Blog Post

Headlinesn > Lifestyle > The Ultimate Bourbon Library: Top Picks From The 2023 San Francisco & New York Spirits Competitions

The Ultimate Bourbon Library: Top Picks From The 2023 San Francisco & New York Spirits Competitions

Bourbon is the largest spirits category in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) and the New York World Spirits Competition (NYWSC). Both competitions are among the largest and most prestigious of the international competitions. With thousands of bottlings available, we zeroed in on the best of the best medalists for a short list of must-have bourbons for your home bar.

According to Amanda Blue, President of the Tasting Alliance, the organization that organizes the SFWSC and the NYWSC:

2023 saw a record number of entries in the bourbon category. Our panels of expert judges judged more than 500 bourbons. The quality and diversity of this year’s entries were outstanding. With hundreds of craft distilleries producing bourbon, many using heirloom or regionally specific grain varieties in various growing and maturation environments and complemented with innovative cask finishes, there is a treasure trove of superb bourbon expressions to choose from.

The number of bourbon producers has dramatically increased, rising from just a handful in 2009 to around 1,000 today.

Three straight bourbons, two cask-finished bourbon expressions, two small batch bourbons, and two single barrel bourbons were in the final round for their respective Best of Show categories at the SFWSC. Four straight bourbons, three small batch bourbons, three single barrel bourbons, and three special barrel-finished bourbons made the Best of Show finals at the NYWSC. Surprisingly, there was little overlap among the finalists.

Over 100 bourbons won Double Gold and Gold medals at the two competitions. These are all excellent whiskeys and would make excellent additions to your bourbon collection. See the Tasting Alliance website for a complete listing of all the medalists.

The top seven Straight Bourbons are 1845 Distilling Preemption, Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 50% ABV; Old Forester, King Ranch Edition, 52.4% ABV; William Heavenhill, 9th Edition Bourbon, 54.5% ABV; W. L. Weller Full Proof, USA, 57% ABV; Stagg Jr, Stagg Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 66.1% ABV; George T Stagg, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 69.35% ABV and Brother’s Bond, Original Cask Strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 57.55% ABV.

1845 is a family-owned artisan distillery based in Lowry Crossing, Texas. The Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey expression is crafted from a mash bill of yellow corn, Elbon rye, and malted barley.

It is one of three bourbon expressions in the company’s whiskey range, which includes a Texas Four Grain Straight Bourbon Whiskey and a Texas Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The Four Grain expression also won a Double Gold, and the Wheated Expression won a Silver medal. All three bourbons are outstanding.

The SFWSC Judging Panel described the 1845 Distilling Bourbon as expressing:

Caramel and vanilla on the nose with a distinctive briny/saline character, dried fruits, and spice notes. Sweet and slightly drying on the palate with pronounced notes of caramel, cinnamon, and clove spice. It features a mild but persistent pepperiness and a long, sweet, caramel-laced finish.

Old Forrester, King Ranch Edition, is a multiple-barrel selection of Old Forester Bourbon that, according to the company, “is matured in heavily charred barrels and filtered through King Ranch mesquite charcoal.” The expression is only available in Texas.

The SFWSC Judging Panel described the King Ranch Bourbon as featuring:

Fruity, caramel, vanilla overtones with cinnamon spice, some herbal notes, and a hint of black pepper on the nose. Sweet, spicy, and pronounced tropical fruit flavors on the palate, with notes of dried/candied cherry, toasted nuts, and dark chocolate. The finish is long with a candied, cotton candy-like sweetness, fruity, with tropical and cherry notes, chocolate, and just a hint of pepperiness.

The William Heavenhill, 9th Edition Bourbon is the latest expression in a long-running series of special edition bourbons released by Heaven Hill starting in 2008. Ranging in proof from 72.3% ABV to 50% ABV and matured for periods ranging from 11 to 19 years, these are exceptional bourbons, each of which the company calls “a unique expression of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.”

The Heavenhill 9th Edition Bourbon is a blend of 34 hand-selected barrels from the fourth floor of the LL Rickhouse at the Schenley distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. The bourbon was matured for 15 years and bottled at 54.5% ABV. This is an exceptional bourbon, though at a list price of over $1,000/750 ml bottle, it is among the most expensive bourbon currently available.

The SFWSC Judging Panel described the bourbon as:

A briny/saline note accompanied by tropical fruits and a hint of licorice on the nose. Pronounced spicy and vanilla notes emerge as the bourbon opens up. Sweet, smooth, and viscous on the palate with tropical fruit, caramel, and vanilla with a creamy, custard-like quality. There are additional notes of cinnamon, clove, a hint of nutmeg, and a slight pepperiness. Long, sweet caramel-laced finish with a persistent pepperiness.

The Stagg and the W. L. Weller expressions are all produced at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Over the last decade, Buffalo Trace has emerged as the dominant producer of specialty American whiskeys.

The Stagg bottlings are based on Buffalo Trace’s Mash Bill #1. The distillery doesn’t disclose the specific percentages of its mash bill. It’s believed to be a traditional bourbon mash bill of corn, rye, and malted barley with a relatively low rye component. I think the rye and barley components are each under 10%. This high corn mash has the characteristic aroma and taste profile of cask strength, heavily extracted corn whiskey.

The aroma and taste profile of the Stagg bottlings vary based on which warehouse they were matured in and their position in the rickhouse. The longer-aged expressions tend to be housed in the lower levels. All the Stagg expressions are intensely flavored. These are robust whiskeys with a lingering cooked corn sweetness, dark maple syrup notes, pronounced wood spices of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, and a slight minty/herbaceous note.

Buffalo Trace used the same mash bill to produce E. H. Taylor and Eagle Rare, although slight differences in maturation protocols give the latter bourbon a smoother, less intense character. The Stagg expressions, the E H. Taylor, and Eagle Rare bottlings are hard to find. Often, retail prices are well above the recommended list prices.

If you are a diehard fan of these expressions, your best bet is to get them at the Buffalo Trace Distillery gift store. Although you are limited to purchasing one bottle every 90 days, the gift store sells the bourbons at the recommended list price, a fraction of the typical cost at most retailers.

Brother’s Bond is sourced from MGP in Indiana. It’s based on barrel selections specifically chosen for their smoothness. It’s creamy and silky on the palate, with the typical bourbon profile of caramel, vanilla, stone fruit notes of dried apricot, cinnamon, cooked cereal grain/ pumpernickel rye bread, and a slight herbaceous note of caraway and anise/licorice.

The top five Special Barrel-Finished Bourbons are Doc Swinson’s Exploratory Cask French Toasted Bourbon, 55.4% ABV; Neeley Family Distillery, The Old Jett Brothers, Sauternes Finished Bourbon, 57.2% ABV; Fox & Oden, Double Oaked Straight Bourbon, 49.5% ABV; Art of the Spirits, Ruby Port Finish- Cask Strength “Final Run” Straight Bourbon, 56% ABV; and 15 Stars Sherry Cask Finish Bourbon, 57.5% ABV.

MGP produces Doc Swinson’s bourbon. It’s a blend of two separate mash bills. The first mash bill consists of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. The second comprises 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley.

The bourbon from each of the two mash bills is matured in charred American White Oak casks for a minimum of 5.5 years and then finished in new, medium-toasted French oak barrels from Taransaud Cooperages in Cognac. Bourbon from the first mash bill is finished for 5.5 months, and the bourbon from the second is finished for 9.5 months.

The SFWSC Judging Panel described the bourbon as exhibiting:

Milk chocolate, tropical fruits, caramel with spice, and hints of vanilla on the nose. Pronounced caramel and vanilla on the palate, accompanied by sweet fruit notes. It has a long, sweet finish with lingering oak, fruity notes, and mild pepperiness.

The Old Jett Brothers Sauternes Finished Bourbon is a four-year-old wheated bourbon finished for 14 months in a Sauternes barrel from famed producer Chateau Rieussec. The expression is one of seven single-barrel bourbons, each finished in a different cask.

The Sauternes cask finish is exclusive to Revival Vintage Bottle Shop and is only available from that retailer.

The SFWSC Judging panel described the Sauternes cask finished bourbon as exhibiting:

Fruity, caramel, and vanilla notes on the nose. Very drying on the palate, semi-sweet, featuring fruity notes of peach and dried apricot along with slight saline/briny notes. Long, sweet finish featuring lingering dried stone fruit notes and seasoned oak.

The Fox & Oden Double Oaked Straight Bourbon blends eight and 15 YO bourbons twice barreled in new charred oak casks. The second barreling produces a more robust, intensely flavored whiskey that features notes of chocolate, caramel, brown sugar, maple syrup, and leather, along with wood/baking spices, white pepper, and herbaceous hints of aged tobacco leaf and mint.

Art of the Spirits, Ruby Port Finish- Cask Strength “Final Run” Straight Bourbon is a limited-release bourbon that features world-renowned artist David Uhl. The whiskey, sourced from MGP, is aged for approximately seven to eight years in a newly charred oak cask and then finished for 14 months in Ruby Port casks and bottled at cask strength.

The bourbon features vanilla and maple syrup with hints of caramel, and the raisin and dried fig notes typical of Port-finished whiskeys. It’s a touch smoky and features additional notes of chocolate, dried cherry, plum, and prunes on the palate, along with roasted nuts, cinnamon, and well-seasoned oak.

The 15 Stars Sherry Cask Finish Bourbon is among today’s most outstanding bourbons. The whiskey won Best Special Barrel-Finished and Best Bourbon categories at the NYWSC. The bourbon is a blend of ten, 13, and 18 YO whiskeys blended and finished in an Oloroso Sherry cask.

It features notes of burnt caramel and brown sugar on the nose and aromas of dark dried fruit, salted almonds, and candied orange zest. The palate features caramel, butterscotch, brown sugar, the typical Sherry notes of dried golden raisin, and some red berry notes, followed by well-seasoned wood, white pepper, and cinnamon spice. An intensely flavored bourbon that offers a layered, nuanced complexity. A brilliant sipper.

The top Small Batch Bourbon Up to 10 Years were Wilderness Trail, High Rye Bourbon, 50% ABV and Mystic Farm; Distillery, Broken Oak, Small Batch Bourbon, 50% ABV; Colonel E. H Taylor Jr, Bourbon Whiskey, 50% ABV; Traverse City Whiskey, Barrel Proof Bourbon, 60.1% ABV; Rabbit Hole Distillery, Raceking Founder’s Collection, 54.9% ABV; Blue Run Spirits, Trifecta Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 59.7% ABV; and K Luke Whiskey Company, Straight Bourbon, 59.7% ABV.

The Wilderness Trail Small Batch Bourbon blends up to 18 barrels drawn from a single fermentation. The mash bill comprises 64% corn, 24% rye, and 12% malted barley. The company uses a proprietary yeast strain. Maturation is in oak barrels with a #4 char. The whiskey comes off the still at 68.5% ABV and is casked at 55% ABV.

The SFWSC Judging Panel described the 1845 Distilling Bourbon as expressing:

Fruity with vanilla on the nose. Smooth and viscous on the palate with caramel, vanilla, tropical fruit, and custard notes. Long, semi-sweet finish with oak notes, tropical fruits, and a very mild pepperiness.

The Mystic Farm & Distillery is based in Durham, North Carolina. Broken Oak Small Batch Bourbon was bottled from a batch of double-oaked bourbon. The initial barrels developed leaks, hence the name and the need to re-cask the whiskey into new barrels.

The bourbon has been released one cask at a time. Each barrel differs slightly from its predecessors, though the bourbon’s consistent DNA is unmistakable. The next release will be Cask #6.

The SFWSC Judging Panel described the Broken Oak Bourbon as featuring:

Caramel, pepper, cinnamon, and seasoned oak notes on the nose. Sweet, smooth, creamy, and viscous on the palate, with caramel, vanilla, and tropical fruit notes. Long, sweet, caramel-laced finish.

Colonel E. H. Taylor Jr, Bourbon Whiskey, 6-10 years is a perennial finalist in international spirit competitions. Produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery, it is one of the historic American whiskeys.

The SFWSC Judging Panel described the bourbon as:

Seasoned oak, cinnamon spice, and caramel with hints of vanilla and tropical fruits. Creamy but very drying on the palate, featuring sweetness and tropical fruits. Medium to a long finish with lingering oak and caramel notes.

Traverse City Whiskey, Barrel Proof Bourbon is based in Traverse City, Michigan. The company’s whiskeys are based on old family recipes handed down across generations.

The SFWSC Judging Panel described the Traverse City small batch bourbon as expressing:

Seasoned oak and cinnamon on the nose with hints of caramel and vanilla. Creamy, sweet, smooth, and viscous on the palate with tropical fruit notes and a mild pepperiness. Long, slightly drying finish with lingering cinnamon notes and a hint of saltiness.

Rabbit Hole Distillery, Raceking Founder’s Collection, is a limited-edition release of 1,365 bottles. The whiskey has a pronounced chocolate-forward flavor. The mash bill features chocolate malted wheat and chocolate malted barley. Chocolate malts are produced from malted grains heated to approximately 450 F/225 C. The high-temperature roasting results in a mash that imparts pronounced milk chocolate notes to the resulting whiskey.

In addition to the milk chocolate notes, the whiskey features brown sugar/caramel aromas and toasted bread. The palate features brown sugar, caramel, roasted nuts, cinnamon spice, black cherry, and tobacco leaf. The whiskey is hard to find and typically retails for around $1,000/bottle. It’s an outstanding whiskey, though, and well worth trying if you can find it.

Blue Run Spirits, Trifecta Kentucky Straight Bourbon, is a blend of six-year-old whiskey combined with older whiskies aged in the upper reaches of a rickhouse. , Bourbons matured in the upper reaches of a rickhouse are often described as “wood heat” whiskeys. They tend to be intensely flavored and evidence a pronounced cask wood influence.

Temperatures at the upper reaches of a woodhouse are typically 15 degrees F warmer than the ground floor. The hot and dry environment produces more water evaporation, creating an intensely flavored and concentrated bourbon.

The whiskey features creamy brown butter, brown sugar, vanilla, dried figs, cooked apples, black pepper, and cinnamon. It’s smooth and silky on the palate with notes of baked cinnamon apple, caramel, freshly baked bread, hints of smoke, peppermint, and white chocolate.

Whiskey expert Fred Minnick described K Luke Whiskey Company, Straight Bourbon Barrel Strength as “made for a bourbon drinker.” Only 738 bottles of the Batch 5 expression were produced. It blends high and low rye bourbon mash bills sourced from Indiana and Kentucky distillers.

The whiskey is intensely aromatic with notes of maple syrup, cinnamon, clove spice, butterscotch, and salted caramel. On the palate, it’s rich and full of flavor, featuring notes of honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, baked apples, sweet, creamy butter, wood spices, and cured tobacco leaves. A rich, complex, nuanced, and robust whiskey!

The top Single Barrel Bourbons, Up To 10 Years, are Four Roses Single Barrel, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 50% ABV; Whiskey Thief Distilling, Single Barrel 12 Riders on the Storm, 53.25% ABV; E. H. Taylor, Single Barrel, 50% ABV; New England Barrel Company, Single Barrel Select 5 Year Bourbon, 61.9% ABV; and Shortbarrel, Single Barrel Series Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 62.8% ABV.

The top Single Barrel Bourbons in the 10 years and older category are Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon, 45% ABV and Augusta Distillery Buckner’s 13-Year Single Barrel Bourbon, 61.15% ABV.

Owned by Kirin Brewing Company in Tokyo, Japan, Four Roses is another of the grand old names in American bourbon. The company is a perennial winner in international spirit competitions. An average retail price of around $45 also represents a compelling value among single-barrel bourbon bottlings.

The SFWSC Judging panel described the bourbon as exhibiting:

Pronounced caramel notes, spicy and peppery on the nose. Smooth, sweet, and viscous with caramel and stone fruit notes. The finish is long, with lingering pepperiness and fruity notes.

Whiskey Thief Distilling is a 10-year-old craft distillery located in Frankfort, Kentucky. The SFWSC Judging Panel described the Whiskey Thief bourbon as demonstrating:

Caramel and vanilla on the nose with a hint of herbaceousness and a touch of leather. Creamy and very sweet on the palate, featuring pronounced tropical fruit notes, cinnamon spice, and black pepper. The long finish features mild pepperiness, seasoned oak, and tropical fruit notes.

E. H. Taylor is a legendary bourbon brand with a legacy deeply intertwined with American whiskey history. Today, it is produced at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. The bourbon has a list price of $60, an outstanding value if you can find it at that price, but it typically sells for much more at retail.

The bourbon features notes of cooked cereals/oatmeal, creamy vanilla, cornbread, and caramel. On the palate, it’s smooth and creamy with notes of brown sugar, butterscotch, vanilla, dried fruits, especially raisins, cinnamon, clove, and a bit of nutmeg, some herbaceous tobacco notes, along with well-seasoned oak and old leather. A classic sipping bourbon to wrap yourself around, preferably in front of a warm fire!

New England Barrel Company, Single Barrel Select 5-Year Bourbon, is sourced from MGP and features one of the standard MGP mash bills of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley.

This is another robust, intensely flavored whiskey with aromas of well-seasoned oak and meaty notes of savory beef jerky and caramel. The whiskey is smooth and creamy on the palate and features fruit notes of prune and dark cherry, caramel, vanilla, dried orange zest, classic rye, and wood spice notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove; some dried herbal and tea notes and hints of chocolate.

Shortbarrel, Single Barrel Series Kentucky Straight Bourbon, is a series of four-year-old plus bottlings of bourbon that were initially sourced from various distillers and reflect different mash bills. A short barrel is a barrel that has lost more than half of its contents to evaporation. The remaining high-proof liquid is typically robust and intensely flavored.

The Shortbarrel Bourbon features notes of freshly baked cherry pie, prunes, tea, and candied orange zest. It’s creamy and spicy on the palate with notes of cinnamon and clove and dried/jammy fruit notes of stone fruit, especially dried apricot and peach jam, vanilla, caramel, well-seasoned oak, aromatic pipe tobacco, and a hint of leather.

Elijah Craig describes its 18-YO bourbon as “a rare and unique opportunity to sip some of the oldest Bourbon in Kentucky.” Calling it “bold, robust, incredibly complex” and “the pinnacle of Bourbon craftsmanship.”

The SFWSC Judging Panel described Elijah Craig Bourbon as exhibiting:

Caramel, vanilla, and tropical fruit notes on the nose accompanied by a creamy, slightly lactic character. The creamy, slight sour lactic note carries on to the palate. The whiskey is drying, featuring tropical fruits and a hint of milk chocolate. The finish is long, sweet, and creamy, accompanied by lingering fruit notes.

The Augusta Distillery is located in Augusta, Kentucky, in Bracken County on the Ohio riverfront, the heart of bourbon whiskey’s historic production zone. The distillery’s bourbon is sourced in Bardstown, Kentucky, and aged for 13 years.

Augusta has been a perennial winner this year, stacking up medals in several international whiskey competitions.

The SFWSC Judging panel described the Bruckner 13 YO bourbon as exhibiting:

Fruity on the nose with notes of milk chocolate, cinnamon spice, vanilla, and caramel. Very drying on the palate, featuring tropical fruit, caramel, vanilla, and milk chocolate with a pronounced pepperiness. Long, peppery finish with sweet caramel, vanilla, and hints of tropical fruit.

The SFWSC and the NYWSC are organized by the Tasting Alliance, a company founded by Anthony Dias Blue. In addition to the SFWSC and the NYWSC, the Tasting Alliance also organizes spirit competitions in Singapore, wine competitions in San Francisco and New York, and competitions for beer and RTDs.

The roughly two dozen bourbons at the top of the SFWSC and NYWSC judging are arguably the best bourbons available today. Price-wise, they range from over $1,000/bottle to less than $100. Over half retail for around $100 and almost a quarter can be found for under $50. That’s a fantastic value for what are some of the best bourbons in the world.

The above expressions are an excellent place to start if you want to stock a home bourbon collection. Even if you stick to those bourbons that retail for around $100 or less, you will have the making of a superb bourbon collection. However, if you want the expressions produced at Buffalo Trace, you cannot avoid a trip to Frankfort.

A complete listing of all the medal winners at the 2023 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the New York World Spirits Competition is available on the Tasting Alliance website.

#Ultimate #Bourbon #Library #Top #Picks #San #Francisco #York #Spirits #Competitions

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *