The World Whiskies Awards has an unfortunately clunky title. Blame it on the fact that the primary regions of production can never agree on how the liquid is spelled in its singular form. So just make it plural and problem solved, I guess. At any rate, the annual competition’s purpose and methodology is quite straightforward by comparison: to assess the very best whisky across all recognized styles, with the help of renowned industry experts. In so doing they are helping to promote the overarching category to “consumers and trade across the globe.”
Earlier this month, the competition revealed the top honors for most of its American whiskey judgings. This included bourbon, finished bourbon, single barrel bourbon, small batch bourbon, and Tennessee whiskey (rye fans will have to wait until March 30th). Many of the usual suspects were spotted in the winners’ circle.
W.L. Weller, for example, is a storied brand from Buffalo Trace that can do no wrong these days. It took home best “Kentucky Bourbon” prize for its CYPB. The expression was conceived several years ago through an online crowd-sourcing campaign which allowed fans to vote on their preferred, proof, mashbill, warehouse location and age. The result was this delectable, 8-year-old vanilla bomb that currently can’t be found for less than $800 on secondary markets.
In the “Small Batch” section the overall prize went to Elijah Craig for its Batch C922, a 125-proof behemoth released last fall. No surprises there, as this particular line of barrel proof releases has been impressing the cognoscenti for the better part of a decade. Best of all, they are relatively attainable at under $100 per bottle.
Now let’s take a look at the WWA results which are certain to shock our hardened bourbon enthusiasts. As noted above, Weller CYPB was awarded its distinction with the caveat that it’s the best in the Bluegrass State; nothing to scoff at, considering that 95% of the category comes from there. Nevertheless, the “World’s Best Bourbon” title was actually taken home by The Representative: a 4-year-old, 115-proof expression, sourced from MGP in Indiana, and bottled by Proof and Wood.
It’s’ quite the coup when you consider that many non-distilling producers are sourcing their liquid from MGP—and yet this particular release stands apart. There are brilliant cherry and treacle notes in the finish that you don’t normally detect from this distillery. Whatever Proof and Wood is doing here isn’t just blind luck. Another of its offerings the 6-year-old Tumblin’ Dice also won in the Single Barrel category. Keep your eye out for either of these bottlings, which are still hovering around $50 on shelves.
Also make note of Filibuster Bourbon, which claimed a victory for “Best Small Batch” bourbon from outside of Kentucky. Its Bottled-in-Bond Virginia Straight Bourbon is rich in cacao and flaunts a distinctive nuttiness. Expect more great things from this under-heralded upstart.
If there’s one lasting takeaway from these surprise winners, it’s that greatness within the category is not confined to the marquee names. According to the most recent numbers from the Distilled Spirits Council, American whiskey sales were up 10.5% in 2022—enough to maintain its position among the top 5 fastest-growing spirits categories by revenue. As we look into the future of bourbon and rye, much of that sustained growth is going to be driven by brands that aren’t already household names.
For adventurous aficionados that’s an irresistible opportunity to say they enjoyed them before they were cool. More meaningfully, however, they got to savor great whiskey before it became expensive.