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Breaking Down The Award-Winning American Whiskeys From American Whiskey Masters 2020

We’re deep into whiskey awards season. That means we’re also getting into more niche awards where small groups of experts gather to taste and award spirits their medals of honor. In this case, an industry publication, The Spirits Business, has gathered two expert judges to declare The American Whiskey Masters of 2020. Thie year they called out the best bourbons, ryes, and Tennessee whiskeys.

This year’s experts were The Whiskey Exchange ambassador Billy Abbot, who’s also one of the world’s leading voices in all things whisk(e)y. The second expert judge was The Spirit Business‘ editor and chair of their awards committee Melita Kiely. For us, this is what makes this particular list interesting. These are whiskeys that are judged by two people who live and breathe whiskey every single day of their lives. Their palates are dialed in and they know their whiskey.

The seven bottles below are the American whiskeys Abbot and Kiely agreed upon as the Masters of all the whiskeys they tasted from America (they also awarded gold and silver medals). Unsurprisingly, Buffalo Trace’s options dominated the high echelons of the awards. We also linked to some delivery options for these expressions. But, be warned, prices for several of these bottles are on a rapid rise and availability is not always nationwide.

Super Premium Bourbon: Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Master)

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Eagle Rare 10 is the Eagle Rare that you should still be able to find and enjoy for a fairly fair price. This expression is sourced from hand-selected barrels that are no less than ten years old. The resulting bottle is highly sought after for being a classic and refined expression of bourbon.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a deep sense of worn leather next to burnt orange peels, honey sweetness, charred oak barrels, and a rich toffee creaminess. Marzipan covered in dark chocolate ebbs as a slight herbal note lurks in the background. The sip lasts on the senses as a warmth edges in along with the leather, oak, and orange.

Bottom Line:

This is a great “impress my guests” bourbon to have on hand. It’s stellar with a little water or in Manhattan.

No Age Statement Bourbon: Legent Bourbon (Master)

Legent

ABV: 47%
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

This specialty bourbon marries Kentucky bourbon distilling, California wine country, and Japanese blending in a single bottle. The juice is made under the watchful eye of Jim Beam legend Fred Noe and partially aged in new American oak and red wine and sherry barrels. The juice is then blended by Japanese whisky blending legend Shinji Fukuyo of Suntory.

Tasting Notes:

The whiskey opens with a clear sense of vinous notes next to dried fruits and a mild creaminess. There’s a crème brûlée feel to the sip with a fresh vanilla pod foundation and light caramel. In the end, it’s the plummy fruit that really shines as the sip warms you up.

Bottom Line:

Check out our full review with a Black Manhattan cocktail recipe here.

No Age Statement Bourbon: Weller CYPB Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Master)

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 47.5%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $500

The Whiskey:

This is a fascinating expression brought about by Buffalo Trace asking the general public to “Craft Your Perfect Bourbon.” C.Y.P.B. was born out of the consensus of what bourbon lovers look for in their dram. In this case, that was a wheated bourbon that was aged around eight years on the highest floors of the rickhouse.

Tasting Notes (from Buffalo Trace):

“A light aroma with citrus and oak on the nose. The palate is well rounded and balanced, with a medium-long finish and hints of vanilla.”

Bottom Line:

This is a very limited release and a very lauded bottle of booze. It’s what I would deem as a bottle you should try at a tasting only. If you dig it, you do you.

Super Premium Tennessee Whiskey: Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey (Master)

Uncle Nearest

ABV: 50%
Distillery: Nearest Green Distillery, Shelbyville, TN (Sourced)
Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

Uncle Nearest is trailblazing the re-introduction of Tennessee whiskey as the powerhouse that it can be. The brand is also part of a re-awakening of the great influence Uncle Nathan “Nearest” Green had on American whiskey-making as the master distiller for Jack Daniel’s first distillery. That makes this an important whiskey while also being a damn tasty one too.

Tasting Notes:

Peaches baked in maple syrup meet a sense of freshly baled straw and a hint of county fair kettle corn up top. Those peaches dry out as the maple carries on with a hint of wildflowers and a whisper of cinnamon and nutmeg. There’s a mealy, vanilla-y depth on the warm end that lingers just the right amount of time.

Bottom Line:

This is a solid mixer that I like in a highball with nice, minerally water or as the base of a cracking cocktail.

Ultra Premium Rye: Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye Whiskey (Master)

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 50%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

This expression from one of the Buffalo Trace’s high-end lines is a standout. The mash bill is mostly rye with a small dose of malted barley and no corn whatsoever, making this a real spotlight for the rye on the palate.

Tasting Notes (from Buffalo Trace):

“The result is an aroma full of dried fruit, black pepper, and a touch of fresh dill. A small sip brings an array of flavors both sweet and savory with a terrific balance of dark spices and subtle caramel overtones. The finish is especially pleasing with an oaky dryness that lingers just long enough.”

Bottom Line:

This one is already topping out price-wise for casual consumers, so you might want to get your hands on some now … if you can find it that is.

Ultra Premium Bourbon: Stagg Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Master)

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 63.2%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $75

The Whiskey:

This expression has been cleaning up awards this year. This bourbon is touted as being uncut, unfiltered, and aged for just shy of a decade. That un-fussing with accounts for high ABV, which adds to the love for this bottle.

Tasting Notes (from our own Chris Osburn):

“Right off the bat, there’s a sweet, caramelized brown sugar flavor that slowly walks its way into rich, well-aged leather. That’s just the beginning of the Stagg, Jr. flavor rollercoaster. Just when you think you’ve reached the depths of its flavor; you’re met with rich cocoa sweetness followed by subtle Christmas spices before finally ending in a crescendo of creamy maple candy and toasted oak.”

Bottom Line:

I love this whiskey as much as the next person and am a little saddened it’s about to become almost unattainable for so many. This is an excellent cocktail base or a solid sipper with a little water or a single rock to really open up those flavor notes.

Ultra Premium Bourbon: Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Master & Taste Master)

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 50%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This whiskey is all about how well-aged barrels can be blended into an ultra-refined final product. That refinement made this expression both a Master and this year’s Taste Master for 2020. This is also where you start on your Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. journey to get a baseline on the brand before you try the other, checks notes, ten expressions under the Colonel’s name.

Tasting Notes:

This sip starts off a classic with notes of bourbon vanilla and then immediately veers into different territory with a flourish of black licorice. That licorice runs through the palate as a sense of county fair kettle corn dripping with caramel is counterpointed by an ever-so-mild spice. That spice builds towards a peppery finish as the caramel edges towards vanilla laden butterscotch and a final wisp of fresh tobacco smoke.

Bottom Line:

This is advertised as a sipping whiskey and it certainly is great for that (especially with a little water to open it up). But I love using this one in a Sazerac or Boulevardier. That licorice and tobacco work well in bold cocktails.

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