The World’s Best Bourbon—According To The 2023 World Whiskies Awards
The World Whiskeys Awards unfortunately have a clunky title. The culprit is that the primary producing regions can never agree on how the liquid is spelled in its singular form. So just make it plural and the problem is solved I think. In any case, the purpose and methodology of the annual competition is fairly simple in comparison: to judge the very best whiskey of all recognized styles with the help of renowned industry experts. In this way, they help spread the word about the overarching category of consumers and retailers around the world.
Earlier this month, the competition announced top honors for most of its American whiskey ratings. These included bourbon, finished bourbon, single barrel bourbon, small batch bourbon, and Tennessee whiskey (rye fans will have to wait until March 30). Many of the usual suspects were spotted among the winners.
WL Weller, for example, is a Buffalo Trace heritage brand that can’t go wrong these days. It took the best home “Kentucky Bourbon” award for his CYPB. The expression was developed a few years ago through an online crowd-sourcing campaign that allowed fans to vote on their preferred proof, mashbill, storage location and age. The result was this delicious 8-year-old vanilla bomb that currently can’t be found on secondary markets for less than $800.
In the small series section, the overall award went to Elijah Craig for his Charge C922, a 125 proof behemoth that was released last fall. No surprises as this particular line of barrel proof releases has been wowing connoisseurs for nearly a decade. Best of all, they’re relatively available for less than $100 a bottle.
Now let’s take a look at the WWA results that will shock our die-hard bourbon enthusiasts. As mentioned above, Weller CYPB received its award with the caveat that it’s the best in the bluegrass state; nothing to scoff at considering that 95% of the category is from there. Nonetheless, the title “World’s Best Bourbon” was actually taken home by The Representative: a 4-year-old, 115% expression sourced from MGP in Indiana and bottled by Proof and Wood.
It’s quite a coup considering many non-distilling producers source their liquid from MGP – and yet this particular release stands out. There are brilliant cherry and molasses notes on the finish that you don’t normally notice with this distillery. Whatever Proof and Wood is doing here isn’t just luck. Another offering is the 6 year old Tumblin’ Dice Also won in the single barrel category. Keep an eye out for one of those bottlings still hovering around $50 on the shelves.
Also note the Filibuster Bourbon, which claimed a win for “Best Small Batch” Bourbon Outside from Kentucky. His Bottled-in-Bond Virginia Straight Bourbon is rich in cocoa and exhibits a distinct nuttiness. Expect more great things from this underrated upstart.
If there’s one lasting lesson from these surprise winners, it’s that size within the category isn’t limited to marquee names. According to the latest figures from the Distilled Spirits Council, American whiskey sales rose 10.5% in 2022 – enough to maintain its position in the top 5 fastest growing spirits categories by revenue. As we look to the future of bourbon and rye, much of this continued growth will be fueled by brands that aren’t yet household names.
For adventurous lovers, this is an irresistible opportunity to say they enjoyed them before they were cool. More importantly, they were able to enjoy great whiskey before it got expensive.