The American Whiskey Masters 2016 results

8th August, 2016 by Kristiane Sherry

Diverse entries across the latest American Whiskey Masters show there’s much more to the US distilling scene than Bourbon.


American whiskey has been making waves

Scotch’s sweeter cousin has enjoyed something of a boom of late. While Scotch exports continue to struggle, American whiskey has stepped up to consumer demand, its mixability and “cool” factor wooing style-conscious and connoisseur imbibers alike.

The increased levels of interest had a profound impact on the 2016 American Whiskey Masters too, with a broad spectrum of flavour, raw ingredients, price brackets and styles all represented, delighting our judging panel and ensuring medals aplenty.

Of the nine judges gathered, five took on the American contingent. Stepping up to the challenge were Nagesh Balusu, general manager at Salt Whisky Bar and Dining Room; Greg Dillon, luxury spirits writer and brand consultant; Mark Newton, editor at; and Jolyon Dunn, general manager and buyer at Milroy’s of Soho; chaired by myself, Kristiane Sherry, editor of The Spirits Business.

First up to test our judges’ palates was a small flight of No-Age-Statement Bourbons. The ‘all-American’ whiskey category, some fear it might slip back as other segments – for example rye – press forward. But no fear here, as the panel found the first two medals of the day for ATOM Brands’ That Boutique-y Whisky Company: a Silver for Few – Batch 2 and a Gold for Heaven Hill – Batch 1.

“Heaven Hill – Batch 1 has the balance that really brings out the fruit flavours,” Dunn praised, while Dillon scored it highly for its complexity and “vegetal notes in places”.

Following hot on the heels of the NAS category was another flight of Bourbons Aged Up To 7 Years which similarly delighted – this time egged on by a higher abv. The “bread, brioche” and “interesting dusty leather” notes of Aldi Stores’ Bluegrass Kentucky Bourbon won it recognition in the form of a Silver medal, while La Martiniquaise’s Old Virginia scored solid Gold and was deemed “a great example of a younger American whiskey”.

Sticking with Bourbon but moving on to price segmentations, a pair of Premium expressions were next to be assessed. “There was a real balance of spiciness and sweetness with Old Forester,” enthused Balusu “It has an almost Speyside quality – it’s really great.”

Dillon found Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon equally worthy of praise: “It had that candied fruit, almost tannic nature – a juxtaposition of sweetness and sour fruit undertones.” As such, both were awarded Gold medals.

“They both felt really elegant,” commented Newton. “It’s almost a no brainer in terms
of value – these are great value for money Bourbons.”

Nuanced differences

Pressing on up the price ladder to the Super Premium bracket, and judges found a “delightful” flight which attracted three Gold medals, and the first Master of the day.

“You start immediately with this vegetal hit, and then these nutty, chocolatey notes,” said Dunn of the Master medal-winning Breckenridge Bourbon. “And also this varnish on the nose which you get with really high- end American whiskeys.”

The “honeyed”, “pecan-like” 1972 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, “mellow, oaky” Bower Hill – Barrel Reserve Bourbon, and “hugely fun, treacley” Breckenridge Whiskey Port Cask Finish were all awarded Golds.

“It’s nuanced differences that set them apart, but the quality was always stunning,” attested Dunn.

After that stand-out flight, the panel then assessed a tiny Tennessee Whiskey offer, with one solitary sample attracting a Gold medal.

“The cereal and nutty notes for me were really prominent and interesting,” said Balusu of Ole Smoky Straight Whiskey. “It’s a reallyinteresting whiskey and it stands out.” The only disappointment was that there were not more to taste. “There’s absolutely space for more producers in the quite narrow Tennessee whiskey category,” stated Dillon.

From one to many: next came a stellar flight of Single Malt – No Age Statement expressions attracting a tremendous medal haul of four Silvers, one Gold and one Master.

Westland Distillery’s Peated release attracted the top accolade, and drew strong comparisons with Scotch. “On the nose it’s a grassy, earthy note, but an intensely rich one,” assessed Dunn. “It divided the room between Caol Illa and Springbank – stunningly well-balanced.”

“It’s the marzipan and juicy fruit notes that did it for me,” said Dillon, honing in on a different part of the multifaceted flavour profile, while Balusu picked up a peppermint note on the nose, reminiscent of other Scotches.

Westland Distillery picked up the Gold medal for its Garryana expression. “I particularly liked this one – again muted honeycomb, sweet but not offensively so and quite robust,” said Dillon.

Overall judges were “very pleased” with the line-up of single malts. “The flight was massively varied compared to previous rounds,” said Newton, with Dunn commenting that the less regulated production landscape compared to Bourbon meant there was greater scope for experimentation.

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