The World’s Best Bourbon—According To The 2023 Bartender Spirits Award

Food & Drink

Liquor store shelves are awash in options these days. Especially when it comes to bourbon. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, US whiskey sales have swelled some 133% over the past twenty years. The biggest driver of that success has been the super premium segment: bottles which retail for $40 and up. With so much choice—and such a significant outlay of cash hanging in the balance—consumers are increasingly thirsty for the advice of experts. And there’s perhaps no single figure in the industry as trusted as the bartender: the original booze influencer.

It makes sense, then, that the Bartender Spirits Awards has emerged as one of the most important annual competitions to watch. Originally launched in 2019, the judging consists of a panel of more than two dozen respected drink makers from across the globe.

According to its website, the “aim of the spirits competition is to provide independent and honest reviews for brands targeting the U.S. bar trade.” Nevertheless, the takeaways are vitally relevant for at-home consumers. Because these judges aren’t just evaluating products based upon fixability in a cocktail. They’re considering the merits of any liquid based upon its overall taste—including balance and versatility—as well as its perceived value.

In 2023 the competition evaluated over 1400 submissions, with the biggest glut of entries flooding into whiskey, vodka, gin and RTD categories. And from all that, the judges held one whiskey higher than all the rest: Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond. The 7-year-old bourbon is distilled from a high corn mashbill, meaning that it will tickle your sweet tooth with broad brushstrokes of butterscotch, vanilla, and honey. Remember, a bourbon only needs to be made with 51% or more corn as part of its grain recipe. This one relies on 78%, along with 12% malted barley and 10% rye.

The namesake distillery behind the whiskey is a Kentucky icon. Heaven Hill has been producing world-renowned spirit in the Bluegrass State since 1935. This particular release harkens back to that founding era, when the most trusted liquid on shelves had to be bear Bottled-in-Bond on the label. The designation was set forth by an act of Congress back in 1897, instituting federal oversight to ensure that such whiskies were aged for a minimum of four years, held at a single distillery that entire time, and bottled at an exacting 100 proof.

But the real proof is in the pudding, as they say. An apt analogy here as Heaven Hill’s award-winning offering is a dessert-worthy pour. Discerning palates will also detect a hint of tobacco leaf in the finish, enhancing the complexity of a bourbon which drinks well above its weight class at an average retail price of just $45 per bottle.

Stay-at-home bartenders will have an easy time understanding why this one appeals so strongly to their professional counterparts. It works exceptionally well in a classic Old Fashioned preparation. It’s also readily available on shelves. Which is its own form of sweet relief in this era of painfully-allocated luxury bourbons.

The Bartender Spirits Awards will reconvene in Chicago later this spring and announcing a new crop of winners on June 20th. We’ll keep you updated on that, of course. But in the meantime you can view their complete list of 2023 winners—across all categories—here.

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