A strange thing happened at March’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC): a $35 bourbon whiskey won the award for best overall whiskey over hundreds of bottles of brown from Scotland, Ireland and Japan. Now, the full list of bourbon whiskey category winners has been made available by the SFWSC. Here are a few of the judges’ favorite bourbon whiskeys.
Henry McKenna Single Barrel
Best in Show, Whiskey: Only the second bourbon to ever earn the title of “best whiskey” at SFWSC, Heaven Hill Distillery’s 10-year, Bottled-in-Bond bourbon checks every box a whiskey drinker could ask for. It’s affordable, available, delicious and now among the most awarded bottles of bourbon out there.
• One Bourbon to Rule Them All?, Breaking Bourbon
• Best Whiskey: How Bourbon Dominated The 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Forbes
• SFWSC Official results, San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Traverse City Whiskey Co. Barrel Proof Bourbon
Best Small Batch Bourbon: This year’s overall winner for best small batch bourbon comes from Michigan. Traverse City Whiskey Company’s barrel proof offering is aged five years in new American white oak barrels.
Belle Meade Bourbon Honey Cask Finish
Best Special Barrel-Finished Bourbon: Belle Meade’s award-getter is a bourbon pun. It could be the location in the rickhouse, the humiditiy, the perfect char or a combination of 100 other factors, but in distillery patois, the “honey barrel” is a mythic barrel that holds the platonic ideal of bourbon whiskey. This bottle is finished in barrels that have aged honey from a local producer.
Redemption Wheated Straight Bourbon
Best Small Batch Bourbon, Up to 5 Years: Redemption’s wheated bourbon is a bit of an outlier. Its mashbill is far more wheat-driven than most wheaters (reportedly 45 percent wheat) and its four-year age statement is much lower than what drinkers have come to expect from a good wheated bourbon. But it isn’t completely unique in the wheat category — like most wheated bourbons, Redemption’s expression can be hard to track down.
Barrell Bourbon Batch 018
Best Small Batch Bourbon, 11 Years and Older: Barrel’s cask strength Batch 018 is not meant to be subtle. The high proof expression is a blend of 11-, 14- and 15-year-old bourbons that exhibits aggressive rye pungency. If you want a bottle that’s nothing like what you’ve got in your cabinet, this could be it.
Ezra Brooks 7 Year Barrel Proof Bourbon
Best Straight Bourbon: Age statement? Check. Barrel strength? Check. Fair price? Check. The $40 SRP “Old Ezra” is one of a dwindling number of do-it-all bottles to stock up on.