The American whiskey category has been growing exponentially over the last decade. Rye whiskey has seen an amazing resurgence, while American malt whiskey has emerged as an important new category in the American whiskey universe.
Additionally, the emergence of American blended whiskeys and the rise of independent blenders and bottlers have significantly expanded the range of available aroma and taste profiles. Add to that the presence of around 2,000 craft distillers, many of which are devising new mash bills and developing innovative distillation and maturation techniques, and you can’t help but conclude that we are in a golden age of American whiskey.
This year the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) judged hundreds of American whiskey expressions across more than a dozen different categories. Today we look at the finalists in the rye, American single malt, Tennessee, wheat, American blended, Special Barrel finished, flavored and corn whiskey categories. On Thursday we will look at the bourbon categories.
Founded in 2000, the SFWSC is the oldest competition in North America and the largest spirits judging in the world. A total of 70 judges from around the world evaluated approximately 5,000 spirits over two weeks in April 2022.
The competition is organized by the Tasting Alliance, an organization founded by Anthony Dias Blue, and in addition to the SFWSC includes spirit competitions in New York and Singapore and wine competitions in San Francisco and New York.
There were three finalists in the Best of Class Rye Whiskey category: Whistle Pig, The Boss Hog VIII: LapuLapu’s Pacific, Rye Whiskey, 52.4% ABV, 750 ml; Lock Stock and Barrel, 21 YO Straight Rye Whisky, 55.5% ABV, 750 ml and New England Barrel Company, Single Barrel Select Rye, 60.35% ABV, 750 ml.
This year’s SFWSC judging produced a trifecta of absolutely stunning rye whiskey expressions. All the finalists are world-class and are easily among the best rye whiskeys ever produced.
The Whistle Pig LapuLapu is a powerful, complex rye whiskey named after a legendary Filipino warrior LapuLapu. He led the resistance to the Spanish conquest of the Philippines in the 16th century and held off Spanish occupation for more than 40 years.
The rye whiskey is finished in a high toast, small batch cask of Philippine rum, hence the association with the country’s legendary warrior. LapuLapu was also responsible for killing the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan, the discoverer of the Philippine islands, hence it is also the sequel to Whistle Pig’s Magellan Atlantic rum expression.
The rye offers up lush tropical fruit notes, along with spicy cinnamon, caramel and vanilla on the nose. On the palate, there are coffee and chocolate notes, along with citrus zest and sweet dried fruit. It’s slightly drying, with a long, sweet, spicy finish, followed by lingering pepper and some milk chocolate notes.
Lock Stock and Barrel is a 21 YO rye whiskey produced at the Alberta Distillery in Calgary. Ultra-aged rye whisky expressions are rare and this one is exceptional. It offers up aromas of cinnamon and creamy vanilla on the nose. On the palate, it has a crème brûlée like quality. It’s semi-sweet, and smooth, with tropical fruit notes. The finish is long and spicy, featuring cinnamon and hints of nutmeg.
The New England Barrel Company, Single Barrel Select Rye Whiskey is produced in New Hampshire. It exhibits cinnamon on the nose, along with a range of fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s creamy, with tropical fruit notes and a long, fruity finish.
In the Best of Class Tennessee Whiskey, two expressions, both from historic producers, are vying for the top honor: Jack Daniel’s 10 YO Tennessee Whiskey, 48.5% ABV, 750 ml and George Dickel Bottled in Bond, Distilling Season Spring 2007 Whisky, 50% ABV, 750 ml.
The Jack Daniel’s offers up pronounced vanilla and caramel aromas on the nose, along with a hint of black pepper. On the palate, there is caramel and more black pepper, followed by vanilla and tropical fruit notes. The finish is classic Jack – long, sweet, creamy and fruity.
The George Dickel is very creamy on the nose, with vanilla and tropical fruit notes. On the palate, it’s sweet and creamy, with pronounced tropical fruit flavors. The finish is long, featuring sweet, dried tropical fruit notes.
The American Single Malt Whiskey category has been growing by leaps and bounds. This year saw more than 60 entries in the category. The top two finalists are Triple Eight Distillery, The Notch Nantucket Single Malt Whisky, 48% ABV, 750 ml and Balcones, Mirador Single Malt Whiskey, 53% ABV, 750 ml.
The two whiskeys offer up an interesting contrast. The Triple Eight expression has pronounced tropical fruit notes on the nose. On the palate, it’s sweet and smooth, with dried tropical fruit notes. The finish is long and sweet, with lingering tropical fruit notes and a hint of licorice.
The Balcones, on the other hand, exhibits hints of milk chocolate and coffee on the nose, with cooked cereal notes. On the palate, it’s dry and fruity. The finish is long, with lingering fruit notes.
Other finalists to highlight include Old Hickory, Hermitage Reserve Barrel Proof Corn Whisky, 58.5% ABV, 750 ml and Dancing Goat Distillery, Corn Whiskey Finished in Spanish Oak, 62.2% ABV, 750 ml. Both are significantly overproof.
Corn whiskey is defined as a spirit made from a mash bill that is at least 80% corn. If the mash bill was less than 80% but at least 51% corn, provided the spirit was made in the US, it would be considered a bourbon.
The Old Hickory is sweet on the nose, with pronounced caramel notes. It’s equally sweet on the palate, slightly drying and tannic, with caramel and dried fruit notes. It has a long candied sweet finish, with lingering dried fruit notes.
The Dancing Goat expression is dry on the nose, with pronounced caramel and cinnamon notes. On the palate, it’s sweet, with notes of dried fruit, cinnamon and black pepper. The finish is long and sweet, with a notable peppery finish.
The Best of Class Wheat Whiskey was Bernheim, Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey, 45% ABV, 750 ml and Bainbridge, Battle Point Barrel Proof Wheat Whisky, 70.6% ABV, 750 ml.
The Bernheim distillery is one of the storied names in the history of American whiskey. Today the distillery is owned by Heaven Hill.
The whiskey shows caramel and tropical fruit on the nose. It’s smooth and sweet on the palate, with stone and tropical fruit notes and a hint of licorice. The finish is long and sweet, with lingering tropical fruit notes.
The Bainbridge Battle Point expression exhibits cinnamon and caramel on the nose. It’s slightly savory, with pronounced caramel notes on the palate. It’s a little drying on the finish, with a long, sweet, lingering fruity note.
The Best of Class Unaged Whiskey was New Alchemy Distilling, White Devil Whiskey, 40% ABV, 750 ml.
The Best of Class American Blended Whiskey was George Dickel, George Dickel x Leopold Brothers Collaboration Blend Whiskey, 50% ABV, 750 ml and High Bank Distillery, Whiskey War, Barrel Select, Double Oaked Whiskey, 57.75% ABV, 750 ml.
While the Best of Class Flavored Whiskeys were: Standard Proof, Cinnamon Whiskey, 40% ABV, 750 ml and SoNo 1420 Blaze Cinnamon Flavored Whiskey, 33% ABV, 750 ml.
The Best of Class Special Barrel Finished Whiskeys were Lost Lantern, 2021 Single Cask #1 Cedar Ridge Iowa, Single Malt Whiskey Finished in a Sherry Cask, 57.6% ABV, 750 ml and Barrell, Dovetail, 62.35% ABV, 750 ml.
The Lost Lantern expression is dry on the nose, with slight caramel and herbal aromas. It’s dry on the palate, with herbal notes and a long, dry finish.
The Barrell Dovetail has wood notes and spices on the nose. It’s semi-sweet, with cinnamon and nutmeg spice and dried fruit on the palate. The finish is long, with lingering spice notes.
The 2022 SFWSC judging highlighted a superb collection of American whiskeys from the largest set of entries in the competition’s history – a stark reminder that the renaissance of American whiskey is still in its early stages.
A comprehensive list of all the Gold and Double Gold winners is available on the Tasting Alliance website. Stay tuned for the announcement of the Best of Class winners and Best Whisky in June.