The American Whiskey Masters 2022 results
The American whiskey category is massively popular, but also very diverse, with producers making a cornucopia of styles and flavours, as Melita Kiely and her team of tasters discover in our annual competition.
As any category grows, questions will be raised about the quality of products available.
To scrutinise the standard of American whiskeys on today’s market, a group of experts gathered at the Ibis Styles hotel in London Bridge to put the category through its paces. Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business, and chair of The Global Spirits Masters, oversaw the first panel.
She was joined by: Michael Fichtner, whisky sommelier at The Coburg Bar at The Connaught; Herchelle Perez Terrado, director of Drinks Partnership; and Chris Tanner, general manager of Silverleaf bar in London.
Matt Chambers, spirits writer and co-founder of the Whisky for Everyone blog, chaired the second panel.
The team comprised: Derek Millar, retired whisky sales advisor; Angelo Sparvoli, head bartender at St James Bar at the Sofitel St James in London; and Marie Cheong Thong, wine and spirits judge, and Wine and Spirit Education Trust educator.
The third panel, chaired by Billy Abbott, ambassador at The Whisky Exchange, included Caroline Roddis, editor of The Whisky Exchange; and drinks consultant Stephen Kennard, of SMJK Consulting.
The fourth group consisted of: chair Nicola Carruthers, deputy editor of The Spirits Business; Nicola Thomson, director of Practical Matters; Toshio Ueno, vice-president and executive instructor at Sake School of America; and Sara Jane Eichler, founder of the Negroni Club UK.
And sitting on the fifth and final panel was Karen Taylor, co-founder of the Whisky for Everyone blog, who chaired her group’s tasting. Taylor was joined by Elise Craft, co-host of The Whisky Squad; and Ivan Orsini, head bartender at The Aubrey in London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Going for Gold
The judges warmed up their palates with a flight of Bourbon, priced up to £30.
Four Roses Distillery took home a double Gold win for its Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon and Four Roses Straight Bourbon. Four Roses Small Batch presented “plenty of grip, vanilla and white pepper” on the palate, while stablemate Four Roses Straight Bourbon was enjoyed for its “toasted oak, desiccated coconut and a hint of white chocolate”.
The Gold standard continued into the Bourbon – Super Premium heat, where whiskeys priced between £31 and £50 were tasted.
Four Gold medals were awarded in this round – two of which went to Four Roses Distillery. The producer collected the medals for its Single Barrel Bourbon, which offered “cream soda, oakiness” on the nose, leading to “sharp citrus and baking spices” on the palate.
Small Batch Select Bourbon was found to have “woody spices and orange peel” on the nose, and “powerful spiciness” on the palate.
High West American Prairie Bourbon was handed a Gold medal after it impressed the panellists with its “creamy palate”, with “wood spices and a long, lingering” finish.
Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels delivered aromas of “resin and furniture polish”, with “toasted sugar, marmalade” on the palate. Craft found this to have “rough layers, but elegant in a classic Bourbon style”.
“Very reliable category,” noted Taylor. “Bold experiences. You get a lot of whiskey for your money. Great value versus £40 Scotches.”
In the top-price tier, the judges discovered the first Master medallist of the contest: Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon.
Taylor’s team said about this whiskey: “Lilacs and peonies, burnt sugar fields. Bold but textbook Bourbon. It is a very lovely example of what a classic quality Bourbon should be.”
Two Gold medals were also awarded to Eagle Rare 17 Years Old, with its “varnish and cherry compote” flavours, and Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon, which had “caramel, oak and a fresh finish”.
A large selection of no-age-statement Bourbons were examined next, with one product standing out from the masses: WL Weller Craft Your Perfect Bourbon from Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Abbott wrote about this whiskey: “Rich brown sugar nose with developing berry fruit. Intense palate with gentle spice, apple and blackberry.” Roddis said the Bourbon was “quite elegant”.
Nine Gold medals were celebrated in this heat, showcasing why age isn’t everything.
Among the Gold winners were: “nutty, intensely sweet” Stagg Jr; “fruity, toffee” 291 Colorado Bourbon Finished with Aspen Wood Staves, Small Batch; and “richly textured, biscuit, rounded palate” WL Weller Antique. Five Silvers completed the flight, including Yellow Rose Harris County.
The judges agreed that the standard shown across the board was high.
“There’s a tendency in the UK to think of Bourbon as a cocktail ingredient, but these scores and spirits show that people should be trying more Bourbon neat,” Roddis observed.
Three Golds were also awarded in the Bourbon – Aged up to 7 Years round.
George Remus Straight Bourbon secured a Gold award for flavours of “toffee, Caramac, and a lovely brown-sugar palate”.
Bentley Heritage Estate Distillery Bourbon bagged Gold for notes of “salty soy sauce aromas, and spice over a sweetened base”.
Wild Turkey 101 walked away with a Gold medal for aromas of “baked apricots and dried fruit” and “heavier spice” on the palate.
Another Master was enjoyed in the following flight: Bourbon – Aged over 8 Years.
WL Weller 12 Years Old left a lasting impression on the judges. Chambers was full of praise for this whiskey: “Lovely nose of vanilla, coconut, chocolate, and peach. Super silky on the palate with a lovely balance of sweetness, oak and spice, plenty of depth. Feels very classy – superb.”
Three Golds were awarded to: “very balanced, expressive” Eagle Rare 10 Years Old; Russell’s Rye 10 Years Old with “delicious apricot-like fruitiness”; and “classy, velvety” Longbranch.
Cheong Thong enthused: “The older expressions were spectacular, and showing extra age. All well made, and really good.”
Millar enjoyed the differences between the Bourbons. He added: “There was good quality across the board, with a bit of variation too. It was good to see some different ABV strengths too.”
Buttery and creamy
A selection of single-barrel Bourbons were put forward next, among which three Gold entries were discovered, including “buttery and creamy” Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit.
The final Bourbon heat delivered a Gold medallist in the form of A Smith Bowman Cask Strength, which offered “lovely vanilla and maple notes” with a splash of water.
From there, attention turned to Tennessee whiskeys, beginning with a super-premium round.
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey scored two Gold medals for its 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey, and 1884 Premium Small Batch Whiskey.
The former was “nicely complex and balanced for the higher ABV”, the judges noted.
Moving to the ultra-premium price bracket for Tennessee whiskeys and Uncle Nearest nabbed another Gold for Uncle Nearest Master Blender Edition Batch No. 001.
Taylor found notes of “praline, sour cherries and orange peel”, and paid the whiskey the following complement: “Manhattan in a glass – just add the garnish.”
More Golds followed in the Single Malt – No Age Statement contingent.
Virginia Distillery Company took home all four awards for its Courage and Conviction Sherry Cask, Courage and Conviction Cuvée Cask, Courage and Conviction Bourbon Cask, and Courage and Conviction American Single Malt. “It’s a young category and we can see styles emerging, but it’s very much early days,” noted Abbott.
Bentley Heritage Estate Distillery Single Malt collected a Gold medal in the Single Malt – Aged up to 7 Years heat.
Roddis found oodles of complexity in this whiskey: “Water brings out the mint and umami notes further, adding in chocolate Hobnobs and spice, and many more layers of flavour.”
Meanwhile, in the Single Malt – No Age Statement flight two more Golds joined the growing haul: Westland American Single Malt, with “malty and green orchard fruit” notes; and Courage and Conviction Cuvée Single Cask, which had “rich dark chocolate and festive spices”.
Two Silver medals completed the round, both collected by Virginia Distillery Company. Rye – Super Premium was found to be up to the Gold mark.
High West Double Rye delighted the panellists with its “long drying finish with underlying sweetness – like burnt peanut butter brittle”.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye also impressed with flavours of “orchard fruits, classic rye spice and a dry quality”.
291 Colorado Whiskey Finished with Aspen Wood Staves, Barrel Proof Single Barrel took things up a notch and secured the top accolade.
The Master award was given in the Rye – Ultra Premium round, when the judges praised the whiskey’s notes of “unbaked banana bread dough, dark roasted coffee and malt”.
High West Rendezvous Rye took a Gold medal for aromas of “toasted coconut, milk chocolate – spicy, spicy!”, noted the judges.
Another Master medallist was applauded in the Rye – Aged up to 7 Years heat. Russell’s Reserve Rye 6 Years Old scooped the top medal for its complex combination of “herbal cough sweets, coconut and vanilla pastry” on the nose, leading to “pretty nutty notes and spices” when sipped.
Four Gold medals were also enjoyed in this round, including Wild Turkey 101 Rye.
With three rounds to go, a trio of Gold whiskeys were unearthed among the no-age-statement rye entries. The judges complemented “creamy, rounded” Yellow Rose Rye, “mouth-coating with cherry pops and cream soda” Whistlepig Piggyback Rye, and Colonel EH Taylor Jr Straight Rye, with its “oatiness and spicy seasoned nuts”.
The final Master of the day was discovered in the penultimate round, Rye – Single Barrel, and went to Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye.
Perez Terrado described the whiskey as having “dry tannins on the palate. Warming rye spice runs through; long complex finish, and nuttiness overall.”
Fichtner said: “This was quite rich, but delicate at the same time. With rye, you think about big, heavy, spicy whiskies with huge oak influence. But here, all the flavours were well balanced, and everything was well integrated.”
In the final heat, Flavoured Whiskey, the tasting ended on a high note with two Gold medal winners. Ole Smoky Distillery collected one for its Salty Caramel Whiskey – “butterscotch Angel Delight”, enthused Abbott – and a second for its Peanut Butter Whiskey, akin to “Butterkist popcorn”.
The Master medallists were repoured and tasted for a final time, as the judges carefully considered which entry was most deserving of the American Whiskey Taste Master 2022 title.
The votes were counted and verified, placing WL Weller 12 Years Old as this year’s Taste Master.
The medals speak for themselves; with a plethora of awards sitting in the Gold- and-above bracket, there is clearly much to be celebrated among the American whiskey category – and it feels like it is only getting started.
Scroll below for the full list of winners from The American Whiskey Masters.
Bourbon – Premium (£0‐£30)
|Four Roses Distillery||Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon||Gold|
|Four Roses Distillery||Four Roses Straight Bourbon||Gold|
Bourbon – Super Premium (£31‐£50)
|High West Distillery||High West American Prairie Bourbon||Gold|
|Four Roses Distillery||Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon||Gold|
|Four Roses Distillery||Four Roses Small Batch Select Bourbon||Gold|
|Angel’s Envy||Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Barrels||Gold|
Bourbon – Ultra Premium (£51+)
|Luxco||Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey||Master|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||Eagle Rare 17 Year Old||Gold|
|Campari Group||Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon||Gold|
Bourbon – No Age Statement
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||WL Weller Craft Your Perfect Bourbon||Master|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||Stagg Jr||Gold|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||WL Weller Antique||Gold|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||Elmer T Lee Single Barrel||Gold|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||Colonel EH Taylor Jr Small Batch||Gold|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||WL Weller Single Barrel||Gold|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||WL Weller Full Proof||Gold|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||Colonel EH Taylor Jr Single Barrel||Gold|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||Early Times Bottled in Bond||Gold|
|Distillery 291||291 Colorado Bourbon Whiskey Finished with Aspen Wood Staves, Small Batch||Gold|
|Zamora Company||Yellow Rose Harris County||Silver|
|Zamora Company||Yellow Rose Outlaw||Silver|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||WL Weller Special Reserve||Silver|
|Vok Beverages||5 Square Mile Bourbon||Silver|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof||Silver|
Bourbon – Aged up to 7 years
|Luxco||George Remus Straight Bourbon Whiskey||Gold|
|Bently Heritage Estate Distillery||Bently Heritage Estate Distillery Bourbon Whiskey||Gold|
|Campari Group||Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon||Gold|
Bourbon – Aged over 8 years
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||WL Weller 12 Year Old||Master & Taste Master|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||Eagle Rare 10 Year Old||Gold|
|Campari Group||Russell’s Reserve Rye 10 Year Old||Gold|
Bourbon – Single Barrel
|Campari Group||Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit||Gold|
|Campari Group||Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon||Gold|
|Campari Group||Russell’s Reserve Rye 13 Year Old||Gold|
Bourbon – Cask Strength
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||A Smith Bowman Cask Strength||Gold|
Tennessee – Super Premium (£31‐£50)
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Uncle Nearest 1884 Premium Small Batch Whiskey||Gold|
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey||Gold|
|Emporia Brands||Daddy Rack||Gold|
Tennessee – Ultra Premium (£51+)
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Uncle Nearest Master Blend Edition – Batch No.001||Gold|
Single Malt – No Age Statement
|Virginia Distillery Company||Courage & Conviction Sherry Cask Whisky||Gold|
|Virginia Distillery Company||Courage & Conviction Cuvée Cask Whisky||Gold|
|Virginia Distillery Company||Courage & Conviction Bourbon Cask Whisky||Gold|
|Virginia Distillery Company||Courage & Conviction American Single Malt||Gold|
Single Malt – Aged up to 7 years
|Bently Heritage Estate Distillery||Bently Heritage Estate Distillery Single Malt Whiskey||Gold|
Single Malt – No Age Statement
|Westland Distillery||Westland American Single Malt||Gold|
|Virginia Distillery Company||Courage & Conviction Cuvée Single Cask Whisky||Gold|
|Virginia Distillery Company||Courage & Conviction Bourbon Single Cask Whisky||Silver|
|Virginia Distillery Company||Courage & Conviction Sherry Single Cask Whisky||Silver|
Rye – Super Premium (£31‐£50)
|High West Distillery||High West Double Rye||Gold|
|Campari Group||Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye||Gold|
Rye – Ultra Premium (£51+)
|Distillery 291||291 Colorado Whiskey Finished with Aspen Wood Staves, Barrel Proof Single Barrel||Master|
|High West Distillery||High West Rendezvous Rye||Gold|
Rye – Aged up to 7 years
|Campari Group||Russell’s Reserve Rye 6 Year Old||Master|
|Campari Group||Wild Turkey 101 Rye||Gold|
|Luxco||Rossville Union Master Crafted Straight Rye Whiskey||Gold|
|Luxco||Rossville Union Master Crafted Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Strength||Gold|
|Bently Heritage Estate Distillery||Bently Heritage Estate Distillery Rye Whiskey||Gold|
Rye – No Age Statement
|Zamora Company||Yellow Rose Rye||Gold|
|Whistlepig||Whistlepig Piggyback Rye||Gold|
|Buffalo Trace Distillery||Colonel EH Taylor Jr Straight Rye||Gold|
|Distillery 291||291 Colorado Rye Whiskey Finished with Aspen Wood Staves, Small Batch||Silver|
Rye – Single Barrel
|Campari Group||Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye||Master|
|Ole Smoky Distillery||Salty Caramel Whiskey||Gold|
|Ole Smoky Distillery||Peanut Butter Whiskey||Gold|