An Exclusive Look At The Best Bourbons From This Year’s New York World Spirits Competition

There’s a ton of great bourbon on the shelf. But let’s not fool ourselves, there’s also a lot of very mid to not great bourbon on those same shelves. While you can spend thousands figuring it all out on your own with hit-and-miss purchases, doing a little research is the way to go to avoid all those mid and shit bourbons. That’s where spirits competition results come in very handy.

The New York World Spirits Competition just released their list of winners and there are some seriously amazing bourbons this go ’round. Below, I’m going to call out the best of the best. I’m not listing every gold or double gold winner this time. Instead, I’m listing the double gold bourbons that were ranked so highly that they went to the finals to jostle for “best overall bourbon” and “best overall whiskey.”

These are the USDA prime cuts. The cream of the crop. The picks of the litter. You get it.

As a head judge at this year’s competition, let me lay out why these are the best of the best. To get a “double gold” medal, the pour had to unanimously and anonymously receive a “gold medal” from every judge on the panel. Once the “double gold” medal was confirmed, the panel then decided whether or not to send the bourbon pour to “sweeps” which is just the finals. When they do this, they assign the pour a ranking from 94 to 99 points. The higher the points, the better chance the pour has of winning the whole show.

Now, before the pours go into the finals (sweeps), they’re tasted again by yet another double-blind panel. This is an extra layer of due diligence to ensure the best of the best pours (and the highest rated by points) are actually going to the big show to compete. From there, all the “double-gold” winning bourbon pours that were sent are whittled down to the core greats by category, and then those go to the big show at the end.

Finally, the whole judging crew goes through and tastes them again (still double-blind) to choose the best bourbon from each category, then the best bourbon overall, and then taste that bourbon against all the other best whiskeys from each category to find the “best in show” whiskey. If that’s not enough double-blind adjudicating to find a good-tasting bourbon, I don’t what is.

Spoiler alert, a bourbon didn’t win best overall whiskey this year. But there were still plenty of bourbons that made it to the big finale, and that’s what I’m breaking down below (with my own tasting notes since I tasted all of these three or four times). Let’s dive in!

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

Double Gold Medal Tennessee Whiskey — Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey 1856

Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey 1856
Uncle Nearest

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $59

The Whiskey:

This Tennessee whiskey blend was how we were introduced to Uncle Nearest five years ago. The expression remains the core bottle of the line with subtly blended Tennessee whiskey that’s at least five years old and cut with a touch of water before bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: The nose opens with a medley of winter spices, soft molasses, pecan waffles, and plenty of maple syrup just kissed with salted butter and vanilla extract.

Palate: The spices notch up on the palate with a clear clove, cinnamon, and cardamom vibe next to burnt orange syrup over sourdough cinnamon rolls, a hint of pecan pie, and rum raisin.

Finish: The end thins out toward orange-chocolate tobacco with a hint of musty oak and woody spice barks.

Bottom Line:

This is a good whiskey for fans of nutty and dark pours. It works really well as a cocktail base for whiskey-forward cocktails — think Manhattans with a wintry punch.

Best Tennessee Whiskey — Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey Master Blend Edition Batch 025

Uncle Nearest Masters Select
Uncle Nearest

ABV: 60%

Average Price: $149

The Whiskey:

While Uncle Nearest is distilling their own juice these days, this is still the work of Master Blender Victoria Eady Butler with carefully sourced Tennessee whiskey barrels. In this case, Eady Bulter hand-selected the best-of-the-best from their inventory to create the perfect whiskey to exemplify the brand and Tennessee whiskey traditions.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: The nose leans into sticky toffee pudding with a sense of black licorice that’s almost absinth adjacent as soft caramel and winter spice round things out.

Palate: Gingerbread cookies and stewed pears mingle with sharp chili spice, red peppercorns, and a hint more of that dark licorice on the palate with this mild sense of creamy vanilla oils and maybe some maple syrup fresh from the tap.

Finish: The pepperiness really drives the finish toward a creamy vanilla cake end with a nice balance of woody winter spices and a hint of soft leather.

Bottom Line:

These special batches are always stellar. This is Uncle Nearest’s sipping whiskey. I’d pour it over a big ol’ rock and let it carry me away.

Double Gold Medal Straight Bourbon — Weller The Original Wheated Bourbon Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Sazerac Company

ABV: 57%

Average Price: $399

The Whiskey:

This expression is a marriage of some serious barrels of unknown age. That vatted whiskey goes into the bottle at “full proof” which is not “barrel proof.” The “full proof” this refers to is the proof of the hot juice when it goes into the barrel for aging. That whiskey will come out of the barrel somewhere around 57% but not right at it. So there may be a little proofing water involved. Hence, it is always 114 proof and not 114.7 one year and 113.1 the next year or 115.9 the year after that.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: Ripe and sour cherries lead the way with a thick vanilla underbelly, a hint of salted caramel, and woody cinnamon next to whole nutmeg bulbs on the nose with this slight echo of almost singed cherry bark.

Palate: The palate leans into the sharpness of the cinnamon and the lushness of the vanilla as a foundation as layers of buttery caramel cake frosting with a hint of sassafras and licorice next to dry cedar bark braids with a thin line of sweet grass and a whisper of sourdough fritters.

Finish: The end leans into creamy brandy butter cut with dark-chocolate-covered dried sour cherries sprinkled with salt and rolled in fresh tobacco leaves and stacked next to orange-laced marzipan in an old and slightly sweet cedar box.

Bottom Line:

This is a delicious wheated bourbon. I like to use this for very simple whiskey-forward cocktails or on the rocks slow sipping pours.

Double Gold Medal Straight Bourbon — George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (BTAC 2022)

George T. Stagg Bourbon
Sazerac Company

ABV: 69.35%

Average Price: $1,299

The Whiskey:

2022’s George T. Stagg is hewn from whiskey distilled all the way back in 2007 with Kentucky corn, Minnesota rye, and North Dakota barley. The juice was filled into new white oak from Independent Stave from Missouri with a #4 char level (55 seconds). Those barrels were then stored in the famed Warehouse K on the first and fifth floors over 15 years, wherein 75% of the liquid was lost to the angels. Finally, the barrels were batched and bottled as-is.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: This whiskey is hot. Your nose is met with buttery pecan waffles loaded with dark salted chocolate chips and dripping with maple syrup that feels expensive next to darkly roasted espresso beans, singed vanilla husks, and dried sour cherries next to a medley of holiday spices.

Palate: The palate leans into those spices with a clear sense of sharp cinnamon, old clove buds, allspice berries, and whole nutmeg bulbs next to a hint of star anise and maybe some cardamom before that darkly roasted coffee jumps back in with a deeply stewed cherry in a dark treacle syrup before the ABVs buzz hard on the mid-palate.

Finish: The end amps up the woodiness with the spices and adds a sense of old cedar bark, dark chocolate nibs, and a cherry tobacco buzziness.

Bottom Line:

This Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) release from late last year is a delicious whiskey. I’m not going to pretend this isn’t hot whiskey though. You’ll definitely want to pour this over a big rock to calm it down a bit before slowly sipping the night away.

Best Straight Bourbon — Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Barrel Proof Batch #22A

Stagg Bourbon
Sazerac Company

ABV: 66.1%

Average Price: $399

The Whiskey:

Stagg is Buffalo Trace’s Mash Bill no. 1 (a low-rye mash) turned all the way up to MAX volume. The whiskey spends about a decade resting in the old Buffalo Trace warehouses before it’s batched and bottled (in this case in Spring 2023) 100% as-is.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: This is rich on the nose with deep senses of dark chocolate brownies just kissed with stewed black cherry and old vanilla pods before a soft sense of red chili tobacco and wet brown sugar tobacco lead to a whisper of smoldering fall leaves.

Palate: That dark chocolate and chili-laced tobacco drives the taste toward a Christmas cake brimming with candied cherry, orange rind, rum raisin, clove, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and creamy vanilla icing with a dash of salt, marzipan, and brandy-soaked apple and pear orchards.

Finish: The rich and boozy holiday cake fades on the finish as deep earthiness — think firewood bark and smudging sage — drives the end toward a big Kentucky hug of warmth that’s just right.

Bottom Line:

This year’s Stagg release was one of the best in years. The balance of heat and profile is damn near perfect. That said, I’d pour this over ice to calm it down a bit and allow it time to bloom in the glass.

Double Gold Medal Small Batch Bourbon Up to 10 Years — Rabbit Hole Dareringer Founder’s Collection Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in PX Sherry Casks Limited Edition

Rabbit Hole Dareringer Founder's Edition
Rabbit Hole

ABV: 51.9%

Average Price: $312

The Whiskey:

This new Founder’s Collection release from Rabbit Hole is a doozy. The whiskey in the bottle is made from wheated bourbon that was aged in well-charred Pedro Ximenez sherry casks from Spain’s renowned Casknolia Cooperage. Just 15 barrels were selected for this tiny small batch offering and bottled 100% as-is.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: Thick vanilla custard and walnut cake drive the nose toward musty sherry oak still in the cellar next to dark raw sugar syrup over a spiced fruit cake.

Palate: The dark winter spices from the nut cakes drive the palate toward large stretches of cinnamon bark, old oak staves, and dark cherry with a hint of Meyer lemon and tart currants.

Finish: Mulled wine and salted toffee round out the finish with a return to the walnut cake and plenty of sherry-soaked old oak.

Bottom Line:

This is another whiskey that’s just delicious. It’s pricy but worth the price if you’re looking for a great holiday special sipper.

Double Gold Medal Small Batch Bourbon Up to 10 Years — Blue Run Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Trifecta Blend

Blue Run Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Trifecta Blend
Blue Run

ABV: 58.55%

Average Price: $179

The Whiskey:

The latest release from craft bottler Blue Run is a blend of three ages of barrels that all lean into “wood heat”. In this case, the 189 barrels were six-, eight-, and nine-year-old barrels of wood-forward bourbon that were batched and bottled as-is at barrel strength.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: Vanilla-dosed milky lattes with a touch of cinnamon stick drive the nose toward a hit of dried chili, old clove, and brown butter with a light sense of apple cider and figs.

Palate: The apple and cinnamon take on a mulled cider vibe on the palate with macadamia nut cookies, sourdough bread crusts, and soft caramel candies cut with mint syrup.

Finish: The soft and espresso-laden vanilla returns on the finish with a creaminess that helps the finish stay silky as a whisper of smoldering orchard barks and winter spice barks sneak in with a nice warmth.

Bottom Line:

This is another nice and complex sipper from Blue Run. Try it neat, add some water to let it bloom, and then try it in your favorite cocktails.

Best Small Batch Bourbon Up to 10 Years — K.LUKE Small Batch Barrel Strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey

K.LUKE Small Batch Barrel Strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey
K.Luke Bourbon

ABV: 59.55%

Average Price: $109

The Whiskey:

This new-ish small-batch whiskey is a blend of Indiana and Kentucky bourbon with a very high rye mash bill, 36%. The batch is blind-tasted over and over again before the final mix is decided on. Finally, the barrels are batched and bottled as-is without any filtration or proofing at Bardstown Bourbon Company in Kentucky.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: The nose opens with a clear sense of brandy-soaked fruit cake that’s full of Christmas spices, a hint of real vanilla, and nice nuttiness.

Palate: The palate has a rum raisin vibe that leads into mincemeat pies, soft vanilla and almond cookies, and a fleeting sense of mulled wine tied to old tobacco leaves with a hint of cellar earthiness.

Finish: The end takes that vanilla and almond and layers it into some fresh tobacco and folds it in with boot leather and fall leaves before veering toward creamy winter spice cakes.

Bottom Line:

This is just nice sipping whiskey.

Double Gold Medal Single Barrel Bourbon Up to 10 Years — E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bottled In Bond

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

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $299

The Whiskey:

This whiskey is aged in the famed Warehouse C at Buffalo Trace Distillery from their Mash Bill No. 1 (which is their low-rye bourbon mash). In this case, single barrels are picked for their perfect Taylor flavor profile and bottled one at a time with a slight touch of water to bring them down to bottled-in-bond proof.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: Dried dark fruits and a hint of vanilla wafers mingle with fig fruit leather, a touch of orchard wood, and a deep caramel on the nose.

Palate: The palate holds onto those notes while layering in dark berry tobacco with sharp winter spices, new leather, and a singed cotton candy next to a cedar box filled with that tobacco.

Finish: The finish lingers on your senses for a while and leaves the spice behind for that dark, almost savory fruit note with an echo of blackberry Hostess pies next to soft leather pouches that have held chewy tobacco for decades and a final hint of old porch wicker in the middle of summer.

Bottom Line:

This is still one of my favorite Buffalo Trace releases. It’s f*cking delicious bourbon.

Double Gold Medal Single Barrel Bourbon Up to 10 Years — Shortbarrel Single Barrel Series Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Shortbarrel Single Barrel Series Bourbon

ABV: 62.8%

Average Price: $74

The Whiskey:

These Shortbarrel Single Barrel releases are all over four years old and sourced either from Green River Distilling in Kentucky or MGP in Indiana.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: There’s a clear sense of fresh orange zest and dark cherry on the nose with a hint of winter spice, old dried prunes, and a hint of black tea.

Palate: The winter spice leads to creamy vanilla and eggnog on the taste as a peach cobbler with fresh vanilla whipped cream leads to warming tobacco spices and hints of old oak.

Finish: Marmalade and leathery dried apricot counter the vanilla creaminess with a light sense of winter spice barks rolled up with soft pipe tobacco leaves and dipped in black cherry soda.

Bottom Line:

These releases tend to be pretty solid bourbons. Look for them at local liquor stores.

Best Single Barrel Bourbon Up to 10 Years — New England Barrel Company Single Barrel Select 5 Year Bourbon (Barrel #17-35)

New England Barrel Company Single Barrel
New England Barrel Company

ABV: 61.9%

Average Price: $59

The Whiskey:

These single barrel selections come from Green River Distilling down in Owensboro, Kentucky. Great barrels are selected by the New England Barrel Company team and bottled 100% as-is.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: Soft dried red fruits, old spice barks, and lush vanilla lead on the nose with a sense of wet brown sugar and spiked cider with a fleeting sense of old oak and fall leaves.

Palate: The fruitiness gets leathery on the palate as the vanilla leads to eggnog spice and creaminess with a light sense of minced meat pies, winter spice cakes, and almond paste dipped in pear brandy with a touch of cherry lurking underneath.

Finish: That dark cherry attaches to the tobacco and spice barks on the finish as warmth builds towards a long Kentucky hug.

Bottom Line:

This is classic and very warm Kentucky bourbon. I’d recommend pouring it over a rock for slow sipping.

Double Gold Medal Special Barrel-Finished Bourbon — Fox & Oden Double Oaked Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Fox & Oden
Fox and Oden

ABV: 49.5%

Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

This sourced whiskey (from MGP of Indiana) is all about finding the best barrels and batching them to create something more. The whiskey in this small batch bourbon is rendered from MGP’s 21% and 36% rye bourbon mash bills. The barrels are between eight and 15 years old. Once vatted, the whiskey is just touched with water before bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: A rich buttery note comes through on the nose with a hint of salted corn next to savory figs with a hint of honey and freshly ground nutmeg mixed with some vanilla cream.

Palate: The palate turns that butteriness into salted caramel with a hint of sticky toffee pudding with plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg next to a thin line of charred oak underneath it all.

Finish: The end dries out with a sense of old leather wrapped around an old and dry tobacco leaf with a twinge of raisin.

Bottom Line:

This is another great slow sipper. It’s great neat but really opens up with a drop or two of water or a single ice cube.

Double Gold Medal Special Barrel-Finished Bourbon — Art of the Spirits Ruby Port Finish Cask Strength “Final Run” Straight Bourbon

Art of the Spirits Ruby Port Finish Cask Strength "Final Run" Straight Bourbon
Art of the Spirits

ABV: 56%

Average Price: $120

The Whiskey:

This bourbon from a bottler out in Colorado is a classic seven-year-old bourbon finished in ruby port casks. The mash is a high-rye (75/21/5 corn/rye/malted barley) that’s left to rest for seven years before batching and re-barrelling in port casks in Colorado for a final rest.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: Brandy-soaked raisins open the nose toward vanilla pods, real maple syrup, and roasted almonds and walnuts rolled in dark chocolate and dusted with cinnamon and clove.

Palate: There’s a deep woody cinnamon vibe on the nose that gives way to more maple syrup and fresh vanilla before a deep and dark plumminess arrives with a hint of smoldering barrel smoke attached to singed marshmallows.

Finish: The oakiness gets sweeter on the finish as the winter spice barks amp up with a hint of apple cider and marmalade before diving into dark plum jam cut with clove and allspice and layered over cedar-infused tobacco leaves.

Bottom Line:

This is a very good pour. Take it slow and it’ll reward you with ever deeper flavor notes.

Best Special Barrel-Finished Bourbon & Best Bourbon of 2023 — 15 STARS Fine Aged Spirits Sherry Cask Finish A Select Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys Finished in Sherry Casks

15 STARS Sherry Cask Bourbon

ABV: 57.5%

Average Price: $179 (Coming Soon)

The Whiskey:

This brand-new release from 15 STARS (arriving on shelves on September 26th, 2023) is made from a blend of 10 and 13-year-old Kentucky and Indiana bourbons. Those barrels were batched by the 15 STARS crew and then the whiskey was re-barreled in sherry casks for a final touch of maturation. That whiskey was then bottled as-is.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: Plums, dates, and figs come through on the nose with deep marzipan cut with pear brandy and dipped in salted dark chocolate next to eggnog spices and creaminess with a good dose of Christmas nut cakes.

Palate: The eggnog lusciousness leads the palate toward soft vanilla cookies, salted caramel chews, and a hint of spiced plum jam next to buttermilk waffles studded with pecans before old cellar oak adds an earthen layer.

Finish: The sweetness of the leathery dried fruits drives the finish toward winter spice barks and berries with a sense of old pipe tobacco braided with smudging sage and a whisper of dried mint next to cedar and fall leaves.

Bottom Line:

This is another one that’s just delicious. It stands out so clearly and immediately as a great sip of bourbon. You won’t be disappointed with this one, trust me.