Top 10 Bourbons of 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, we visit the bourbons which took top honors in the International Whiskey Competition, World Whiskies Award, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and the North American Bourbon and Whiskey Competition.

No matter what your favorite style of bourbon--Kentucky Straight, Bottled-in-Bond, Small Batch, Rye, or Wheat--there is a bourbon on our list for you.

North American Bourbon and Whiskey Competition

Founded in 2014, the competition is a double-blind tasting. Scores are based on a 100-point scale, and all the spirits are produced in North America. The highest honor of the event is Best in Show. First place this year went to a straight rye whiskey, but bourbons took second and third place.

1) Best in Show Second Place - Stonehammer Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Made by Sazerac and bottled by Clear Springs Distilling Co. in Louisville, Kentucky, this bourbon is produced at the Barton 1792 distillery. Stonehammer is a 90-proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon with notes of vanilla and cranberry, and a short mild finish.

Stonehammer has come a long way. Early versions were considered a bit on the sweet side, but this year’s winner was found to be exceptionally well-balanced and smooth.

2) Best in Show Third Place - Wolcott Bottled-in-Bond

The product of one distillation season (either January to June or July to December) by one distiller at a single distillery--many consider the “Bottled in Bond” label to be the mark of a distiller’s skill. Wolcott’s Bottled-in-Bond Straight Kentucky Whiskey is perfect in an Old Fashioned. Oak aged, with a high-rye mash bill, it is dry and spicy with a long finish.

San Francisco World Spirits Competition

The San Francisco World Spirits Competition began in 2000. It is also a blind tasting but divides its awards between Best of Class and Best in Show. The competition includes dozens of categories, including (but not limited to) whiskies, rums, tequilas, vodkas, gins, liquors, brandies, corn whiskeys, and mezcals. Some of their top bourbon winners include:

3) Best Small Batch Bourbon - Parker’s Heritage Collection Heavy Char Bourbon, 10 Years

This Kentucky Bourbon from Heaven Hill Distillery is aged in Level 5 charred barrels which are charred for a minute and a half. The char brings out notes of brown sugar, caramel, and baking spices and produces a bourbon with a dark copper color and mild smokiness. This is their 14th Edition, aged 10 years, and is bottled at 120 proof, without chill filtration.

4) Best Straight Bourbon - 1792

1792 is produced by Barton Brands Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, one of the oldest continually operating distilleries. The recipe is unknown, but experts suggest it has up to 25 percent rye, adding notes of caramel, licorice, and cinnamon to bourbon’s traditional vanilla.

5) Best Single Barrel Bourbon - Henry McKenna

From Heaven Hill Distillery, Henry McKenna is a lovely sipping bourbon with slight herbaceous notes and hints of spices and honey. It is a 10-year-old Bottled-in-Bond named after the Irish immigrant who worked with the grains found in Kentucky and adapted his family recipe to them. The distillery recommends a 2:4 ratio of bourbon to chilled mineral water in a highball, over ice, as a great way to enjoy their spirit.

World Whiskies Awards

The most prestigious of all the competitions, The World Whiskies Awards is an arm of the World Drinks Awards. They taste the very best whiskies in all recognized styles from across the globe. Their judging process is held in three rounds, moving from style winners to best in the category, to the World’s Best.

6) World’s Best Non-Kentucky Bourbon - Tumblin’ Dice Bourbon

From Proof and Wood in Connecticut comes Tumblin’ Dice. Here’s a description from the World Whiskey Awards:

“The nose is huge and filled with dark brown sugar, oak, and complex fruitcake, a little like walking into a bakery. On the palate it’s chewy, with candied fruit sweetness, pecan pie and roasted plum. The finish really delivers with nice spiced notes and lots of complexity. "

Tumblin’ Dice Bourbon in an Old Wooden Table

7) World’s Best Kentucky Bourbon – W.L. Weller C.Y.P.B.

A limited-edition “Craft your Perfect Bourbon” was created by asking whiskey drinkers to create their dream bourbon by choosing the recipe, proof, maturing location, and age. After two years and over 100,000 votes from bourbon lovers, W.L. Weller C.Y.P.B. was born. Eight years later, the world got to taste it.

From the World Whiskey Awards review, because we couldn’t have said it better:

“The nose is punchy with complex floral and fruity notes. The palate follows on with rich fruits, including figs and raisins, paired down with some subtle vanilla warmth. There’s some bold rye spice that is met with brown sugar on the finish. It’s delicious and well-balanced.”

International Whisky Competition

For twelve years, the International Whisky Competition has been awarding Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals (just like the Olympics). In 2015, they introduced the Medallion Point system which scores whiskies from 85 to 100 points.

8) Best American Whiskey & Best Bourbon Whiskey - Black Bourbon Society's Maker's Mark Private Selection: Recipe 2 – 93.8 Pts

Maker's Mark Bourbon

The backstory: The Black Bourbon Society is dedicated to bridging the divide between African Americans who love bourbon and the bourbon industry. Recipe 2 was created in collaboration with Maker’s Mark. At 110.4 proof, it is surprisingly not overpowering. It has a sweet nose and fruity palate with notes of cafe au lait, caramel apple, and orange. An excellent sipping bourbon. 

9) Best Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey - Weldon Mills Reserve - 92.1 Pts

Out of North Carolina’s newest distillery, Weldon Mills, comes their cask-strength reserve bourbon. It’s a big, high-proof bourbon that doesn’t disappoint.

10) Best Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey - Old Weller Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

From Buffalo Trace Distillery, Old Weller uses wheat in its mash bill to produce a smooth and gentle sipping experience. The nose has hints of mint and cherry and finishes off with coffee and the slightest hint of pepper. An unusual and delightful bourbon, perfect for sipping.

And…. Best Bottled in Bond Bourbon Whiskey - 1792

Yep, again! Which makes it tied with Black Bourbon Society’s Maker’s Mark for the most award-winning bourbon on our list!

Bond Bourbon Whiskey - 1792

Rocks, Straight, or Mixed

It doesn’t matter how you drink your bourbon. The award winners work straight, on the rocks, or in classic cocktails--from eggnog, to a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned, or that Kentucky classic, the Mint Julep.

Drop us a note in the comments and let us know how you like your Bourbon!