There was a total of six Gold Outstanding medalists and 11 Gold medalists in the American whiskey category at the 2021 International Wines and Spirts Competition (IWSC) judging. Sixteen of those whiskeys were bourbon and one was a Tennessee whiskey.
The IWSC is an annual wine and spirits competition. Founded in 1969, by Anton Massel, it has grown to become the largest such competition in the world. Spirits are evaluated on a 100-point scale and awards are given out for Gold Outstanding (98-100 points), Gold (95-97 points), Silver (90-94 points) and Bronze (85-89 points).
The competition employs over 250 judges, drawn from all over the world, who evaluate thousands of wines and spirits across 1,500 different categories.
The top scoring bourbon and also the highest rated American whiskey was the Redemption Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon Whiskey, 10 YO, 57% ABV, 750 ml. The brand is owned by Deutsch family Wines and Spirits, but the whiskey is produced by MGP in Indiana.
The mash bill is 60% corn, 36% rye and 4% barley. This expression is an outstanding bourbon. Bottled at cask strength or “barrel proof,” it’s a perennial winner in spirits competitions.
This is a complex, incredibly smooth bourbon that offers up notes of rich vanilla, caramel, honey and roasted nuts, along with hints of aged balsamic and subtle violet flower aromas.
Deutsch Family Wines and Spirits also won a Double Gold Medal for their Redemption Barrel Proof Bourbon Whiskey, 9 YO, 52.8% ABV, 750 ml.
The whiskey is based on a mash bill of 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% malted barley. It’s also produced at the MGP facility in Indiana.
On the palate, it’s honey sweet accompanied by notes of mint, vanilla, and cinnamon, along with some oak. It has an oily texture with a noticeable palate weight. It offers up notes of caramel and brown sugar, also chocolate fudge, licorice and menthol, along with spice notes of pepper and clove. The finish is surprisingly dry, with a hint of bitterness.
Buffalo Trace had two Gold Outstanding medalists for its Blanton’s Gold Edition Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, NAS, 51.5% ABV, 750 ml and William Larue Weller, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, NAS, 67.3% ABV, 750 ml. Both whiskeys have become cult favorites, are increasingly difficult to find in stores and generally sell at large premiums to their list price.
Blanton’s Gold was the first single barrel bourbon. It was created in 1984, by Elmer T. Lee, and was named for Colonel Albert B. Blanton, the distillery’s former President.
On the nose, it offers up hints of rye spice and tobacco, along with notes of candied citrus zest, dried dark fruits, caramel and honey. The same flavors carry over to the palate where they are joined by more pronounced vanilla and oak notes.
The William Larue Weller is the 2020 expression, and is slightly higher proof than some of the preceding editions. The whiskey does not carry an age statement but, according to the distillery, it was produced in 2008, and bottled in the Fall of 2020, making it 12 years and 6 months old.
The mash bill is based on Distillers Grade #1 and #2 Kentucky corn and North Dakota sourced wheat and malted barley. It’s matured in #4 char barrels that have been heated for 55 seconds.
On the nose, it offers up notes of dried cherry, caramel, vanilla and toasted oaks. On the palate, it has a distinctive, caramel forward flavor, accompanied by spearmint and cinnamon notes. The finish showcases floral, coffee and pepper notes, along with a bit of oak.
The other Double Gold medalists were Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, 10 YO, 45.6% ABV, 750 ml and Maker’s Mark, Private Select, Black Bourbon Society Whiskey, NAS, 55.2% ABV, 750 ml.
The Bulleit bourbon is based on a mash bill of 68% corn, 28% rye and 4% malted barley. This is a smooth whiskey, with notes of dried fruit, vanilla and rich oak notes, and a long finish, with lingering smoky notes.
The Maker’s Mark, Private Select is a custom barrel program that allows customers to finish a mature barrel of cask strength Maker’s Mark bourbon to their specifications by choosing a selection of specially treated staves that enhance particular aroma and flavor elements.
The Black Bourbon Society (BBS) was founded by Samara Rivers, “in order to provide a bridge between the spirits industry and African American bourbon enthusiasts.” It currently has over 4,500 members.
A BBS’s Maker’s Mark custom barrel won a Double Gold at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and BBS has repeated with an IWSC Double Gold. You must be a society member to purchase their custom whiskey expressions, but notwithstanding its name, anyone can join.
Gold Medal winners included Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, 2013 Vintage, NAS, 43.3% ABV, 750 ml. Evan Williams is one of the best values in bourbon today. The single barrel expressions typically retail for under $25. Heaven’s Door Bourbon, 10 YO, 50% ABV, 750 ml, the collaboration between singer-songwriter Bob Dylan and Heaven’s Door Spirits, also won a Gold medal.
Other winners included Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey, NAS, 55.3% ABV, 750 ml, Maker’s Mark, Wood Finishing Series 2020, Limited Release Bourbon, NAS, 55.4% ABV, and Hudson Bright Lights Big Bourbon, NAS, 46% AVB, 750 ml. Hudson, one of New York state’s first craft distilleries, is now a division of William Grant & Sons.
Buffalo Trace took two Gold medals. One for its Elmer T. Lee, Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, NAS, 45% ABV, 750 ml and one for its Eagle Rare, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 17 YO, 50.5% ABV. The Eagle Rare 17 YO is another Buffalo Trace expression that has become impossible to find.
Hogs 3 Bourbon, NAS, 40% ABV 750 ml, from Quality Spirits International, was another Gold medalist, as was Old Ezra, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Barrel Strength, 7 YO, 58.5% ABV, 750 ml, from Lux Row Distillers (Luxco). The company was recently acquired by MGP.
Four Roses Single Barrel, Straight Bourbon whiskey, 7 YO, 50% ABV, 750 ml, also won a Gold medal.
The last Gold medal went to a Tennessee whiskey: Uncle Nearest, 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey, NAS, 50% ABV, 750 ml. Uncle Nearest has been a perennial contender in spirit competitions since it was first released several years ago.
This year’s IWSC judging showcased an eclectic mix of winners and a broad range of price points. Proof positive that even a low priced whisky can still be world class!