There were a total of six outstanding gold medals and 11 gold medals in the American whiskey category on 2021 International Wines and Spirts Competition (IWSC) rating. Sixteen of these whiskeys were bourbon, and one was a Tennessee whiskey.
IWSC is an annual wine and spirits competition. Founded in 1969 by Anton Massel, it has grown to become the largest competition in the world. Spirits are evaluated on a 100-point scale, and prizes are awarded for Gold Outstanding (98-100 points), Gold (95-97 points), Silver (90-94 points) and Bronze (85-89 points).
The competition employs over 250 judges, drawn from around the world, judging thousands of wines and spirits in 1,500 different categories.
The top-scoring bourbon and also the highest rated American whiskey was Redemption Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon Whiskey, 10 YO, 57% ABV, 750 ml. The brand is owned by Deutsch family Wines and Spirits, but the whiskey is produced by MGP in Indiana.
The moss bill is 60% maize, 36% rye and 4% barley. This term is a unique bourbon. Bottles with barrel strength or “barrel safe”, it is a multi-year winner in liquor competitions.
This is a complex, incredibly smooth bourbon that gives notes of rich vanilla, caramel, honey and roasted nuts along with hints of aged balsamic and subtle violet floral aromas.
Deutsch Family Wines and Spirits also won a double gold medal for theirs Redemption Barrel Proof Bourbon Whiskey, 9 YO, 52.8% ABV, 750 ml.
The whiskey is based on a moss bill of 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% malted barley. It is also produced at the MGP plant in Indiana.
On the palate, it is honey-sweet accompanied by notes of mint, vanilla and cinnamon along with some oak. It has a greasy structure with a noticeable palate weight. It offers notes of caramel and brown sugar, also chocolate fudge, licorice and menthol along with spice notes of pepper and fat. The finish is surprisingly dry with a touch of bitterness.
Buffalo Trace had two outstanding gold medals for his Blanton’s Gold Edition Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, NAS, 51.5% ABV, 750 ml and William Larue Weller, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, NAS, 67.3% ABV, 750 ml. Both whiskeys have become cult favorites, are becoming increasingly difficult to find in stores and generally sell at great prizes for their list price.
Blanton’s gold was the first single barrel of bourbon. It was created in 1984 by Elmer T. Lee and was named after Colonel Albert B. Blanton, the distillery’s former president.
On the nose, it offers hints of rye spice and tobacco along with notes of candied citrus peel, dried dark fruit, caramel and honey. The same taste sensations are transferred to the palate, where they are associated with more pronounced vanilla and oak tones.
William Larue Weller is the 2020 term and is slightly higher proof than some of the previous editions. The whiskey does not bear an age indication, but according to the distillery, it was produced in 2008 and bottled in the autumn of 2020, making it 12 years and 6 months old.
The moss bill is based on Distillers Grade # 1 and # 2 Kentucky corn and wheat from North Dakota and malted barley. It matures in # 4 carbon barrels heated for 55 seconds.
On the nose, it gives up notes of dried cherries, caramel, vanilla and roasted oak. On the palate, it has a characteristic, caramel forward flavor accompanied by mint and cinnamon. The finish shows floral, coffee and pepper notes along with a little oak.
The other double gold medals were Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, 10 YO, 45.6% ABV, 750 ml and Maker’s Mark, Private Select, Black Bourbon Society Whiskey, NAS, 55.2% ABV, 750 ml.
Bulleit bourbon is based on a moss bill of 68% corn, 28% rye and 4% malted barley. This is a smooth whiskey with notes of dried fruit, vanilla and rich notes and a long finish with long-lasting smoky notes.
The Maker’s Mark, Private Select is a custom barrel program that allows customers to finish a ripe barrel of barrel strength Maker’s Mark bourbon according to their specifications by selecting a selection of specially treated sticks that enhance specific aroma and flavor elements.
The Black Bourbon Society (BBS) was founded by Samara Rivers, “to create a bridge between the liquor industry and African American bourbon enthusiasts.” It currently has over 4,500 members.
A BBS’s Maker Mark custom barrel won a double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2019, and BBS has repeated with an IWSC Double Gold. You must be a member of the community to purchase their custom whiskey expressions, but whatever the name, everyone can participate.
Gold medal winners included Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, 2013 Vintage, NAS, 43.3% ABV, 750 ml. Evan Williams is one of the best values in bourbon today. The single-run terms typically sell for under $ 25. Heaven’s Door Bourbon, 10 years, 50% ABV, 750 ml, the collaboration between singer-songwriter Bob Dylan and Heaven’s Door Spirits, also won a gold medal.
Other winners included Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey, NAS, 55.3% ABV, 750 ml, Maker’s Mark, Wood Finishing Series 2020, Limited Release Bourbon, NAS, 55.4% ABVand Hudson Bright Lights Big Bourbon, NAS, 46% AVB, 750 ml. Hudson, one of New York State’s first craft distilleries, is now a division of William Grant & Sons.
Buffalo Trace took two gold medals. One for its Elmer T. Lee, Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, NAS, 45% ABV, 750 ml and one to his Eagle Rare, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 17 YO, 50.5% ABV. Eagle Rare 17 YO is another Buffalo Trace term that has become impossible to find.
Hogs 3 Bourbon, NAS, 40% ABV 750 ml, from Quality Spirits International, was like another gold medal Old Ezra, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Barrel Strength, 7 YO, 58.5% ABV, 750 ml, from Lux Row Distillers (Luxco). The company was recently acquired by MGP.
Four Roses Single Barrel, Straight Bourbon whiskey, 7 YO, 50% ABV, 750 ml, also won a gold medal.
The last gold medal went to a Tennessee whiskey: Nearest uncle, 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey, NAS, 50% ABV, 750 ml. Uncle has almost been a perennial participant in spiritual competitions since it was released several years ago.
This year’s IWSC rating showed an eclectic mix of winners and a wide range of prize points. Prove positive that even a cheap whiskey can still be world class!