The American Spirits Council of Tasters—also known as the ASCOT Awards—convenes annually to judge the best in booze, across all categories. The council is comprised of 43 industry professionals who blind-taste over 1,100 entries through several days. They’ve just revealed their Best In Show, the single greatest liquid tasted during the 2023 iteration. And the winner is…absolutely shocking. Corsets, Whips & Whiskey by Journeyman Distillery out of Three Oaks, Michigan has taken home the grand prize.
The shock value here doesn’t come from the whiskey itself. It’s great. Nor are we surprised by the fact that the distillery exists outside of the traditional production nexus of Kentucky/Tennessee/Indiana. We’ve been exposed to plenty of great American whiskey from all corners of the country. No, the insane thing here is that this particular expression of wheated whiskey just hauled in the ASCOT Best In Show for the second year in a row!
What in tarnation is happening here? Let’s dig in and find out.
For one, when we say “wheated whiskey” we are not talking about a wheated bourbon. Popular examples of the latter include names no less prominent than Pappy Van Winkle, Old Fitzgerald and Maker’s Mark. Theses expressions are built primarily out of corn (as is required of any bourbon), but incorporate wheat—as opposed to rye—into the mash bill, imparting a softness that seems to be quite popular with cognoscenti.
Corsets, Whips & Whiskey stands apart as it is single distilled entirely from 100% organic wheat. Not only that, it’s sourced wholly from Journeyman’s home state of Michigan. It’s safe to say that this marks it as an entirely unique product, from an ingredient standpoint. 100% wheat whiskies are already rare on shelves. But the ones you will find are likely to leverage cereal grain sourced from Kansas and/or North Dakota. Together those two states account for about 80% of US wheat output.
From the Michigan terroir you’re gifted a vanilla-laden dessert sort of dram. It’s not overly sweet, but it does cruise along with custard and cinnamon-dusted flan upon the mid-palate; perhaps even a nod toward Bananas Foster. In the finish a pinch of allspice and clove comes out to play. It’s the sort of approachable, rounded spice you might expect from an Irish whiskey as opposed to anything distilled along the shores of Lake Michigan. And yet here we are.
Corsets, Whips & Whiskey is also bottled at cask strength and blended to profile for each batch. Seasoned sippers tend to prefer liquids demonstrating this sort of assertiveness (the most recent bottling boasts a sturdy 117-proof). But the fact that it evolves slightly with each subsequent release means that the whiskey ASCOT judges tasted in 2023 is almost certainly different than what they loved back in 2022. That makes the two-streak even more impressive. Evidently they’re doing something exceptionally special at Journeyman Distillery.
The operation exists in a former dry town and occupies a 19th Century factory formerly used to manufacture corset and buggy whips, used by drivers of horse-drawn carriages. That’s where the odd name of the release comes from.
If you’re looking to get your hands on a bottle, your best bet is navigating to the distillery’s website. It’s currently available at $69 per bottle and can be sent direct-to-consumer, where allowed by state law. Outside of that, you might just want to head directly to Three Oaks to see what exactly they’re putting into the water around here. Or, more importantly, what’s going into the whiskey!