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Here Are The ‘Best In Class’ Bourbons From The 2021 World Spirits Competition

There are a lot of bourbons out there. It may not always seem like that, since a few big brands tend to take up so much of the bourbon conversation. But trust us, there’s so much goddamn bourbon being shipped right now that it can be dizzying to think about. Certainly to cover.

Case in point, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition just released their 2021 winners and bourbon whiskeys alone received 96 Double Gold medals (across multiple categories). What does that mean exactly? Well, the SFWSC holds three rounds of judging. The first round is a blind tasting of flights with the 1,297 whisk(e)ys that made it to their tasting tables. Next, the best of those drams are judged again to decide where they fall in the medal categories (bronze, silver, gold, double gold, and the ultra-rare platinum). If a dram receives a unanimous “gold” medal from every judge on the panel, it gets the much-sought after “Double Gold Medal.”

Then, there’s one more round of judging to decide which whiskeys are the Best in Class from all the double gold winners. A sort of “best of the best (of the best)” designation. It’s… a lot.

Below, we’re listing the seven Best in Class bourbons and breaking them down with our tasting notes (if we’ve been lucky enough to taste them) or the distillery’s tasting notes (if we haven’t). Click on the prices if you want to give them a try yourself. We’ve also sifted through all the Double Gold medal winners and listed all 96 Double Gold winning bourbons, in case you’re curious what the world of expert-approved bourbon looks like in 2021.

Best Straight Bourbon — 1792 BOTTLED-IN-BOND

Sazerac Company

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $36

The Whiskey:

Hailing from the legendary Barton 1792 Distillery, 1792 Bottled-in-Bond tends to rake in the awards. The whiskey in the bottle is a high-rye bourbon, though Sazerac and Barton don’t publish their mash bills. The yearly release is a blend of bonded bourbons that are meant to be affordable, sippable, and mixable.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a cinnamon and nutmeg forward apple compote on the nose, with a hint of wet oak and maybe a little bit of mint. The spices marry to a rush a vanilla and caramel apple sweetness and smoothness as the feel of the dram remains very mellow. The end is short-ish and full of that spice and caramel apple, leaving you with a touch of vanilla.

Bottom Line:

This is a perfectly good sipper with a few rocks. But we’d argue, that this really shines as a great cocktail base, thanks to that 50 percent ABV. Give it a shot in your next mint julep, Sazerac, or Horse’s Neck.

Best Special Barrel-Finished Bourbon — BARDSTOWN BOURBON COMPANY CHATEAU DE LAUBADE ARMAGNAC FINISH

Bardstown Bourbon Company

ABV: 59.2%

Average Price: $1,199.99 ($130 MSRP)

The Whiskey:

This one-off limited edition release from Bardstown is another shining example of how a great blender can make sourced whiskey shine. 12-year-old Indiana bourbon (MGP) is vatted and filled into Armagnac casks for a final 18-month maturation before getting bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes (from the blender):

A rich palate of apricot with honey, espresso, and cinnamon. A sublime, balanced finish quickly becomes the star of this transatlantic partnership.

Bottom Line:

We don’t want to jinx it, but Bardstown can pretty much do no wrong. Their collabs and special finishing are among the best of the best and continually wow our team whenever we get our hands on a bottle.

Best Small Batch Bourbon, Up To 5 Years — BARRELL CRAFT SPIRITS PRIVATE RELEASE BA1C

Barrell Craft Spirits

ABV: 57.33%

Average Price: $100

The Whiskey:

Barrell Craft Spirits is another blender that consistently delivers some of the best finished sourced whiskey in the game. Their Private Release program is all about taking things down to the smallest details while they blend barrels from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee — it’s like a long journey writ large in multiple bottles of bourbon. This release is comprised of 45 percent five-year, 25 percent ten-year, 25 percent 14-year, and five percent 16-year bourbons.

Tasting Notes (from the blender):

“It shows a fresh corn-forward sweetness.”

Bottom Line:

We know. “It shows a fresh corn-forward sweetness” is not a lot to go on. Still, we’re talking about a bourbon recipe that’s only going to be made and released once and never seen again. That alone is worth giving a shot. Add in that this rose to the top of the top at San Francisco and you have a whiskey worth tracking down.

Best Small Batch Bourbon, 6 To 10 Years — PARKER’S HERITAGE COLLECTION 10 YEAR OLD HEAVY CHAR BARRELS

Heaven Hill

ABV: 60%

Average Price: $150 ($120 MSRP)

The Whiskey:

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 distiller):

Nose: Balanced and fruit-forward. Taste: Smooth, rich marmalade. Sweet but not cloying. Finish: Very long and warm. Cloves and cinnamon linger.

Bottom Line:

Heaven Hill releases a totally unique Parker’s Heritage every year. Two years ago, they released a high-rye bourbon finished in orange Curaçao barrels that was one of the best drams of 2018. It’s hard to imagine that this expression doesn’t live up to that.

Best Small Batch Bourbon, 11 Years & Older — BLUE RUN 14 YEAR OLD

Blue Run Spirits

ABV: 56.5%

Average Price: Available June 2021

The Whiskey:

This is going to be one of the most sought-after whiskeys of 2021. Legendary distiller Jim Rutledge (former Master Distiller of Four Roses) is behind the sourcing of these barrels and the current distilling of Blue Run.

Tasting Notes (from the blender):

There are no tasting notes for the 14-year expression yet. But this is what the 13-year tasted like and that will at least give you a clue about where this is going.

Nose: Vanilla on a sultry summer evening with the mildest hint of tarragon. Taste: A velvety romance between brown sugar and brown butter. Finish: Long and smooth, with apricot and golden raisins.

Bottom Line:

The 13-year expression of Blue Run sold out in days when it dropped last year. Now with this high praise on top of that, you might have to stand on line to get a bottle of this when it drops. And even then, you might still go home empty-handed.

Best Single Barrel Bourbon, Up To 10 Years — HENRY MCKENNA SINGLE BARREL BOTTLED-IN-BOND 10 YEAR OLD

Heaven Hill

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $60 ($50 MSRP)

The Whiskey:

Back at Heaven Hill, Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled-in-Bond continues its winning streak. The ten-year-old bourbon is a real crowd-pleaser that offers serious depth, which makes it great for both sipping and mixing.

Tasting Notes:

This is classic bourbon from the jump with rich and almost creamy vanilla pudding spiked with eggnog spices next to a salted caramel carnival apple. The palate mellows the sweetness towards cinnamon-spiced honey with hints of soft cedar, apple tobacco, and smooth vanilla. The end is long and really holds onto the honeyed sweetness while touching on the warmth of the eggnog spiciness.

Bottom Line:

You really cannot beat the price of this. It’s a single-barrel bourbon that’s also ten years old and bottled-in-bond. Those are all good things. This really does shine brightest as a cocktail base though. Drop some of this bourbon into your next Manhattan or boulevardier!

Best Single Barrel Bourbon, 11 Years & Older — BLUE RUN 13.5 SINGLE BARREL CASK STRENGTH

Blue Run Spirits

ABV: 65%

Average Price: $170

The Whiskey:

If you didn’t believe us above about what a legend Jim Rutledge is, then his whiskey showing up twice as Best in Class at San Francisco should change that. This 13.5-year-old expression just dropped this month. So, there’s not a whole lot to say right now besides we can’t wait to give it a shot.

Tasting Notes (from the blender):

Again, we’re pulling tasting notes from Blue Run’s 13-year expression to give you a general idea of what to expect from this one.

Nose: Vanilla on a sultry summer evening with the mildest hint of tarragon. Taste: A velvety romance between brown sugar and brown butter. Finish: Long and smooth, with apricot and golden raisins.

Bottom Line:

This is a marrying of barrels pulled together by one of the most lauded and respected whiskey makers, well, ever. Enough said.

All SFWSC Double Gold Bourbon Winners (with ABVs and MSRPs):

Double Gold Straight Bourbons:

  • BARDSTOWN BOURBON COMPANY DISCOVERY SERIES #3, ABV: 55% Price: $125
  • BARDSTOWN BOURBON COMPANY DISCOVERY SERIES #4, ABV: 57.5% Price: $125
  • CLYDE MAY’S SPECIAL RESERVE BOURBON, ABV: 55% Price: $60
  • HEAVEN’S DOOR LTO BOURBON, ABV: 50% Price: $100
  • NINE BANDED WHISKEY WHEATED BOURBON CASK STRENGTH, ABV: 57.5% Price: $45
  • SONOMA BROTHERS DISTILLING STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY, ABV: 44.2% Price: $65
  • MYTHOLOGY DISTILLERY BEST FRIEND BOURBON, ABV: 44% Price: $52
  • STILL AUSTIN THE MUSICIAN STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY, ABV: 49.2% Price: $45
  • JAMES E. PEPPER 1776 STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY, ABV: 50% Price: $35
  • SMOKE WAGON SMALL BATCH STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 50% Price: $50
  • SMOKE WAGON UNCUT UNFILTERED BATCH #42 BOURBON, ABV: 57.44% Price: $68
  • WOODFORD RESERVE BATCH PROOF STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 64.15% Price: $130
  • THREE CHORD TWELVE BAR RESERVE STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 53.5% Price: $75
  • BOWER HILL BARREL STRENGTH VERY SMALL BATCH BOURBON, ABV: 59.4% Price: $100
  • BLUE NOTE PREMIUM SMALL BATCH, ABV: 46.5% Price: $50
  • BULLEIT 10 YEAR OLD KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 45.6% Price: $40
  • BESPOKEN SPIRITS STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY, ABV: 47% Price: $40
  • EVAN WILLIAMS BOTTLED-IN-BOND BOURBON, ABV: 50% Price: $18
  • ELIJAH CRAIG SMALL BATCH, ABV: 47% Price: $32
  • REDEMPTION BARREL PROOF HIGH RYE BOURBON, ABV: 57.2% Price: $100
  • MAKER’S MARK KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKY, ABV: 45% Price: $27
  • MILAM & GREENE TRIPLE CASK BOURBON, ABV: 47% Price: $45
  • YAPPY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKY, ABV: 40% Price: $40
  • EAGLE RARE 17 YEAR OLD KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 50.5% Price: $100
  • COLONEL E.H. TAYLOR, JR. BARREL PROOF KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON. ABV: 65.15% Price: $70
  • GEORGE T. STAGG KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 65.2% Price: $100
  • STAGG JR. KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 65.5% Price: $50
  • W. L. WELLER FULL PROOF KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 57% Price: $50
  • W. L. WELLER KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 67.2% Price: $100
  • MISCELLANEOUS DISTILLERY BRILL’S BATCH STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 44%
  • NINE BANDED WHISKEY WHEATED BOURBON CASK STRENGTH, ABV: 57.5% Price: $45
  • EARLY TIMES BOTTLED-IN-BOND KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 50% Price: $25
  • MARKSMAN KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 40% Price: $25
  • DAVID NICHOLSON 1843 KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY, ABV: 50% Price: $30

Double Gold Special Barrel-Finished Bourbons:

  • JOS. A. MAGNUS & CO. CIGAR BLEND BOURBON, ABV: 61.2% Price: $179
  • CLEVELAND UNDERGROUND BOURBON WHISKEY FINISHED WITH BLACK CHERRY WOOD, ABV: 47% Price: $40
  • BARDSTOWN BOURBON COMPANY PHIFER-PAVITT RESERVE, ABV: 50% Price: $130
  • TX FINISHED IN PX SHERRY CASKS TEXAS STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 50.8% Price: $64
  • TX FINISHED IN TAWNY PORT CASKS TEXAS STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 50.8% Price: $64
  • WHISKEY ACRES BOURBON WHISKEY FINISHED IN MAPLE SYRUP CASKS, ABV: 59.7% Price: $90
  • 28 MILE DEBONAIR BOURBON FINISHED IN COGNAC & SHERRY CASKS, ABV: 46% Price: $35
  • HILLROCK ESTATE DISTILLERY SOLERA AGED BOURBON ‘HOMER CASK’, ABV: 55.7% Price: $130
  • JOS. A. MAGNUS & CO. BOURBON, ABV: 50% Price: $92
  • RESERVOIR HOLLAND’S BLADE RUMMER BOURBON (ARDENT STOUT RUM BARREL), ABV: 53.5% Price: $125
  • GOLD BAR RICKHOUSE CASK STRENGTH STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 51.5% Price: $35
  • GOLD BAR BLACK DOUBLE CASK STRAIGHT BOURBON FINISHED IN WINE CASKS, ABV: 46% Price: $55

Double Gold Small Batch Bourbons, Up to 5 Years:

  • STEINMETZ SIPPING BOURBON, ABV: 60% Price: $70
  • STEINMETZ SIPPING BOURBON, ABV: 60% Price: $70
  • BOLDT STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 50.5% Price: $60
  • COAL CREEK DISTILLERY BOURBON, ABV: 40% Price: $35
  • KO DISTILLING DISTILLER’S RESERVE BOTTLED-IN-BOND STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 50% Price: $70
  • BARRELL BATCH 025, ABV: 56.7% Price: $90
  • BARRELL BATCH 027, ABV: 57.85% Price: $90
  • THREE KEYS KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 50.5% Price: $49
  • WHISKEY ACRES BOTTLED IN BOND BOURBON, ABV: 50% Price: $50
  • SMOKE WAGON STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 46.25% Price: $30
  • YELLOW ROSE OUTLAW BOURBON, ABV: 46% Price: $55
  • EASTERN KILLE DISTILLERY BARREL STRENGTH MICHIGAN STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY, ABV: 63.4% Price: $45
  • SWILLED DOG BARREL STRENGTH STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 58.5% Price: $50
  • NEW RIFF KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY “WINTER WHISKEY” BOTTLED-IN-BOND, ABV: 50% Price: $50

Double Gold Small Batch Bourbons, 6 to 10 Years:

  • GARRISON BROTHERS LAGUNA MADRE, ABV: 50.5% Price: $300
  • COPPERCRAFT STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY, ABV: 48.5% Price: $50
  • BARRELL BATCH 024, ABV: 56.95% Price: $90
  • BARRELL BATCH 026, ABV: 56.32% Price: $90
  • ALL NATIONS 6 YEAR STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 58% Price: $70
  • HORSE SOLDIER BARREL STRENGTH BOURBON, ABV: 61% Price: $79
  • RUSSELL’S RESERVE 10 YEAR OLD BOURBON, ABV: 45% Price: $40
  • 1792 SMALL BATCH KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 46.8% Price: $30

Double Gold Small Batch Bourbon, 11 Years and Older:

  • WILLIAM HEAVEN HILL 8TH EDITION BOURBON, ABV: 50% Price: $180

Double Gold Single Barrel Bourbons, Up to 10 Years:

  • 291 COLORADO BOURBON WHISKEY FINISHED WITH ASPEN WOOD STAVES, BARREL PROOF SINGLE BARREL, ABV: 66.5% Price: $100
  • WOODINVILLE WHISKEY COMPANY PRIVATE SELECT SINGLE BARREL BERN’S STEAK HOUSE BARREL #1953, ABV: 61.6% Price: $70
  • DAVIDSON RESERVE TENNESSEE STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY #14-0326, ABV: 58.29% Price: $50
  • DAVIDSON RESERVE TENNESSEE STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY #15-0120, ABV: 57.58% Price: $50
  • DRIFTLESS GLEN DISTILLERY SINGLE BARREL BOURBON WHISKEY, ABV: 48% Price: $65
  • KING’S FAMILY DISTILLERY TENNESSEE BOURBON, ABV: 57.5% Price: $75
  • DOC WHISKEY CASK STRENGTH SINGLE BARREL BOURBON, ABV: 57% Price: $22
  • BLUE NOTE SINGLE BARREL RESERVE BOURBON, ABV: 61% Price: $60
  • EVAN WILLIAMS SINGLE BARREL 2013, ABV: 43.3% Price: $30
  • COLONEL E.H. TAYLOR, JR. SINGLE BARREL KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 50% Price: $60
  • ELMER T. LEE SINGLE BARREL KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 45% Price: $40
  • JOHN J. BOWMAN SINGLE BARREL VIRGINIA STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 50% Price: $50
  • W. L. WELLER SINGLE BARREL KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, ABV: 48.5% Price: $50
  • FREY RANCH SINGLE BARREL #22 BOURBON, ABV: 63.19% Price: $85
  • FREY RANCH SINGLE BARREL BOURBON #420, ABV: 61.94% Price: $85
  • FILIBUSTER SINGLE ESTATE BOURBON, ABV: 45% Price: $50
  • ROCK TOWN SINGLE BARREL ARKANSAS BOURBON, ABV: 58.01% Price: $65

Double Gold Single Barrel Bourbons, 11 Years and Older:

  • ELIJAH CRAIG SINGLE BARREL 18, ABV: 45% Price: $150
  • LUCKY 7 THE PROPRIETOR BOURBON, ABV: 56.6% Price: $129

As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.

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