.
This opens with a rich matrix of cherry syrup, apple cores, sticky toffee, vanilla ice cream, and a thin line of wet and sweet wood. The palate opens up towards the dark fruit but dries it out and married it to a sticky and spicy tobacco leaf while toasted cedar soaked in salted caramel vibes with dry corn husks that are just singed. The finish really takes its time as the cherry attaches to an old cinnamon stick and the tobacco takes on a sticky chewiness with a mild savory fruit edge.
This was the other no-brainer of the night. This is a really good pour of whiskey that’s helping re-shape the way people think about Jack Daniel’s. If you can get your hands on a bottle, you will not be disappointed.
Best of Class Small Batch Bourbon, 6 to 10 Years/Best of Class Overall Bourbon — Old Ezra 7 Year
Average Price: $97
This brand from Luxco is still sourced juice though they did start distilling their own in 2018. This bottle is a seven-year-old blend of barrels with a bourbon mash bill of 78 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and ten percent rye, which just so happens to be Heaven Hill’s bourbon mash bill. These barrels are blended down and left as-is at cask strength for bottling.
This is a pretty classic bourbon from nose to finish with a strong sense of rich caramel, pancakes with plenty of vanilla, sweet oak, wet brown sugar, and a whiff of cherry tobacco. The palate leans into the woody brown spices as a dark cherry vibe sweetens the mid-palate. The end circles back to that sweet oak and spicy cherry tobacco on a short finish.
This was another big surprise. “Best of class overall Bourbon” is a huge win for Lux Row. I really dig this, but it’s wild that it beat our Weller and Jack. Moreover, you can actually get this on the average liquor store shelf right now. Though that’s going to change after this award. Consider yourself warned.