The best bourbon and American whiskey from the IWSC 2020

Spirit news

Mon 10 May 2021

By Stuart Peskett

America is where to head if you’re a newcomer to whisk(e)y. Those rich, sweet notes of toffee, cinnamon and vanilla you’ll find in a good bourbon are the ideal introduction if you’re not quite ready to dive into harder-edged peaty malts from around the world.

But American whiskey is a lot more than just bourbon. If you like spicy styles, there’s full-on rye whiskey, packed with peppery notes of caraway and cardamom. For something softer, wheat or corn whiskeys hit the spot. And you’ll find single malts in the States, too, made with malted barley just like in Scotland.

American whiskey started off when farmers on the east coast realised that they could turn their excess grains into something special, and when tax increases forced them further south into Tennessee and Kentucky, an industry was born.

The big names in these two southern states – the likes of Buffalo Trace (pictured below), Maker’s Mark and a certain Jack Daniel’s – dominate, but there’s a new breed of American whiskey, and it’s not made in the traditional heartlands. In fact, you’ll find a whiskey distillery in every single US state.


Some of this year’s IWSC winners come from as far afield as Arkansas and Arizona all the way up to Washington in the north-west, where you’ll find Bainbridge Organic Distillers, producer of IWSC Gold winner Battle Point Two Islands, finished in casks that used to contain Islay whisky, and displaying notes of peat and smoky bacon.

American whiskey is in a very healthy state – here are the best, as sampled at the IWSC’s 2020 spirits tasting.

Best whiskey from the USA

Weller CYPB - Craft Your Perfect Bourbon Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-1.png
Buffalo Trace Distillery

An expressive profile with raisiny fruit, oak and dark chocolate notes. Big, rich and explosively flavoursome palate. 47.5%

Bib & Tucker Small Batch 6 YO Bourboniwsc-top-usa-whiskey-2.png
Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits

Succulent and softly fruit-forward with an engaging fusion of sweet vanilla, oak and spice. The refined corn palate displays elegant lifted fruit and rounded oak characters, culminating in an appealingly dry and balanced finish with vibrant heat intensity. 46%

Battle Point Two Islands Islay Cask Organic Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-3.png
Bainbridge Organic Distillers

An engagingly smoky nose with wheat characters, a creamy balance of vanilla and hints of medicinal. Peated with sweet notes, reinforcing the savouriness of smoky bacon crisps, complemented by toffee and a touch of chocolate. Appealing smoky finish. 43%

Barrel Proof Straight Rye Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-4.png
James E Pepper Distilling

Exuding rich honey abundance and high notes of sweet tea; this dram is elegantly herbal in character. Complex and well balanced; the tannic fruity palate reveals peppery rye characters which burst forth. Discretely captivating. 57.3%

Rye Whiskyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-5.png
Old Forester Distilling Company

Appealingly fruity nose with upfront vanilla and dark chocolate, balanced with delicate notes of orange blossom and spicy rye. Clean and buttery; big viscous style displaying fudge and toffee mid-palate; then pepper and oak on the satisfyingly long finish. 50%

Old Fitzgerald Bottled-In-Bond 9 YO Spring 2020 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-6.png
Heaven Hill Distillery

A bold and classically dense bourbon with appealing notes of sweet cherry fruit underpinned by delicate, charred wood aromatics. The sweet palate has a real meaty characteristic complemented by a soft oak smokiness, leading to hints of bitterness on the finish. 50%

Arizona Straight Bourbon Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-7.png
Arizona Craft Beverage, Inc

Fragrant and generous with a core plum character. Aromas of toast and smoke give way to sweet vanilla and red fruits on the palate, peppered with a light sprinkling of spice. Decadent, warming and balanced, this is an excellent bourbon. 50%

Knob Creek 15 YO Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-8.png
Beam Suntory

An example with great complexity. Subtle notes of coffee and hazelnut on the nose compliment the toasted oak, sweet spices and fresh tropical fruits on the palate. A fruity and peppery finish. 50%

Redemption Barrel Proof 9 YO Bourbon Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-9.png
Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits

With a core of toasted oak, this shows great depth and complexity of flavour with layered notes of sweet fruit and baking spices. Beautifully balanced with a perfumed, peppery finish. 52.8%

Weller Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-10.png
Buffalo Trace Distillery

A rich and multi-dimensional example with a core of well-integrated oak. An intense blend of marmalade, dark chocolate and cedar on the nose with decadent notes of stone fruits and pepper on the palate. Dense and delicious. 57%

Rebel Yell Single Barrel 10 YO Kentucky Straight Bourboniwsc-top-usa-whiskey-11.png
Luxco - Lux Row Distillers

A harmonious example filled to the brim with flavour. The palate is led by stewed fruits, dark chocolate and coffee beans, laced with hints of white pepper, herbs and liquorice. Oak is beautifully integrated, and the intense palate lingers on the finish. Excellent. 50%

Arkansas Straight Rye Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-12.png
Rock Town Distillery

Boldly intense with coffee, toffee and oily rye on the nose. Light vanilla with hints of oak spices and pepper elegantly balanced against a strong rye profile. Delightful chilli spice on the juicy, peppered oak finish. 46%

Bottled-In-Bond Rye Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-13.png
Old Overholt

Elegant rye forward with peanut brittle on the nose, then sugary notes and an abundance of peach and stone fruits. A delicately balanced palate of peppery spice which builds with rye heat intensity to a drying finish. 50%

Rum Cask Finish & Cask Strength Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-14.png
Westward Whiskey

Intensely captivating and dense; the complexity of tropical and dark dried fruits complimenting bold undertones of golden rum, spice and vanilla. Integrated tannins and a very dry palate, with dark chocolate and appealing sherry sweetness on the finish. 61%

Battle Point Organic Wheat Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-15.png
Bainbridge Organic Distillers

An elegantly fruity nose displaying fudge characteristics and balanced fragrant spice. Sweet and elegantly proportioned, this is an easy drinking style with persistence of fruit and a lifted oak finish. 43%

Battle Point Two Islands Hokkaido Mizunara Cask Organic Whiskeyiwsc-top-usa-whiskey-16.png
Bainbridge Organic Distillers

Bright and fruit-driven complexity displaying currants and pineapple balanced with appealing spices and wheaty dryness. Expressive with just a lick of oak and a hot, fruity finish. 43%

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