Tales of the Cocktail — the bar and spirits trade show in New Orleans — just wrapped up its 2023 event. The iconic spirits convention also hosts the New Orleans Spirits Competition, which focuses on whiskey products from all over the world. And since I’m tirelessly trying to find you the best whiskey to buy (and was part of the championship round of whiskey tasting as an observer/taster), I figured I’d list out every “best” in class in whiskey from this year’s competition.
Sort of amazingly, even the classic categories like peated and unpeated single malts were dominated by American and Irish single malts this year — leaving Scotland and Japan out in the cold. But that’s what makes competitions like this so exciting — you’re always going to find something new and unique that you might not otherwise stumble upon. To that end, I went through all of the New Orleans Spirits Competition 2023 results and pulled out the best whiskeys from every category. These are the whiskeys that achieved “double gold” status and won their individual blind tastings by category. I also added my own professional tasting notes for each winning bottle of whiskey.
There are a lot of whiskeys listed below and they all offer something a little (and/or a lot) different. The best part of a list like this is that there really is something for everyone from a whiskey novice to an old salty pro. My advice is to read my tasting notes, find the whiskey that speaks to you, and then click on those price links to see if you can snag a bottle in your neck of the woods. Let’s dive in!
- The 100 Best Bourbon Whiskeys From Kentucky, Ranked
- The Absolute Best Bottle Of Whiskey From Each Of The 50 States
- Our Head Drinks Critic Reveals The Expensive Bourbons He *Won’t* Pay Above Retail For
- The 100 Best Bourbons That *Aren’t* From Kentucky, Ranked
- The 100 Best Bourbons Under $100 Right Now, Ranked
Best Blended Whisky — B.H. James Distillers Burton James Uniquely American Whiskey Rookie Season: Batter Up
Average Price: $59
This crafty Kentucky blend from B.H. James Distillers is made with a long list of Indiana whiskeys. 45.5% of the blend comes from a 7.7-year-old 21% rye Indiana bourbon. 30.6% is a 6.9-year-old 36% rye Indiana bourbon. 21.4% is from a 7.6-year-old 95/5 Indiana rye whiskey. Lastly, 2.5% of the blend comes from a 99% corn Indiana bourbon. Those whiskeys were batched and bottled at cask strength.
Nose: The nose is sweet and dark with a rush of deep vanilla oils, moist holiday spice cakes, and wet brown sugar countered by fresh mint just kissed with tobacco and a hint of caraway and nutmeg.
Palate: The palate leans into the winter spices with a dry sense of mint rolled with dark rock candy and vanilla beans before a twinge of old cellar oak arrives with a hint of saddle leather and dry tobacco leaf — still kissed by the mint.
Finish: That minty tobacco drives the finish through the old oak and hints of cedar bark, winter spice barks, and dried orange rinds.
This is a very solid American blend. There’s a clear line between the bourbon and rye that balances very well. I can see sipping this over some rocks or mixing it into a whiskey-forward cocktail easily.
Best Cask-Finished Bourbon — Rabbit Hole Dareringer Founder’s Collection Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in PX Sherry Casks Limited Edition
Average Price: $312
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.
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.
This is an excellent sipping bourbon.
Best Cask-Strength Bourbon — Kings County Distillery Barrel Strength Bourbon
Average Price: $95
This grain-to-glass New York whiskey is a little more dialed in than your standard crafty. The whiskey in the bottle is King County’s classic bourbon that’s a tad older and not touched with water. That means the barrels in this batch are a blend of four to seven-year-old King County bourbon that’s bottled 100% as-is at cask strength.
Nose: Soft brown sugar and moist marzipan come through on the nose with a rush of vanilla malted crackers (almost lady fingers) and old dry oak that edges toward firewood with a hint of dark pepper in the background.
Palate: The spice leans toward clove-studded oranges and dark chocolate on the palate before a deep and dark cherry cake arrives with a hint of vanilla buttercream.
Finish: That soft sweetness fades as winter spice barks, more marzipan, and old oak staves counter a soft sweet graininess that’s akin to raw grits covered in caramel.
This is a tasty sipper that really benefits from a rock or little water to calm it down and let it bloom in the glass.
Best Four Grain Bourbon — Redwood Empire Whiskey Cask Strength Pipe Dream Bourbon
Average Price: $70
This uncut and unfiltered version of Redwood Empire’s beloved bourbon is a four-grain whiskey built from a blend of California, Kentucky, and Indiana whiskeys. The mash ends up being 74% corn, 20% raw rye, 4.5% malt barley, and a mere 1.5% wheat. The barrels in the final blend range from four to 12 years old with the older stuff coming from the Ohio Valley.
Nose: There’s a soft sense of classic bourbon on the nose with dark cherry, vanilla pod, light caramel sauce, and pecan waffles with pancake syrup and cinnamon-brown sugar butter next to a whisper of old boot leather and a very distant echo of sweet grits.
Palate: The palate has a soft creamed honey sweetness with a twinge of Cherry Coke next to buttery toffee dipped in crushed roasted almonds with a hint of Mounds Bar and chewy caramel. A good dose of ABV heat kicks up on the mid-palate with a mulled wine spiciness and a touch of sour cherry.
Finish: The end is nutty and full of dark cherry tobacco just kissed with dark chocolate and dark brown spices.
This is another great sipper over a rock. I’d also mix this into a whiskey-forward cocktail any day of the week.
Best High-Rye Bourbon — Blue Run Spirits High Rye Bourbon
Average Price: $79
This whiskey contract-distilled at Castle & Key by Bourbon Hall of Famer Jim Rutledge is a subtle sipper. The whiskey in the bottle is rendered from a mash of 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley. It’s aged until it’s ready and then batched and bottled with a drop of local water.
Nose: Clove, anise, and nutmeg mingle on the nose with a sense of old cinnamon sticks soaked in mulled wine with a caramel base countered by a fleeting sense of old dill and caraway-encrusted rye bread.
Palate: That cinnamon gets woody as the caramel takes on some salt and veers toward toffee dipped in roasted almond before malted chocolate cake batter leans the palate toward more winter spice barks and old burnt orange.
Finish: The almond toffee adds a lush finish feeling to the end as dill and nutmeg lead back to the woody winter spices, a touch of caramel malts, and old tobacco rolled with orange and cinnamon.
This is a good on the rocks whiskey that also makes a mean cocktail.
Best Bourbon Whiskey — Ironroot Republic Distilling Saints Alley Bourbon Herald Finished in Pineau de Charentes & Armagnac Casks Special Edition
Average Price: $75
This Texas whiskey is a special one. The Texas bourbon whiskey is finished in Pineau de Charentes and Armagnac casks under the watchful eye of Ironroot Republic’s Jonathan Likarish and YouTuber Chris Trevino, host of “The Liquorhound”. Once ready, the barrels were batched and bottled with a touch of Texas water.
Nose: Dates and figs lead the way on the nose with a sense of rich caramel and vanilla countered by dried herb bunches — think sage, rosemary, mint, and parsley mostly.
Palate: Stewed pears and blackberry crumble dominate the palate as brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon lead toward apple pie and brandy-soaked cherries with a dash of clove tobacco and burnt orange.
Finish: The berries and pears break down into a stewed sauce with tons of winter spice and orange as the vanilla and cinnamon create holiday cookies with a light oaky and tobacco finish.
If you can get your hands on this, you’ll be in for a treat. Though, I’d probably save this one for the holidays and after a big meal.
Best Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey — Doc Swinson’s Whiskey Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $60
This special bottling from out in Washington highlights Indiana rye. The whiskey in the bottles is a seven-year-old 95/5 (rye/malted barley) MGP rye whiskey. The barrels were batched and just proofed with water before botted-in-bond bottling in Washington state.
Nose: Sticky toffee pudding with a lot of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and black tea drives the nose toward moments of black licorice, figs, rum-soaked raisin, and soft dill with a sweet edge.
Palate: Those raisins open the palate with a spicy sweetness before lush vanilla and caramel lead back to woody spice barks, burnt orange, and nutshells with a hint of plummy tobacco.
Finish: The end leans into the plumminess with a lush vibe that’s accented by old cedar kindling, smoldering smudging sage, and a sense of date and prune flesh.
This is a lovely sipper that makes one hell of a Manhattan.
Best Cask-Finished Rye Whiskey — Sweet Amber Distilling Co. BLACKENED X Willett Kentucky Straight Rye Finished in Madeira Casks
Average Price: $160
This new release from Metallica’s BLACKENED is a masterful collaboration with Willett. The rye is a blend of whiskeys that were aged around six or seven years (with one barrel up to eight years old) that are vatted and then finished in Madeira casks. After an undisclosed amount of time mellowing in those casks, the whiskey is then bottled as-is at cask strength.
Nose: Red berry sorbet explodes on the nose with a mix of ripe black cherry, raspberry, and blackberry with a hint of tart red currants, a touch of fresh mint, and maybe some woody cinnamon.
Palate: The palate takes on a savory strawberry-rhubarb note that leans into vanilla and butter white wine.
Finish: The end has a dark fruit leather vibe with a twinge of spiced cherry tobacco on the finish.
This is another really freaking good whiskey. You can’t go wrong using this as a sipper or cocktail base.
Best Cask-Strength Rye Whiskey — Grand Traverse Distillery Hand Selected Ole George Cask Strength Single Barrel
Average Price: Distillery Only
This is a Michigan grain-to-glass experience. The whiskey is made from a mash of 95% Northern Michigan raw rye and 5% Northern Michigan malted rye. That whiskey rests for four to five years before a single barrel is picked and bottled 100% as-is at cask strength.
Nose: Caramel malts and old rye sourdough starter drive the nose toward vanilla pods, nut clusters, and plenty of winter spice with a hint of sourdough toast with blackberry jam.
Palate: There’s a light marmalade vibe on the palate that leads to more winter spice, burnt orange, salted caramel dipped in dark chocolate, and a touch of peppery tobacco.
Finish: The vanilla creates a silky finish that leans into the sweetness of the caramel and softness of slowly cooked grains with a hint of nutty tobacco and old oak staves.
This has a bit of a crafty edge with those grains and bready notes. I’d lean more towards drinking this one over ice or if you’re looking to change the profile of a cocktail to be more grain-forward.
Best Single Barrel Rye Whiskey — Proof and Wood Tumblin’ Dice Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Proof
Average Price: $79
This sourced whiskey is made from classic MGP 95/5 (rye/malted barley) whiskey. The release is bottled from one barrel that was exactly seven years and three months old and bottled 100% as-is at cask strength.
Nose: The nose is like walking through a herb garden with plenty of green, savory, and sweet notes countered by nasturtiums, pepper bark, and vanilla backbone with a twist of orange.
Palate: That orange turns into sugar-coated orange wedges on the palate as peach jam and apricot leather mix with marshmallow and old rye bread.
Finish: That apricot leather and marshmallow lingers on the finish with a sense of huge dried floral notes, old herbs, and mint with a light sense of perfumed potpourri.
This isn’t for me, but I appreciate the craft. If you’re looking for a very floral rye whiskey experience, then this is going to be your jam.
Best Rye Whisky (Tie) — Pinhook Straight Rye Whiskey Vertical Series Rye Tiz Rye Time 7 Years Old
Average Price: $89
This rye whiskey is an experiment in curating Indiana MGP rye barrels (95/5 rye/barley) in Kentucky. The latest release is a batch of 28 Kentucky-aged barrels that are all seven years old. The rye was batched and bottled as-is to highlight the whiskey that came out of the barrel.
Nose: There’s a sense of black-tea-soaked and cinnamon-infused date-heavy sticky toffee pudding with a dollop of brandy butter that’s countered by a hint of grapefruit pith, soft suede, and Werther’s Originals.
Palate: The palate lets that leather get a little worn as the Werther’s get darker (almost burnt) and notes of black licorice ropes, clove buds, dry oak, and brandy-soaked raisins mingle.
Finish: The finish has a bit of a dry straw by way of a black pepper vibe that lingers on your senses for just the right amount of time, leaving you with a final note of gingersnaps.
This is a lovely rye whiskey that makes one hell of a Sazerac, old fashioned, and Manhattan. It works perfectly well on a big ol’ rock in a tumbler too. It’s super easy to see how this was named “best rye” this year.
Best Rye Whisky (Tie) — Kings County Distillery Empire Rye Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $109
This New York rye is all about New York in the bottle. The whiskey is made from 80% New York-grown Danko rye and 20% English malted barley. That whiskey aged two years before batching, proofing, and bottling.
Nose: The nose transports you to a green-grass backyard in the summer with a pile of maple bar doughnuts and nutmeg-cut rummy apple cider nearby.
Palate: The palate veers from the summer to the holidays with rich holiday nut cakes cut with plenty of cinnamon, clove, and allspice next to freshly baked rye sourdough with a whisper of caraway and fennel.
Finish: There’s a salted butteriness on the finish that adds a nice lushness before the spiced holiday cakes add more spice, soft nuttiness, and a hint more of that rye bread herbal nature.
This is a classic rye sipper.
Best Light Whisky — Samson & Surrey F.E.W. American Straight Whiskey
Average Price: $49
This award-winning whiskey from Illinois’ F.E.W. is a big blend. The whiskey combines bourbon, rye, and malt whiskeys. The latter was made with malts smoked with cherrywood, making it a cherry-smoked malt whiskey. That blend was then proofed before bottling.
Nose: The malted crackers drive the nost with a deep sense of honey-soaked grits next to soft winter spices, hints of roasting herbs, and a touch of sourdough doughnuts iced in cinnamon and maple.
Palate: Black Forest cake leads the palate with a hint of smoked cherry compote before nutmeg and allspice lead to anise and smudging sage.
Finish: The honeyed malts return on the soft finish with a sense of white pepper and clove that gives way to a light cedar bark and tobacco end.
This has a little bit of everything and ultimately feels like a malted whiskey by way of rye whiskey. If that sounds appetizing, then you know what to do.
Best Wheat Whisky — Heaven Hill Distillery Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey
Average Price: $28
While wheated bourbons are all the rage at the moment (Pappy and Weller being the most sought-after examples), wheat whiskies have not quite hit as resoundingly … yet. Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey flips the script on those bourbons and uses mostly winter wheat that’s supported by small doses of corn and malted barley. The whiskey is then aged for seven years in new oak.
Nose: There’s a honey sweetness that works well with the grain and vanilla on the nose.
Palate: The sip hits on notes of spice, bright berries, and buttery toffee with a velvet body.
Finish: The end brings about round, toasted oakiness with a little more of the spice and buttery toffee as it fades across the senses.
This is an essential wheat whiskey. Awards aside, this is best used as a cocktail base for classic whiskey cocktails.
Best Flavored Whiskey — Wolves Rye Whiskey and Hop Flavored Whiskey
Average Price: $139
This is a true outlier whiskey. It’s “flavored” in the sense that the distiller’s beer (a fermented grain mash) that was used to distill this whiskey was completely finished and hopped beer that was ready to bottle. Since that base was hopped, that makes this a “flavored” whiskey.
Beyond that, the first whiskey is made from stout that was distilled and then aged in French oak for nine years. That was blended with a second whiskey made from a California pale ale that was distilled and then aged in French oak for seven years. Those whiskeys were then blended, proofed, and bottled.
Nose: Summer wildflowers, cherries dipped in dark chocolate, vanilla cookies, and dank citrus hops dominate the nose.
Palate: The dark chocolate merges with dark orange on the palate as nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon drive the taste toward more of those dank hops with a bright citrus vibe and a touch of an old oak stave.
Finish: The end warms up and leans into the spices with a creamy vanilla edge cut with orange oils and more smooth dark chocolate.
If you’re a huge dank craft beer fan, then this is a must-try whiskey.
Best Smoked American Single Malt — Stoutridge Distillery & Winery Bottled In Bond Quartarium Root Single Malt Whiskey
Average Price: $99
This is a New York grain-to-glass experience from a winery/distillery family farm. The whiskey is made with 100% New York barley that’s malted at the farm. After mashing, the juice is twice distilled in old pot stills before aging on the farm until it’s just right.
Nose: There’s a light sense of malted vanilla wafers on the nose that leads to fresh bales of hay, old cellar floors, and apple orchards in the fall.
Palate: There’s a honeyed sense of malted cakes with a hint of nuttiness and dark fruit that leads back to the grassiness with a mild fall leaves vibe with some earthy woodiness.
Finish: Mild winter spices and apple fritters with a touch of floral honey drive the finish toward a soft and mineral-filled end.
This is nice. It didn’t wow me but it may just take two or three experiences with it to really click in for my palate.
Best Blend of International Whiskies — O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co. Keeper’s Heart Irish + American
Average Price: $54
The whiskey from former Irish Distillers Master Distiller Brian Nation marries American whiskey with Irish whiskey on the American prairie of Minnesota. The juice in the bottle is a combination of American bourbon with Irish grain whiskey and Irish pot still whiskey — all over four years old. The idea is to create the ultimate Irish-American whiskey drinking experience.
Nose: This opens with a rich and moist bran muffin made with molasses next to warm leather, winter spices, and dark dried fruits with a hint of pecan.
Palate: The palate is malty for a moment before vanilla and mulled wine spices kick in, leading to a mix of roasted nuts and a vanilla-chocolate swirl soft serve cone.
Finish: The end has a moment of woody spice before fading back toward chocolate malts.
This is a solid cocktail whiskey. It works well on the rocks, don’t get me wrong. But you’ll want to use it in your favorite cocktails.
Best Cask-Finished Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey — The Teeling Whiskey Company Wonders of Wood Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey Virgin Chinkapin Oak Finish
Average Price: $99
The first installment of the Wonders of Wood series is a single pot still Irish whiskey. That means the mash mixes 50% malted and 50% unmalted barley. The hot spirit is then filled into new American “chinkapin” white oak barrels for an undisclosed amount of time. Those barrels are then blended into this whiskey and proofed down ever-so-slightly to 100 proof.
Nose: This is very bourbon-esque on the nose, with clear notes of rich caramel, vanilla pods, almost raw leather, buttery biscuits, a hint of dried apple flowers, a whisper of wet oak, and a wink of fresh mint.
Palate: The palate, on the other hand, starts off with a malty spiciness that leads to hints of ginger snaps and cream soda with a slight yellow straw note on the mid-palate as a softness kicks in on the mouthfeel.
Finish: The sweetness returns near the finish with dark cacao and winter spice that then veers toward a thin echo of cumin before unfiltered apple cider soda and green alder round out the finish.
This is a very solid sipper. It was made for the U.S. market, so you should still be able to get your hands on a bottle.
Best Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey — Royal Oak Distillery The Busker Irish Whiskey Single Pot Still
Average Price: $37
This barley-based Irish whiskey is aged in a combo of ex-bourbon and sherry casks for an undisclosed amount of time. Those whiskeys are then blended and proofed down with local water.
Nose: Hardcore notes of wet grains open this with a hint of milk chocolate and a clove/allspice on the nose.
Palate: The taste leans into those sweet porridge grains toward dried fruits and green peppercorns.
Finish: The mid-palate sweetens with butterscotch next to spicy stewed apples that feel like sticky apple sauce before fading out pretty fast.
This is a mixing whiskey for everyday cocktails.
Best Irish Whiskey & Best International Single Malt (peated) — The Teeling Whiskey Company Blackpitts Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Average Price: $70
This is a peated Irish whiskey. After triple distilling in Dublin, the whiskey is left to rest in former Sauternes casks and first fill Bourbon barrels. The barrels are then vatted, the whiskey is proofed down, and it’s then bottled.
Nose: The nose feels like walking through a meat smoker on a summer day with a counterpoint of fresh orange oils, clove, and toffee rounding things out.
Palate: Smoldering orchard wood and winter spice barks lead to grilled tropical fruits and smoked floral honey with a hint of vanilla creaminess underpinning it all.
Finish: The end really amps up the fatty smoked meat factor while sweetening with salted caramel and vanilla cakes on the finish.
This is a great bottle to have on hand if you’re smoking meat in the backyard this summer. You might want to pour it over some ice though.
Best International Single Malt (un-peated) — O’Shaugnessy Distilling Co. Keeper’s Heart Aged 10 Years Single Malt Irish Whiskey Finished in Malaga Wine Casks
Average Price: $99
This new release from Keeper’s Heart is a departure from the usual Irish-American whiskey blends. The whiskey is a 10-year-old Irish single malt that was aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Those barrels were sent to Minnesota where they were batched and proofed before bottling.
Nose: Soft malted scones with apricot jam and vanilla buttercream lead the nose toward marzipan and soft floral honey.
Palate: That honey drives the sweet palate toward a trail mix vibe with raisins, peanuts, and dried fruits/berries with a sense of malted chocolate balls in the background.
Finish: That maltiness peaks on the finish with a sense of nutty honey, rum-raisin, and more of that apricot.
This is a very nice, standard single malt. I’d lean toward using it for cocktails.
Best American Single Malt, Best Single Malt, & Whisky of the Year 2023 — Balcones Distilling 1 Texas Single Malt Whisky
Average Price: $78
This whisky is made with a lot of care. The juice is 100% malted barley imported from Scotland, specifically Scottish Golden Promise Malted Barley. The spirit then ages in a combination of barrels ranging from new and used American, French, and Hungarian oak. After a few years under the hot Waco sun, the barrels are vatted and bottled with no fussing besides a touch of local water.
Nose: There’s a good dose of pecan waffles, maple, and sharp sarsaparilla on the nose with a deep earthiness that’s part grain silo and part high desert scrub brush.
Palate: The palate is creamy and hits on some serious warmth as pear candy mixes with fresh ginger and a pile of pecan shells next to a hint of floral Earl Grey and more of that high desert dry florae vibe.
Finish: The finish leans into the dryness of nutshells and black tea while hinting at the maple and sarsaparilla from the nose.
This is an excellent whisky. It’s really deep and rewarding as a neat sipper, but it really blooms with a little water or a single rock. Overall, this is a killer whisky that should be on your bar cart right now, especially if you’re looking for a quintessential American single malt.